In 1864, politicians from the five British North American colonies gathered in Québec City to continue discussions, started in Charlottetown the previous month, about creating a country. The broad decisions of Charlottetown were refined and focussed into 72 resolutions which became the basis of Confederation. Among the most important issues decided in Québec City were the composition of Parliament and the distribution of powers between the federal and provincial governments.
The push for a union of Britain's five North American colonies (the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland) came mainly from Canada West, present-day Ontario. Disagreements between conservatives and reformers, and tensions between the English and French elites of Canada West and Canada East (Québec), had produced years of political deadlock and unstable government in the legislature that governed both regions.
Fears of militant American expansionism, combined with Britain's increasing reluctance to defend its North American colonies, also fuelled desires for strength through a wider unity.
In 1864, a Great Coalition of conservatives and reformers came together to find new solutions and to end the political logjam in the Canadas. Among the coalition's goals was union with the other British North American colonies.
The idea of Confederation had been debated casually for years. In September 1864, it was formally discussed at a conference in Charlottetown. Initially convened by the three Maritime colonies to discuss their own political union, the PEI meeting was instead transformed by a delegation from the Province of Canada, which came urging Confederation. The suggestion was seized upon, and agreed to by all.
Many of the same delegates who met in Charlottetown (the Fathers of Confederation) gathered the next month in Québec City. Meeting privately in a grand building where the Château Frontenac stands today, overlooking the St. Lawrence River, they talked, debated and socialized from 10–27 October.
Each of the 33 delegates were given sets of calling cards, the size of playing cards, with the names and images of every participant, so people would know who was who.
The delegates included, from Canada East — George-Étienne Cartier and Thomas D'Arcy McGee, as well as Étienne-Paschal Taché, the Province of Canada's prime minister, who chaired the conference; from Canada West — George Brown and John A. Macdonald; from New Brunswick — John Hamilton Gray and Samuel Leonard Tilley; from Nova Scotia — Adams George Archibald and Charles Tupper; from Prince Edward Island — George Coles and William Henry Pope. Newfoundland sent two delegates as observers — Frederic Carter and Ambrose Shea.
Distribution of Powers
One of the central debates at both Charlottetown and Québec was whether the new country should have a strong or even a single, central government, or whether it should be a more co-operative federal system with powers divided between national and provincial governments. John A. Macdonald, influenced in part by the regional ruptures of the ongoing American Civil War, favoured a dominant, central government. On the other hand, George-Étienne Cartier, who worried about francophone interests in Québec, and Maritime leaders, who feared domination by the larger populations of central Canada — wanted a federal system with strong provincial governments.
A balance was reached in which powers were to be divided between a central Parliament and provincial legislatures, creating a federal union where the interests of regions and minority populations could be defended. The provinces would have control over education, language and municipalities, among other things. The national government's powers would include control over currency, international trade and the criminal law. Some areas, such as immigration, would be shared, and both levels of government could raise taxes (see Distribution of Powers).
The delegates decided that Parliament itself would have two houses, an elected House of Commons based on representation by population, and an appointed "Legislative Council" (now the Senate). Each region, rather than each province, would have an equal number of seats in the Legislative Council, regardless of population. This was intended to safeguard regional interests. Each of three separate regions — Ontario, Québec, and the three Maritime provinces — would have 24 seats in the appointed chamber.
It was decided that Ottawa would be the location of the central government.
Provision was also made for other regions including Newfoundland, British Columbia and the "North-West Territory" (then called Rupert's Land), to enter Confederation "on equitable terms" at a later time.
It was also decided that the Crown, or the "Sovereign of the United Kingdom," would remain the head of government and the keeper of "executive authority."
The financial arrangements proposed by Alexander Galt also precipitated considerable discussion, including how the existing debts of various colonies would be shared. The delegates also agreed that the new central government would help fund and complete construction of the Intercolonial Railway from Québec to the Maritimes — a key condition of Maritime acceptance of Confederation.
