Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Live-blogging the Quebec conference #12

Friday, October 21, 1864:

Federalism. This one is huge. One might think they would spend weeks on this one. John A. Macdonald introduces the future Section 91, the long list of powers assigned to the national government. He moves that the general government hold authority for trade and commerce, customs and excise, taxation, currency, public credit, banking, bills of exchange, interest rates, legal tender, weights and measures, postage, bankruptcy, lighthouses, ocean shipping, sea fisheries, patents, copyrights, telegraphic communications, naturalization, marriage and divorce, census, military and militia, immigration, agriculture, criminal law, interprovincial roads and railroads, other works declared for the general advantage, a general court of appeal, grants to local governments, public debt and public property, “and generally all matters of a general character.”

Trade and commerce? Banking and finance? Taxation? Marriage and divorce? Roads and bridges? What do all these powers imply for the scope of the new national government's authority in the future? Nobody says, nobody asks. There has been quite a bit of work in the Canadian cabinet on what's appropriately national and what's appropriately local (as we will see when the list of provincial powers comes up). But, almost two weeks in, the delegates seem to be a bit punchy. Maybe it was smart to let them wear themselves out for days on an irrelevancy like the Senate. There really is not much discussion today.

They go through the list, ask a few questions, raise a few points, make a few changes (this list is not exactly the future Section 91). But they approve it unanimously by four in the afternoon, and go off to get ready for another party. No meeting tonight.
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