Friday, October 23, 2009

Live-blogging the Quebec Conference #14

Sunday, October 23, 1864:
It's Sunday. The conference does not meet. But that's not to say no work is being done.

Mercy Coles, the daughter of Prince Edward Island opposition leader and ex-premier George Coles, keeps a diary during the conference (actually the best we have, though there is very little actual politics in it). On Sunday night, she notes, John A. Macdonald dines with her family. "After dinner he entertained me with any amount of small talk," she writes.

But Macdonald's real interest is surely her father, who has been both pro- and anti-confederation, and at this point seems to be concluding that it can never be sold to Island voters and that by opposing it he may well be able to ride the anti-confederate tide back to power. (Indeed, he does.) When Macdonald leaves the dinner, it's to get to yet another soirée, doubtless to sound out more options and allies.

This is Macdonald's greatest strength -- working the room, keeping in touch, keeping even his enemies close, never writing off any possible source of support. He does not love the confederation idea; as recently as last June he voted against a Canadian parliamentary committee report endorsing federalism. It was the Brown-Cartier deal -- federalism and rep-by-pop together -- that launched the confederation coalition, and Macdonald had to go along with a plan he himself would never have initiated.

But Macdonald is good at going along, and once in, he puts his intuitive political sense and immense powers of persuasion and negotiation to work. The ideas may not have been his, but nobody does more to turn the political wheels that will drive them forward.
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