Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Live-blogging the Quebec conference #5

Friday, October 14, 1864. "Conference met at eleven a.m. and resumed the consideration of the motion respecting Legislative Council [i.e., what later was named the Senate].

"The members from the lower provinces strongly urged their contention for a larger relative representation which the Canadians opposed. Many of the members of the conference took part in the discussion of this question and many amendments were offered." --- from PEI delegate A. A. Macdonald's notes of the conference.

In other works, they had a real bunfight.

The debate on the Senate -- first the distribution of seats, then the way Senators would be chosen -- runs on two tracks. On one hand, there seems to be an underlying grasp of the fact that the Senate does not matter very much. The confederation makers are all parliamentary democrats; they accept that the locus of power is and must be in the representative House of Commons. The Senate must be secondary.

On the other hand, since they have decided on having an upper house in the federal parliament (for the provinces, it's optional), they cannot help fighting over it, just in case it matters. No one really contends for a truly powerful upper house, co-equal with the Commons, so many of the amendments put forth seem rather inconsequential, but they fight vigorously over them all.

My thought is that the long battle over the Senate is a proxy for a battle over the conference itself, now that they are beyond resolutions of principle and getting into debating institutions and powers. The Canadians have many resolutions ready-drafted for presentation, and they seem ready to drive much of the discussion. The Senate question is where the Maritimers decide tosend a message: they are not there simply to ratify automatically the Canadians' plans. The Senate debate goes on all day, and will continue tomorrow.
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