Previous page: 9th Day: 3 February
Council Chamber, Upper Fort Garry
Friday, 4 February 1870
Ten o’clock, A.M. — Convention in session.
Mr. Riel — I was very nearly induced to adopt your views, expressed in committee, Mr. Ross, with regard to a Crown Colony. One important consideration which we must bear in mind, is, that as a Territory we escape a great deal of heavy responsibility that may weigh on us as a Province. Of course it would be very flattering to our feelings to have all the standing and dignity of a Province. The exclusive powers to Provinces are considerable, and in themselves satisfactory, if we found them applicable to our case. (Mr. Riel then read the Confederation Act to show the powers conferred on Provinces.) He alluded specially to Article 5, which provides that the management and sale of the public lands belonging to the Provinces and of the timber and wood thereon, is vested in the Province. This, he alluded to, as one of the most important, as far as we are concerned. In looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the provincial and territorial systems, we have to consider fully the responsibility of our undertaking. Certainly, the North-West is a great pearl in the eyes of many parties. The claim put forward for this country as a compensation for the Alabama claims, showed an appreciation of its merits. That Canada wanted us so badly, shows a further appreciation of our merits. Possibly our inexperience in the ways of government, and small population, might conduce to this independence working disadvantageously. In several respects, such as the right to vote and the question of the public debt, we might as a Province, ask the same rights as a Territory. Speaking of the public debt, continued Mr. Riel, I would call attention to the fact that the apportionment of some of the money reimbursed to the various provinces as follows:— Ontario, $80,000; Quebec, $70,000; Nova Scotia, $60,000; and New Brunswick, $50,000,— in addition to the amount of eighty cents per head allowed to the provinces. In respect to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick they are allowed this eighty cents per head until the population of each province has reached 400,000. Now we certainly have not the population of any of these countries, but we have a vast Territory. Canada, let me add, having dealt unfairly with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick regarding the apportionment of the public debts of the various provinces, subsequently agreed to pay, in addition to what was allotted to her on entering Confederation, $150,000 for ten years. This was to make up for the injustice and sharp practice of which Canada had been guilty at the time of Confederation. It is in the disposition of Canada to cheat. She did so in these cases, and in some others that might be mentioned. As to ourselves, I do not say positively that it is for our own good to go in as a province; but I think it a fair matter for the consideration of the Convention. On the whole I think that the position of a Province might suit us better than that of a Territory, but found it very difficult to decide.
Mr. Sutherland — I am unable to see the great advantages which might be secured by our going in as a province. I think we ought to go in as a Territory. As has been remarked, Canada may have been pretty sharp about Confederation bargains, but I would not fear her hereafter. If we get the bill of rights which has been made out, I do not think there is any necessity for taking up the time of the Convention with this other matter.
Mr. Riel — It is hardly the thing for a man employed in public business of importance to complain of loss of time. If we had to spend a month here in such business, the time would be well spent. As to this question of a Province, let me ask, is it not possible for us to settle our own affairs in a satisfactory manner? Cannot we make regulations for outsiders, with reference to the sale and disposition of our lands? This land question, and that of our means of raising money, constitute perhaps the principal points in the whole provincial arrangement. As to the administration of justice, have we not in the chair a gentleman who has long acted in that capacity, and who is amply capable of administering justice in the Territory (cheers). I would say, let us not go too fast. I have ample confidence in the good sense of our people for managing all matters wisely; and as to matters of a general nature, they will be managed by the Dominion (cheers).
Mr. O’Donoghue, seconded by Mr. Nolin, moved an adjournment for dinner.
By consent, Mr. Ross was allowed to speak. For my part, he said, I am perfectly satisfied that going in as a Province will do us harm. This question was considered in committee, and I understood we were to let it drop. Our position, if we entered as a province, would be very different from that of the other provinces. They entered the Dominion entirely equipped with roads, bridges, court-houses, &c. They entered as full grown men and having everything. We are here asking to be admitted as men, when, in respect to our equipment and outfit, the country is only in its infancy (cheers). We are in a position to ask, and of course can ask it. But I am satisfied we can never get it. If we enter as a province we must take that position with all its disadvantages as well as advantages. We have never had the right of self-government in this Territory at all, and the bound from that to being a Territory, in the form in which we want it, is a very great one. But not satisfied with that, we take another leap. Could we attain this object, it is very probable we would soon consider that we had hold of an elephant (cheers).
Mr. Riel — What are the responsibilities? The construction of roads and such like.
