Tuesday, September 02, 2014

George-Etienne Cartier's 200th birthday 2

John A Macdonald once said he could usually beat George Brown because Brown always went for the immediate victory while Macdonald could look a little way ahead.

Like a lot of Macdonald's catchy aphorisms, the reverse is also likely to be true (and Macdonald probably knew it!).  Brown was for federalism and for rep-by-pop when these were, shall we say, polling badly and most unlikely to be accomplished. For years, his rivals hammered him successfully for his positions. Macdonald had the tactical sense to stay away from unpopular causes like these until they became popular, and the political skills to be able to put himself at the head of the newly-forming parade once an idea began to poll well.

In this context, Cartier's strategic sense is interesting. In the late 1850s, it was easy for francophone leaders to deride Canada West politicians (like Brown) who started advocating rep by pop just when the numbers turned in favour of Canada West.  Cartier did not refrain. But in the long run, giving everyone's vote the same weight was going to be a pretty plausible cause.

So it is impressive to watch Cartier beginning to consider French Canada's longer term options as early as 1858. If rep by pop has to come eventually, he grasps, then federalism has to come, too: If the English have all the votes their numbers justify, then French Canada has to get out from the union with Canada West and take charge of what's essential to it. It's really Cartier and Alexander Galt, an anglo in Quebec, who float the federalism idea in 1858, when it is dangerous in both French Canada (give up the protection of the 50/50 union?) and English Canada (John A. wouldn't touch it for years, even though he was already in government with Cartier.)

So for several years Cartier seems to be positioning himself both for short-term political success and for long-range planning. He has the luxury of attacking Brown's policies as dangerous and anti-French, while also putting out his markers for when it will be time to occupy that ground himself.

Image: Globe and Mail
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