Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Live-blogging the Quebec conference #4

Thursday, October 13, 1864: The conference has its first divided vote today. It’s an odd resolution. Fisher, a Liberal from New Brunswick, seconded by Dickey, a Conservative from Nova Scotia moves:
That the constitution of the general and local governments shall be framed upon the British model so far as is consistent with our colonial condition and with a view to the perpetuation of our connection with the mother country.
It seems to be another bland expression of principle, but it provokes some disagreement. Tupper, disagreeing with Dickey, his own upper-house leader in Nova Scotia, says “it is not judicious to fetter our actions.”

In the end a new resolution is moved and passed:
That in framing a constitution for the general government, the conference with a view to the perpetuation of our connection with the mother country and to the promotion of the best interests of the people of these provinces, desire to follow the model of the British constitution so far as our circumstances will permit.
The minutes for the day are inadequate, most historians have passed over the issue, and I find myself puzzled by exactly what’s at stake here. (Amazing, how many fundamental questions of constitutional law and history remain to be investigated in detail.)

But two things stand out in the changes made. They have removed “local” – evidently provincial institutions might be quite different from the national parliament. And the allusion to “our colonial condition” has been replaced with “the best interests of the people of these provinces.” The colonial cringe historians and political scientists routinely discern in the confederation process? It is largely in their own imagination.

This resolution, still seemingly anodyne, passes 5-2, with dissenting votes from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The conflicts are developing.

Also today, another resolution launches the Senate debate. The proposal is for a bicameral federal parliament: “a general legislature for the federated provinces composed of a legislative council and legislative assembly.”
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