The delegates adjourned the conference on 27 October. Their decisions were embodied in 72 resolutions, 50 of which were crafted by John A. Macdonald, one of the few delegates with legal and constitutional training. "As it is, I have no help," Macdonald told Sir James Gowan. "Not one man of the conference (except Galt in financial matters) has the slightest idea of constitution making. Whatever is good or ill in the Constitution is mine."
The Québec resolutions would go on to form the basis of Canada's Constitution. The resolutions were debated in various legislatures in the years to come. In 1866 and 1867, they were turned into legislation by delegates to the London Conference — the final meeting in the Confederation process — becoming the British North America Act, the law passed by the British Parliament, creating the Dominion of Canada. The Act became law on 1 July 1867.
The Québec Resolutions, October, 1864
(The 72 Resolutions)
1. The best interests and present and future prosperity of British North America will be promoted by a Federal Union under the Crown of Great Britain, provided such Union can be effected on principles just to the several Provinces.
2. In the Federation of the British North American Provinces, the system of Government best adapted under existing circumstances to protect the diversified interest of the several Provinces, and secure efficiency, harmony and permanency in the working of the Union, would be a general Government, charged with matters of common interest to the whole country; and Local Governments for each of the Canadas, and for the Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, charged with the control of local matters in their respective sections. Provision being made for the admission into the Union, on equitable terms, of Newfoundland, the North-West Territory, British Columbia and Vancouver.
3. In framing a Constitution for the General Government, the Conference, with a view to the perpetuation of our connection with the Mother Country, and to the promotion of the best interests of the people of these Provinces, desire to follow the model of the British Constitution, so far as our circumstances will permit.
4. The Executive Authority or Government shall be vested in the Sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and be administered according to the well-understood principles of the British Constitution, by the Sovereign personally, or by the Representative of the Sovereign duly authorized.
5. The Sovereign or Representative of the Sovereign shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Land and Naval Militia Forces.
6. There shall be a General Legislature or Parliament for the Federated Provinces, composed of a Legislative Council and a House of Commons.
7. For the purpose of forming the Legislative Council, the Federated Provinces shall be considered as consisting of three divisions: 1st Upper Canada, 2nd Lower Canada, 3rd Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; each division with an equal representation in the Legislative Council.
8. Upper Canada shall be represented in the Legislative Council by 24 members, Lower Canada by 24 members, and the 3 Maritime Provinces by 24 members, of which Nova Scotia shall have 10, New Brunswick 10, and Prince Edward Island 4 members.
9. The colony of Newfoundland shall be entitled to enter the proposed Union, with a representation in the Legislative Council of 4 members.
10. The North-West Territory, British Columbia and Vancouver shall be admitted into the Union on such terms and conditions as the Parliament of the Federated Provinces shall deem equitable, and as shall receive the assent of Her Majesty; and in the case of the Province of British Columbia or Vancouver, as shall be agreed to by the Legislature of such Province.
11. The members of the Legislative Council shall be appointed by the Crown under the Great Seal of the General Government, and shall hold office during life: if any Legislative Councillor shall, for two consecutive sessions of Parliament, fail to give his attendance in the said Council, his seat shall thereby become vacant.
12. The members of the Legislative Council shall be British subjects by birth or naturalization, of the full age of thirty years, shall possess a continuous real property qualification of four thousand dollars over and above all incumbrances, and shall be and continue worth that sum over and above their debts and liabilities, but in the case of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, the property may be either real or personal.
13. If any question shall arise as to the qualification of a Legislative Councillor, the same shall be determined by the Council.
14. The first selection of the Members of the Legislative Council shall be made, except as regards Prince Edward Island, from the Legislative Councils of the various Provinces, so far as a sufficient number be found qualified and willing to serve; such Members shall be appointed by the Crown at the recommendation of the General Executive Government, upon the nomination of the respective Local Governments, and in such nomination due regard shall be had to the claims of the Members of the Legislative Council of the Opposition in each Province, so that all political parties may as nearly as possible be fairly represented.
