Saturday, October 10, 2009

Live-blogging the Quebec Conference 1864 #1

Monday October 10, 1864: “Conference Chamber, Parliament House, Quebec. The following gentlemen assembled at the Conference Chamber in the Parliament House, Quebec on Monday, the tenth day of October, 1864, at eleven o’clock in the forenoon.”
-- opening words of the minutes of the Quebec conference.

The conference meets in a temporary building on the cliff edge in the Upper City in Quebec. Physically, the “conference room” is small and unprepossessing. (The spectacular windows in the painting are entirely the artist’s conceit.) But politically, it’s a big room. For just five colonies, there are thirty-three delegates. Simply presenting their credentials and appointing officers for the conference will occupy most of this day's proceedings

Why so many? Each province has sent delegates from both the governing party and the principal opposition party. (Canada’s government is actually a coalition of the two main parties.). And this odd fact is the decisive detail for today’s live-blog. This is a legislative conference, not an executive one. The confederation conferences follow the principle -- then taken seriously, today mostly extinct -- that legislatures, not cabinets or first ministers, hold the key to political legitimacy, particularly in constitutional matters.

The principle of bipartisanship in constitution making proves to be smart politics as well. Even with a broad bipartisan consensus behind the Quebec conference’s terms, confederation will prove to be hotly controversial and will cause a good deal of party-splitting in the coming months. As a narrow government measure put forward in the usual partisan fashion, it could never have mustered sufficient support.

(By comparison, all the Canadian constitutional conferences of recent unhappy memory were executive conferences: first ministers and their acolytes only. Oh, about the constitutional proposals they produced? They failed.)

So here the legislators of 1864 are, presenting their credentials as delegates of the various provincial legislatures:

From Canada:
Conservatives: Etienne-Pascal Taché, co-Premier John A. Macdonald, co-Premier George-Etienne Cartier, Alexander Galt, D’Arcy McGee, Alexander Campbell, Jean Charles Chapais, Hector-Louis Langevin, James Cockburn.
Liberals: George Brown, Oliver Mowat, William McDougall.

New Brunswick:
Liberals: Premier Leonard Tilley, William Steeves, J. Mercer Johnson, Charles Fisher.
Conservatives: Peter Mitchell, E.B. Chandler, John Hamilton Gray*.

Nova Scotia:
Conservatives: Premier Charles Tupper, William Henry, R. B. Dickey
Liberals: Adams Archibald, Jonathan McCully

Prince Edward Island:
Conservatives: Premier John Hamilton Gray*, Edward Palmer, William H. Pope, T. Heath Haviland.
Liberals: George Coles, Edward Whelan, Andrew Macdonald.

Conservatives: Frederick Carter
Liberals: Ambrose Shea

* Somehow the 33 include two men with identical names.
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