Mr. Speaker, I am proud and honoured to stand in this place to offer my contributions to the debate on Bill S-236. I would like to acknowledge some of the people who have brought it to this stage: the former member of Parliament for Hillsborough, George Proud; Philip Brown, from Charlottetown, and Sharon Larter, both of whom have been tenacious in advancing this private member's legislation through various Parliaments since the early 1990s; Senator Griffin, who introduced it and saw it through the other place; my colleague, the hon. member for Malpeque; and Dr. Ed MacDonald. They all have played key roles in getting us to where we are today. I would also like to thank the members for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek and Victoria for their very thoughtful and insightful remarks here today.
Finally, the proceedings before the heritage committee were particularly instructive and collaborative. In particular, I want to recognize the work and leadership of the member for York—Simcoe and the member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, who also carried forward a similar theme as the member for Victoria with respect to the importance of indigenous voices.
I was extremely proud on November 23 of this year when the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada stood at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, just steps away from Province House, and accepted the Symons Medal and delivered the Symons Medal lecture on the state of Canadian Confederation. It was a particularly poignant moment when in the lead-up to his presentation, there was a Canada 150 signature performance by the Dream Catchers.
The Confederation Centre of the Arts is a permanent memorial to the Fathers of Confederation, and it was no more fitting on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation than to have the Prime Minister deliver remarks on the state of Canadian Confederation and to then accept a wide array of questions from the packed house. It was truly moving.
I am equally moved and honoured to stand in this House at this time on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation to speak to Bill S-236. As I indicated, it was put forward by the hon. Senator Griffin. It is quite straightforward and has a simple purpose: to recognize the role of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, along with Quebec and London, in laying the foundation for Confederation, a pivotal moment in Canada's evolution as a country.
History can be a dry topic, but today I would like to paint a picture for members of that meeting in Charlottetown that may perhaps shed some light on how it came about and why it was successful in terms of laying the groundwork for a new nation to emerge in the world. Historian P.B. Waite noted:
Confederation was, in many ways, a startling development. One can add up the causes of Confederation and still not get the sum of it. Like all political achievements, it was a matter of timing, luck and the combination of a certain set of men and events.
What was that certain set of men and events? Our neighbour to the south was in turmoil, tearing itself apart in a dreadful civil war. Citizens living in the British colonies viewed the upheaval with great unease, wondering if it would spill over the border.
At that time, British officials were trying to figure out whether the colonies were more of a liability than an asset. In a day and age when the empire was more interested in trade than in military might, perhaps it was time for British North America to take its destiny into its own hands.
Meanwhile, the Province of Canada, created by the 1840 Act of Union that united what are now known as Quebec and Ontario under one government, had reached a political impasse and was looking for a way out.
The problem was that Canada West, now Ontario, and Canada East, now Quebec, each had 50 seats in Parliament.
This was creating some tension. Canada West's population was much higher than that of Canada East, so more and more voices began clamouring for representation by population.
At the same time, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, also uncomfortable with the American conflict, had begun to talk about creating a maritime union among themselves. The instinct for unity was clearly an early Canadian trait.
Who were the men who made Confederation possible? In the early 1850s, a young lawyer from Kingston by the name of John A. Macdonald and a Montreal-based lawyer, George-Étienne Cartier, were both elected to opposite sides of the House in Parliament. A certain mutual respect developed between the two men, but it was when George Brown of the English-Canadian Reformers crossed the floor and formed an alliance with his archrival, Sir John A. Macdonald, that the logjam was broken.
The Great Coalition of 1864 wanted to build a larger united federation for British North America. Such a confederation would allow Canada West and Canada East to function as separate provinces, able to govern their own affairs within the new dominion. This is likely why Brown was able to align himself with MacDonald.
The Canadians became aware of the maritime union and asked if they might be invited to discuss a union among all the British colonies. The architects of the maritime union were Charles Tupper from Nova Scotia, Leonard Tilley from New Brunswick, and John Hamilton Gray from Prince Edward Island. They agreed.
A conference was arranged for Charlottetown, to run from September 1 to 7, 1864. The Canadian delegates included several senior ministers: Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown, Alexander Galt, the minister of finance, and Thomas D'Arcy McGee, the poet politician.
Through the daily letters of George Brown to his wife Anne, we have the flavour of what happened at Charlottetown. The Canadians travelled in their ship, the Queen Victoria, and stocked it with provisions and gifts, all with an eye to demonstrating their goodwill to their maritime hosts.
I had said that history can sometimes be dry. Well, in addition to the serious discussions, the Charlottetown conference was a social affair with dances, dinners, and by many accounts, lots of champagne.
Interestingly, the Canadians had to sleep on the ship the first day they arrived. The circus was in town and there was not a single hotel available.
On the first day, the maritime delegates told the Canadians they would put Confederation first on the agenda and move the debate on maritime union to later. After this first important decision was made, a state dinner with dancing was held by the governor.
So it went: serious discussions, interspersed by social engagements where the delegates could all get to know and understand each other better. The discussion on Confederation was thoughtfully laid out by Cartier and Macdonald who talked about the benefits and outlined different models of federalism. Alexander Galt presented the financial aspects, including the benefits for the Maritimes. Thomas D'Arcy McGee painted a picture of a bright future together with his words.
During a tour of our beautiful legislature building, Province House, Sir John noticed a visitor's guest book. He signed it and under occupation wrote “cabinet maker”; indeed.
In less than a week, the Maritimers agreed in principle to Confederation and assented to participate in the Quebec conference a month later. The future beckoned.
This certain set of men and events needs to be remembered, shared, and taught to our children, which is why we are seeking to pass Bill S-236. Commemoration is about examining the past so we can move forward into our future with knowledge and understanding of how we got here.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, we can see the evolution of our country, our democracy, and our values. Our very roots, as evidenced by what took place in Charlottetown, were not about conflict or war: They were about finding mutual ground and working out our differences.
Let us now work hard to ensure that the spirit of working out our differences and the lessons learned in Charlottetown can be applied to our search for reconciliation with indigenous peoples. Let us make sure that the spirit of reconciliation is not just for Canada 150, but will become part of our nation-building and national values. This is the lesson of Charlottetown. Let us keep moving it forward.