15. The Speaker of the Legislative Council (unless otherwise provided by Parliament) shall be appointed by the Crown from among the Members of the Legislative Council, and shall hold office during pleasure, and shall only be entitled to a casting vote on an equality of votes.
16. Each of the twenty-four Legislative Councillors representing Lower Canada in the Legislative Council of the General Legislature, shall be appointed to represent one of the twenty-four Electoral Divisions mentioned in Schedule A of Chapter first of the Consolidated Statutes of Canada, and such Councillor shall reside or possess his qualification in the Division he is appointed to represent.
17. The basis of Representation in the House of Commons shall be Population, as determined by the Official Census every ten years; and the number of Members at first shall be 194, distributed as follows:
Upper Canada: 82
Lower Canada: 65
Nova Scotia: 19
New Brunswick: 15
Prince Edward Island: 5
18. Until the Official Census of 1871 has been made up, there shall be no change in the number of Representatives from the several sections.
19. Immediately after the completion of the Census of 1871, and immediately after every Decennial Census thereafter, the Representation from each section in the House of Commons shall be re-adjusted on the basis of Population.
20. For the purpose of such re-adjustments, Lower Canada shall always be assigned sixty-five members, and each of the other sections shall at each re-adjustment receive, for the ten years then next succeeding, the number of Members to which it will be entitled on the same ratio of representation to population as Lower Canada will enjoy according to the Census last taken by having sixty-five Members.
21. No reduction shall be made in the number of Members returned by any section, unless its population shall have decreased, relatively to the population of the whole Union, to the extent of five per centum.
22. In computing at each decennial period the number of Members to which each section is entitled, no fractional parts shall be considered, unless when exceeding one-half the number entitling to a Member, in which case a Member shall be given for each such fractional part.
23. The Legislature of each Province shall divide such Province into the proper number of constituencies, and define the boundaries of each of them.
24. The Local Legislature of each Province may, from time to time, alter the Electoral Districts for the purposes of Representation in such Local Legislature, and distribute the Representatives to which the Province is entitled in such Local Legislature, in any manner such Legislature may see fit.
25. The number of Members may at any time be increased by the general Parliament, -- regard being had to the proportionate rights then existing.
26. Until provisions are made by the General Parliament, all the laws which, at the date of the Proclamation constituting the Union, are in force in the Provinces respectively, relating the qualification and disqualification of any person to be elected, or to sit or vote as a Member of the Assembly in the said Provinces respectively; and relating to the qualification or disqualification of voters and to the oaths to be taken by voters, and to Returning Officers and their powers and duties, -- and relating to the proceedings at Elections, -- and to the period during which such elections may be continued, -- and relating to the Trial of Controverted Elections, and the proceedings incident thereto, and relating to the vacating of seats of Members, and to the issuing and execution of new Writs, in case of any seat being vacated otherwise than by a dissolution -- shall respectively apply to Elections of Members to serve in the House of Commons, for places situate in those Provinces respectively.
27. Every House of Commons shall continue for five years from the day of the return of the writs choosing the same, and no longer; subject, nevertheless, to be sooner prorogued or dissolved by the Governor.
28. There shall be a Session of the General Parliament once, at least, in every year, so that a period of twelve calendar months shall not intervene between the last sitting of the General parliament in one Session, and the first sitting thereof in the next Session.
29. The General Parliament shall have power to make Laws for the peace, welfare and good government of the Federated Provinces (saving the Sovereignty of England), and especially laws respecting the following subjects:
1. The Public Debt and Property.
2. The Regulation of Trade and Commerce.
3. The imposition or regulation of Duties of Customs on Imports and Exports, -- except on Exports of Timber, Logs, Masts, Spars, Deals and Sawn Lumber from New Brunswick, and of Coal and other minerals from Nova Scotia.
4. The imposition or regulation of Excise Duties.
5. The raising of money by all or any other modes or systems of Taxation.
6. The borrowing of money on the Public Credit.
7. Postal Service.
8. Lines of Steam or other Ships, Railways, Canals and other works, connecting any two or more of the Provinces together or extending beyond the limits of any Province.
