It began in 1867…… (Part 2)
A critical look at Canada’s past, and how social, political and cultural changes have shaped the outlook of country as well people
by Jayant Gala
As I wrote in the first introductory part under the above title, how we began long journey of exploration for new identity, and how the conflicted political history between two powers-Britain and France–helped in carving out an unexplored rugged landmass in the North, mostly frozen, and how this eventually became a part and parcel of wonderful country called Canada.
The process itself revealed many underlining strengths as well as weaknesses seen in some actions of celebrations intertwined with equally forceful frustrations surfacing under raw emotions of nationalism. Thankfully civilized thought process avoided any major lasting communal wars.
History is wonderful in reflecting social, cultural and political events, not always in happy tune, and historians interpret them according to their perception and understanding. They, in most part, frankly try to narrate its good as well as bad sides. And if sometime biases and prejudices enter in the process then it is up to us to honestly evaluate why and how efforts of some people, community leaders and politics played important role in making the undertaken project success or failure.
Canada is no exception. She has her share of great moments of exceptional pride. But perceived land grabbing often amounted to encroachment on native rights. At the time when Britain and France were in search of new lands and when the sense of territorial integrity was becoming paramount, some were sending clear message to Britain that it was time to negotiate actual formation of new country. Various contentious issues on which discussions were concentrated and organized with blended emotions, and in that context the Charlottetown Conference, in September of 1864 held to iron out the foundation of confederation.
And the plan started rolling, involving few other players. It is interesting to note how John A. MacDonald became the first prime minister of conservative party of new Canada, who played some important role in getting other provinces to be part of this grand process. It seems he along with like-minded politicians from the Province of Canada convinced New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to consider a larger union. They agreed to meet again to discuss the project of Confederation at the next conference in Quebec City.
Though the entire process was complex and time consuming, and at times keeping in mind delicate issue of duality, the leaders had to work out how the new country would be run. It was a game of give and take and sometime in the interest of common good, the leaders from both sides accepted the Quebec Resolutions, which was made up of a set of proposals drafted at the Quebec Conference of 1864.
Interestingly the Quebec Resolution and its proposals became a basic format for the Canadian Constitution. They were adopted by the majority of the provinces of Canada, and served as blueprint for the London Conference of 1866. Disagreements of power sharing made Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland not to join Confederation at that time. But eventually they agreed to join the union.
As it became evident to the British leaders of determination of the fathers of confederation namely Jean Charles Chapais of Quebec and James Cockburn of Ontario, at the final London Conference in January 1867, all negotiators from both side knew it was time to accept rough draft of the Quebec Resolutions by leaders from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada. They came up with a final agreement acceptable to all parties. The document they created as we know is known as the British North America Act.
Just a historical fact you could find in the library of Canadian parliament or simply clicking on Google search, can show interesting understanding of who and what played important role. The Fathers of Confederation are the 36 people who attended at least one of the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences in 1864 and the London Conference of 1866 in England, preceding Canadian Confederation.
On July 1, 1867 the British Parliament approved it, and on this date Canada became a country with four provinces. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia hardly changed, but the Province of Canada was split into two new provinces: Ontario and Quebec—these two are often referred as–Upper Canada & Lower Canada.
And what a remarkable change it has been, and what a new encouraging vitality it has induced to expand its horizon from sea to sea to sea! Since that historical date the shape of this country has changed considerably as other provinces joined to be included in the wider union. But the province of Quebec received special status because of its French language- one of the official languages- and later the Bill 101 Charter placed the province at the center of political controversy.
Not only that but two distinct political philosophy became prominent representation of liberal and conservative class of population, of course a third party, NDP, got recognized in the Western Canada, but competition did not give the party a favorable chance to reach to national stature. Though as premier of Saskatchewan Tommy Douglas made history by leading the first social democratic government ever elected in North America, it took him many years to make NDP as one of the national parties.
In present day political reality, there are a dozen or so different parties that vie for power at each election. That’s the beauty of democracy allowing anyone with some financial backing and contesting ideas to challenge the governing party. To some, it may sound farcical or absurd, but contribution of opposition viewpoints has made the western democracies one of the most viable as well as enviable. Canada stands proud to have earned distinguished fame and place in the human history of last two centuries.