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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ideas regarding federalism in the province of Canada, 1864-1867 Waite, Peter B.

Abstract

This thesis studies the nature of the ideas on federal government in the Canadian discussion of Confederation, 1864-1867. It is held that a federal state as such was not intended by the Canadian government, nor was it expected by the Canadian people. A federal state may be defined as a system of government wherein central and provincial authority is coordinate and independent, each of whose powers within a given legislative field are plenary. This thesis maintains that such a system of government was not what Canadians intended when they applied the word "federal" to the constitution framed at Quebec in October, 1864. What Canadians wanted was, by and large, a legislative union coupled with local guarantees for local rights and local privileges. Their intention was to form a strong central government and to relegate sectional issues to semi-dependent sectional institutions. Thus all the elements of strength in the existing legislative union were to be preserved, while the problems which had weakened the union would be removed by being taken up in the elasticity of of a "federal" system. In their consideration of a new constitution, Canadians turned instinctively to their own past experience in an essentially British system of government. The idea of legislative union remained predominant in the minds of Canadians. Quite simply, they preferred to walk in old paths as long as possible. Canadian ideas regarding federalism clearly reveal the limitations imposed by the Canadian political inheritance. The example of American federalism only reinforced Canadian prejudice. The effect of American ideas was largely to make Canadians cling the more uncritically to their own traditions of government. They saw in the United States disruptive forces clearly manifest in the Civil War. Federalism, they reasoned, was therefore dangerously centrifugal in its implications. Thus they sought rather to avoid federalism than to follow it. Canadians tended to follow the old way as much as possible. Undoubtedly the French required concessions and guarantees, but they were given no more than would be necessary to carry the project in Lower Canada. The intention of the Canadian cabinet reflects the basic feelings and the basic limitations of Canadians on the subject of federal government. This thesis attempts to show in detail the ideas regarding federalism which lay behind the policy of the Canadian government, to show by reference to contemporary opinion how deeply Confederation was rooted in Canadian experience and in British political tradition.

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