9. Lines of Steamships between the Federated Provinces and other Countries.
10. Telegraphic Communication and the Incorporation of Telegraph Companies.
11. All such works as shall, although lying wholly within any Province be specially declared by the Acts authorizing them to be for the general advantage.
12. The Census.
13. Militia -- Military and Naval Service and Defence.
14. Beacons, Buoys and Light Houses.
15. Navigation and shipping.
17. Sea Coast and Inland Fisheries.
18. Ferries between any Province and a Foreign country, or between any two Provinces.
19. Currency and Coinage.
20. Banking -- Incorporation of Banks, and the Issue of paper money.
21. Savings Banks.
22. Weights and Measures.
23. Bills of Exchange and Promissory Notes.
25. Legal Tender.
26. Bankruptcy and Insolvency.
27. Patents of Invention and Discovery.
28. Copy Rights.
29. Indians and Lands reserved for the Indians.
30. Naturalization and Aliens.
31. Marriage and Divorce.
32. The Criminal Law, excepting the Constitution of Courts of Criminal Jurisdiction, but including the procedure in Criminal matters.
33. Rendering uniform all or any of the laws relative to property and civil rights in Upper Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, and rendering uniform the procedure of all or any of the Courts in these Provinces; but any Statute for this purpose shall have no force or authority in any Province until sanctioned by the Legislature thereof.
34. The Establishment of a General Court of Appeal for the Federated Provinces.
37. And generally respecting all matters of a general character, not specially and exclusively reserved for the Local Governments and Legislatures.
30. The General Government and Parliament shall have all powers necessary or proper for performing the obligations of the Federated Provinces, as part of the British Empire, to Foreign Countries arising under Treaties between Great Britain and such Countries.
31. The General Parliament may also, from time to time, establish additional Courts, and the General Government may appoint Judges and Officers thereof, when the same shall appear necessary or for the public advantage, in order to the due execution of the laws of Parliament.
32. All Courts, Judges and Officers of the several Provinces shall aid, assist and obey the General Government in the exercises of its rights and powers, and for such purposes shall be held to be Courts, Judges and Officers of the General Government.
33. The General Government shall appoint and pay the Judges of the Superior Courts in each Province, and of the County Courts in Upper Canada, and Parliament shall fix their salaries.
34. Until the Consolidation of the Laws of Upper Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, the Judges of these Provinces appointed by the General Government shall be selected from their respective Bars.
35. The Judges of the Courts of Lower Canada shall be selected from the Bar of Lower Canada.
36. The Judges of the Court of Admiralty now receiving salaries shall be paid by the General Government.
37. The Judges of the Superior Courts shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and shall be removable only on the Address of both Houses of Parliament.
38. For each of the Provinces there shall be an Executive Officer, styled the Lieutenant Governor, who shall be appointed by the Governor General in Council, under the Great Seal of the Federated Provinces, during pleasure: such pleasure not to be exercised before the expiration of the first five years except for cause: such cause to be communicated in writing to the Lieutenant Governor immediately after the exercise of the pleasure as aforesaid, and also by Message to both Houses of Parliament, within the first week of the first Session afterwards.
39. The Lieutenant Governor of each Province shall be paid by the General Government.
40. In undertaking to pay the salaries of the Lieutenant Governors, the Conference does not desire to prejudice the claim of Prince Edward Island upon the Imperial Government for the amount now paid for the salary of the Lieutenant Governor thereof.
41. The Local Government and Legislature of each Province shall be constructed in such manner as the existing Legislature of each Province shall provide.
42. The Local Legislature shall have power to alter or amend their consitution from time to time.
1. Direct taxation, and in New Brunswick the imposition of duties on the Export of Timber, Logs, Masts, Spars, Deals and Sawn Lumber; and in Nova Scotia, of Coal and other minerals.
