Canada East

                    Confederation in Canada East

Confederation, the union of the British North American colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Canada (Canada being an earlier 1841 union of Canada East and Canada West), was achieved 1 July 1867 under the new name, Dominion of Canada. It was soon expanded with the addition of Manitoba and the North-West Territory (15 July 1870), British Columbia (20 July 1871), Prince Edward Island (1 July 1873), and ultimately Newfoundland (31 March 1949). The Confederation movement followed Newton's first law of motion: all bodies continue in a state of rest or of uniform motion unless compelled by some force to change their state.

Settled primarily by French Canadians who wanted to preserve their distinctive identity and cultural traditions, Canada East was reluctant to join the proposed confederation with Canada West. They finally agreed to confederation in 1867 because Canada East would remain a territorial and governmental unit (as Quebec) in which French Canadians would have an assured electoral majority and thus be able to at least partly control their own affairs. The champion of confederation in Canada East was George E. Cartier, who was instrumental in bringing about confederation.

As the Province of Canada grew larger and more prosperous and developed politically, socially and industrially, so grew its internal rivalries and difficulties. Whereas the Conservative party believed the 1841 constitution had by no means outlived its usefulness, the Reform party insisted that change was essential. Canada West [Ontario], wanting divorce more than Canada East [Québec], could make difficult all ministries that did not conform to its belief in "representation by population." In 1864, after 4 short-lived ministries had fought to stay in power, a coalition was formed, promising Confederation.

In Canada East, although Confederation was opposed by A.A. Dorion's Parti Rouge, it was supported by the dominant political group, the Conservatives under George-Étienne Cartier, Hector Langevin and Alexander T. Galt. By 1867 they had the necessary support of the Catholic Church. Confederation was justified by the arguments that French Canadians would get back their provincial identity - the capital of their province would once more be Québec; the anglophone domination of Ottawa feared by French Canadians would be mitigated by the presence of strong French Canadian representation in the federal Cabinet; and Confederation was the least undesirable of the changes proposed.

Although the form of Confederation was the product of 3 conferences and delegates from both sides of politics from 5 colonies, the practical ideas of how it might actually be achieved came from John A. Macdonald, with help on the financial side from A.T. Galt, and with G.E. Cartier's insistence on a certain essential, minimum of provincial rights. Confederation had not been originally Macdonald's idea; but he was finally the one who took hold of it and made the running. Thus, it is to Macdonald and his ideas that Canadians should look to understand the character of that 1867 union.