Monday, October 26, 2009

Live-blogging the Quebec conference #17

Wednesday, October 26, 1864:

A resolution affirms the independence of the judiciary -- and confirms that superior court judges shall be federally appointed.

Then John A. Macdonald gets approval for an ambition still unrealized in the 21st century. The federal legislature shall be entitled to codify one single body of law on property and civil rights (otherwise a provincial responsibility), but only for the common law provinces, not in Quebec. A lawyer, Macdonald aspires to a single body of law and jurisprudence and a unified bar throughout common-law Canada. But there's a rider: it won't happen in any province without the consent of the provincial legislature. So for at least another century and a half, lawyers will still get called to the bar of Ontario or Alberta or Prince Edward Island and practice the law of their own province. (Though Macdonald sort of gets his way: in fact, barriers to interprovincial law practice have become vanishingly low, and there is much overlap between provincial statutes in many areas.)

They fix the capitals of the new provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and make Ottawa the national capital. Bilingualism: they confirm the use of both French and English in the national parliament, and in the legislature and courts of Quebec.

And then they get back to the money -- delegated since several days back to a committee, but now speedily passed. It is the same basic rules, but with a hodge-podge of special grants and accomodations for the provinces with the most adept finance ministers, it seems. (Leonard Tilley, we're looking at you. Charles Tupper, what were you doing the last few days?) A per capita grant of $0.80 will provoke the complaint that Nova Scotia has been sold to Canada for eighty cents a head.

According to the notes of A. A. Macdonald, a Prince Edward Island delegate, the islanders put forth a motion for the federal government to provide funds to the buying out of the large landed estates that hold most of the property on the island. The official minutes have nothing of that, and the Islanders get nothing, which pretty much kills Confederation's prospects in PEI. The island votes no on the financial resolution. The minutes for today have nothing about a proposal to fund the Intercolonial Railway from Quebec to the Maritimes -- but a resolution to this effect will be in the final list of motions passed. Did they vote on it today, or simply agree later they had meant to?

They will meet again tomorrow, but you know what? They are damn near done, and getting a bit giddy about it. We'll wrap up tomorrow.
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