2. Borrowing money on the credit of the Province.
3. The establishment and tenure of local offices, and the appointment and payment of local officers.
6. Education; saving the rights and privileges which the Protestant or Catholic minority in both Canadas may possess as to their Denominational Schools, at the time when the Union goes into operation.
7. The sale and management of Public Lands excepting Lands belonging to the General Government.
8. Sea Coast and Inland Fisheries.
9. The establishment, maintenance and management of Penitentiaries, and of Public and Reformatory Prisons.
10. The establishment, maintenance and management of Hospitals, Asylums, Charities, and Eleemosynary Institutions.
11. Municipal Institutions.
12. Shop, Saloon, Tavern, Auctioner and other Licences.
13. Local Works.
14. The Incorporation of Private or Local Companies, except such as relate to matters assigned to the General Parliament.
15. Property and civil rights, excepting those portions thereof assigned to the General Parliament.
16. Inflicting punishment by fine, penalties, imprisonment or otherwise, for the breach of laws passed in relation to any subject within their jurisdiction.
17. The Administration of Justice, including the Constitution, maintenance and organization of the Courts, -- both of Civil and Criminal Jurisdiction, and including also the Procedure in Civil matters.
18. And generally all matters of a private or local nature, not assigned to the General Parliament.
44. The power or respiting, reprieving, and pardoning Prisoners convicted of crimes, and of commuting and remitting of sentences in whole or in part, which belongs of right to the Crown, shall be administered by the Lieutenant Governor of each Province in Council, subject to any instructions he may, from time to time, receive from the General Government, and subject to any provisions that may be made in this behalf by the General Parliament.
45. In regard to all subjects over which jurisdiction belongs to both the General and Local Legislatures, the laws of the General Parliament shall control and supersede those made by the Local Legislature, and the latter shall be void so far as they are repugnant to, or inconsistent with, the former.
46. Both the English and French languages may be employed in the General Parliament and in its proceedings, and in the Local Legislature of Lower Canada, and also in the Federal Courts and in the Courts of Lower Canada.
47. No lands or property belonging to the General or Local Governments shall be liable to taxation.
48. All Bills for appropriating any part of the Public Revenue, or for imposing any new Tax or Impost, shall originate in the House of Commons or House of Assembly, as the case may be.
49. The House of Commons or House of Asesmbly shall not originate or pass any Vote, Resolution, Address or Bill for the appropriation of any part of the Public Revenue, or of any Tax or Impost to any purpose, not first recommended by Message of the Governor General or the Lieutenant Governor, as the case may be, during the Session in which such Vote, Resolution, Address or Bill is passed.
50. Any Bill of the General Parliament may be reserved in the usual manner for Her Majesty's Assent, and any Bill of the Local Legislature may, in like manner, be reserved for the consideration of the Governor General.
51. Any Bill passed by the General Parliament shall be subject to disallowance by Her Majesty within two years, as in the case of Bills passed by the Legislatures of the said Provinces hitherto; and, in like manner, any Bill passed by a Local Legislature shall be subject to disallowance by the Governor General within one year after the passing thereof.
52. The Seat of Government of the Federated Provinces shall be Ottawa, subject to the Royal Prerogative.
53. Subject to any future action of the respective Local Governments, the Seat of the Local Government in Upper Canada shall be Toronto; of Lower Canada, Quebec; and the Seats of the Local Governments in the other Provinces shall be as at present.
54. All Stocks, Cash, Bankers' Balances and Securities for money belonging to each Province at the time of the Union, except as hereinafter mentioned, shall belong to the General Government.
2. Public Harbours.
3. Light Houses and Piers.
4. Steamboats, Dredges and Public Vessels.
5. River and Lake Improvements.
6. Railways and Railway Stocks, Mortgages and other debts due by Railway Companies.
7. Military Roads.
8. Custom Houses, Post Offices and other Public Buildings, except such as may be set aside by the General Government for the use of the Local Legislatures and Governments.
