Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-236 but with some significant caveats I would like to propose to members.
While I accept the premise that Charlottetown is the birthplace of Confederation, we in the NDP think it is imperative that Confederation be framed as a process and not as a finite, singular event. The relationship of which the member for Malpeque spoke is among Canadians, among provinces, among territories, and among indigenous communities that make up this amazing country. It is an ongoing process, therefore. We are in this marriage together, and we must continuously work on improving that relationship, which is the foundation of our country.
Yes, the process of Confederation began in Charlottetown, and that is indeed worthy of celebration, yet there were several vital steps that occurred and must therefore be part of this narrative as well. Other steps and other places deserve credit in the creation of our country. Specifically, Quebec and New Brunswick both played important roles in this process, and one would be remiss not to mention that fact. This legislation may give the impression that Confederation was conceptualized and executed all in Charlottetown. That was definitely not the case.
I would also like to spend some of my time speaking about the way indigenous people were so wrongfully ignored during this process. We are all aware of the colonial context in which our country was created a century and a half ago. Just as each of us as individuals is a product of our historical context, so too is Canada. I implore the government to ensure that recognition of Charlottetown does not lead to a sort of celebration of colonialism.
Including indigenous people, especially the Mi'kmaq population in and around Charlottetown, in developing heritage and tourism materials for the cradle of confederation is a critical component of this celebration and this understanding. A better understanding of our history is one important step toward reconciliation. The glaring omission in our historical narrative of the essential contribution of indigenous peoples must be redressed. A celebration of the birthplace of Confederation must include them going forward as part of our country's narrative.
We must be careful to acknowledge indigenous peoples' presence in the concerned territory prior to this particular agreement. We must acknowledge that they were not included in the negotiations about their future and the future of the very lands they had occupied from time immemorial.
It is also important to support indigenous people as they represent their own historical narratives. Confederation is not the Canadian story; it is a Canadian story, one of many that represent our collective history. Let us not make the same mistake those who came before us made by ignoring other cultural historical narratives.
With this in mind, let me return to the matter of Charlottetown and how to best define its role in this process. Recognizing Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation is, for many Canadians, a foregone conclusion. The province is already promoting itself as the cradle of Confederation, and most of us arrive on the island by means of what is called the Confederation Bridge.
I understand that there has been a little contention, though. A recent 2017 New Brunswick tourism campaign had the slogan “Celebrate where it all began”, so I understand the sponsor's tenacity in seeking to get Charlottetown formally recognized. If I am not mistaken, a similar bill was put forward a couple of years ago, and I am also aware of a former Liberal prime minister making a proclamation to express this sentiment.
Let me start by addressing one argument I have heard to discredit Charlottetown's role, which is that Prince Edward Island did not join the union of British North America colonies until 1873. However, the proposed bill recognizes Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation, irrespective of P.E.I.'s participation in the union, so I do not consider the province's initial withdrawal from the proposed union as grounds to oppose this legislation in any way.
I alluded to my following point in my short preamble, but I want to reiterate: with respect to this legislation, Confederation should not be considered a static event.
Complicated unions and political manoeuvrings often have many moving parts. The British North America colonies union is certainly no exception. The initial conference was held September 1, 1864, in Charlottetown, and then New Brunswick governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon was instrumental in its organization. The role Governor Gordon played in getting parties to the conference is certainly worthy of recognition in the story of Confederation, because without his insistence on the initial conference, perhaps things would not have come together as they did. However, we must remember that he had proposed the initial conference to achieve a maritime union among P.E.I., New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Shortly after the conference began, Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier persuaded the delegates from the east to abandon their original proposal and consider a greater British North America colonies union with those who called themselves the Canadians, who hailed from what is now Ontario and Quebec.
Historian Shawn McCarthy, at UNB, has convincingly explained that New Brunswick governor Gordon had hoped to assemble a maritime union and invited P.E.I. and Nova Scotia to discuss the proposal. Since this was not the union that took place, he promptly withdrew from the conference and headed home. Therefore, at the Charlottetown conference, the idea of a maritime union was essentially scrapped, and the union of the British North America colonies was born.
While many items were agreed to in spirit in Charlottetown, such as the idea of creating a federation, with a federal and local or provincial government, the details were confirmed in Quebec City at the famous Quebec City conference, in October 1864. Therefore, Quebec City played no less of an important role. It just does not necessarily have the title of the birthplace of Confederation. There was a subsequent conference in London as well that undoubtedly also played a significant role in finalizing the proposed union.
The BNA Act received royal assent on July 1, 1867. I hope hon. members will see why I have asked that Confederation be considered a process instead of a singular event.
In some ways, the Confederation process is a very Canadian story. It is filled with compromises and the genius and emotional intelligence of key players drawn from various backgrounds from various parts of this land. When one considers these prominent figures and their roles in arranging both the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences, it is easy to see that both New Brunswick and Quebec played a huge role in the ultimate success of the union. It is certainly my contention, however, that Charlottetown was where the union of what we now call Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia was conceived.
Professor MacDonald, from the department of history at the University of P.E.I., states:
...the process began in Charlottetown in 1864. It was at that conference that a congruence of pressures, fear of the Americans, the colonial office wanting us to unite and the needs of Canadians came together in an agreement in principle to a confederation. This was a huge, watershed moment, and I use that term advisedly. All things flowed from that agreement in principle to a confederation
He said that everything flowed from the conference in Charlottetown, so that is absolutely critical.
There has not, however, always been a positive role in Confederation in respect of indigenous peoples. That has to be recognized as well as we try now, finally, to build a nation-to-nation relationship. We must ever be mindful of the way the first peoples were treated in our country. That is why, in the preamble of the bill before us, its talks about Charlottetown forming “part of the basis for the nation of Canada”. I strongly agree. The population of indigenous peoples, the Mi’kmaw population in particular, have to be front and centre as we celebrate this initiative.
Therefore, I call on the government to not pay lip service to the calls for action in the truth and reconciliation commission report. In particular, I draw its attention to call to action no. 45, which calls on the government to not only reconcile aboriginal and crown constitutional orders to ensure that aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation but also to “adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.”
In conclusion, the NDP supports Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation. We acknowledge that the long process began there, but we call on the government to recognize and acknowledge the important role indigenous peoples should have played in the negotiations and to work with them to create a new narrative for Canada going forward.