9. Property transferred by the Imperial Government and known as Ordnance Property.
10. Armories, Drill Sheds, Military Clothing and Munitions or War; and
11. Lands set apart for public purposes.
56. All lands, mines, minerals and royalties vested in Her Majesty in the Provinces of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, for the use of such Provinces, shall belong to the Local Government of the territory in which the same are so situate; subject to any trusts that may exist in respect to any of such lands or to any interest of other persons in respect of the same.
57. All sums due from purchasers or lessees of such lands, mines or minerals at the time of the Union, shall also belong to the Local Governments.
58. All assets connected with such portions of the public debt of any Province as are assumed by the Local Governments shall also belong to those Governments respectively.
59. The several Provinces shall retain all other Public Property therein, subject to the right of the General Government to assume any Lands or Public Property required for Fortifications or the Defence of the Country.
60. The General Government shall assume all the Debts and Liabilities of each Province.
61. The Debt of Canada, not specially assumed by Upper and Lower Canada respectively, shall not exceed, at the time of the Union, $62,500,000; Nova Scotia shall enter the Union with a debt not exceeding $8,000,000; and New Brunswick with a debt not exceeding $7,000,000.
62. In case Nova Scotia or New Brunswick do not incur liabilities beyond those for which their Governments are now bound, and which shall make their debts at the date of Union less than $8,000,000 and $7,000,000 respectively, they shall be entitled to interest at five per cent on the amount not so incurred, in like manner as in hereinafter provided for Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island; the foregoing resolution being in no respect intended to limit the powers given to the respective Governments of those Provinces, by Legislative authority, but only to limit the maximum amount of charge to be assumed by the General Government; provided always, that the powers so conferred by the respective Legislatures shall be exercised within five years from this date, or the same shall lapse.
63. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, not having incurred Debts equal to those of the other Provinces, shall be entitled to receive, by half-yearly payments, in advance, from the General Government, the Interest at five per cent on the difference between the actual amount of their respective Debts at the time of the Union, and the average amount of indebtedness per head of the Population of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
64. In consideration of the transfer to the General Parliament of the powers of Taxation, an annual grant in aid of each Province shall be made, equal to 80 cents per head of the Population, as established by the Census of 1861; the population of Newfoundland being estimated at 130,000. Such aid shall be in full settlement of all future demands upon the General Government for local purposes, and shall be paid half-yearly in advance to each Province.
65. The position of New Brunswick being such as to entail large immediate charges upon her local revenues, it is agreed that for the period of ten years, from the time when the Union takes effect, an additional allowance of $63,000 per annum shall be made to that Province. But that so long as the liability of that Province remains under $7,000,000, a deduction equal to the interest on such deficiency shall be made from the $63,000.
66. In consideration of the surrender to the General Government by Newfoundland of all its rights in Mines and Minerals, and of all the ungranted and unoccupied Lands of the Crown, it is agreed that the sum of $150,000 shall each year be paid to that Province, by semi-annual payments; provided that the Colony shall retain the right of opening, constructing and controlling Roads and Bridges through any of the said Lands, subject to any Laws which the General Parliament may pass in respect of the same.
67. All engagements that may before the Union, be entered into with the Imperial Government for the defence of the Country, shall be assumed by the General Government.
68. The General Government shall secure, without delay, the completion of the Intercolonial Railway from Riviere-du-Loup, through New Brunswick, to Truro in Nova Scotia.
69. The communications with the North-Western Territory, and the improvements required for the development of the Trade of the Great West with the Seaboard, are regarded by this Conference as subjects of the highest importance to the Federated Provinces, and shall be prosecuted at the earliest possible period that the state of the Finances will permit.
70. The sanction of the Imperial and Local Parliaments shall be sought for the Union of the Provinces, on the principles adopted by the Conference.
71. That Her Majesty the Queen be solicited to determine the rank and name of the Federated Provinces.
72. The proceedings of the Conference shall be authenticated by the signatures of the Delegates, and submitted by each Delegation to its own Government, and the Chairman is authorized to submit a copy to the Governor General for transmission to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.