Mr. Ross — I will undertake to bring them out after the adjournment. But as an illustration of provincial responsibility, let me instance the qualification of voters. We wish that settled in a peculiar way in order to protect our people. But if we go in as a province, we must either forego that, or ask something peculiar, which is not granted to the other provinces — which is not, in fact, given to a province. Then there is the question of our credit. I am very doubtful what credit we could command. What money we could raise would be on our vast Territory; and I do not think we would be wise to endeavor to make money out of our public lands. Our best policy, I hold, ought to be to deal liberally with our public lands. They would go for very little if sold, and the opening up of the country would be very much retarded. I would favor a liberal land policy, as near the United States system as possible. If we are to be consistent in asking a homestead and pre-emption law, we will not endeavor to make money out of our public lands.
Mr. Riel — It is the first time you have had no ambition.
The Chairman — With the permission of the meeting I must say, that I feel rather surprised at finding myself called on to deal with this question of a Province after we have so long been engaged in looking at ourselves in the light of a Territory, and adapting as far as we could, the details of our new garments to the new form which we expected to assume in the eyes of the world. I began to hope that we were prepared to bring our labors to a practical conclusion. But though you have been occupied for nearly two weeks in considering the advantages of our entering the Dominion as a Territory, we are now, apparently, to be called upon to go into an examination of the advantages and disadvantages of being admitted as a Province. How long this sort of thing is to go on, I am sure I do not know. But if, after doing what we have done, we are to proceed to the minute discussion of this new proposal, we may very likely sit here for all our days. I do not see why, after we have finally disposed of this question, as we gladly thought we really had done, we should not consider whether we ought not to be an independent Colony of England; and after that, why we should not consider annexation to the States and so on (cheers and laughter). No doubt, we ought not to grudge any time that is properly spent in the discharge of our public duties. But at the same time we ought to see that we are spending our time on something out of which there may be some practical outcome. I concur very much with Mr. Riel when he says that we must not go too fast or too far. I believe we are about to try to do that. There is not the least doubt but that, as a community, we may be called young. Seeing that that is the case, and that, if admitted as a Territory we shall be taking a very great stride in our national life, why strain after that which is, in my opinion, unattainable? There may be advantages connected with the position of a Province which would make it desirable. But there are great disadvantages. Into these I shall not attempt to enter. I really hope this question may be disposed of without our being called on to go into the minutiae of the advantages and disadvantages of a Province. It is clear to me, that even if it were possible for us to be admitted as a Province, there are preponderating disadvantages. And if we are to go on looking at ourselves as a Province and straining after that high dignity, I am very much afraid that we may fall between two stools and be, perhaps, left to ourselves. If that is wanted, perhaps it might be as well to say so. But I believe it is not what is wanted. I wish to put it before you whether it is not utterly hopeless for us to look for immediate admission into the Confederation as a Province. Those Provinces which have been already admitted into Confederation, have been long accustomed to exercise the honors of self-government; they have population, wealth, importance and dignity, which do not belong to us, in this, the infancy of our days. What, then, is the use of our spending time in the discussion of a matter which is practically hopeless? Though I am far from under-rating the resources of the country, I am afraid we may make a mistake as to its value. It does not follow that because Canada and the United States are very eager to get us, that this country is so very valuable after all. May we not, in this respect, be running the risk of making the same mistake the Beautiful Flirt sometimes does (laughter), who with a long train of ardent admirers, dallies and coquettes first with this one, then with that, and then with the other,— not knowing which of the adoring swains to choose, until at last she finds herself obliged to put up with a very hum-drum sort of mortal after all (renewed laughter); while he, on his part, is gradually brought to a knowledge of the fact, that not only is the object of his worship not the perfect angel of whom he had first dreamt, but that she is a very plain ordinary kind of being indeed (loud laughter). We want very much, no doubt, to be made a great people (cheers). Every individual wishes to get on in the world, and communities, like individuals, wish to get on. As a community we share in that common feeling. And just now we are rather dazzled with the prospect of bounding all at once from a comparatively obscure position to the important, prosperous and wealthy position of a Province (laughter and cheers). But while we want this dignity, we do not see how we ourselves are able to bear the expense of reaching it. We therefore propose that the Confederation of Canada should erect, as it were, all the scaffolding by which we are to be carried up to this point of dazzling grandeur (hear, hear). In this respect we are in the position of that most excellent and admirable man who, as a benefactor—
“Out of his great bounty
Built a bridge at the expense of the county.”
(laughter). By entering upon discussions which are beyond us, we may be letting slip that opportunity we now have of being admitted into the Confederation as a Territory, upon proper conditions. And standing here before you, with a sincere desire for the general good, I must give it as my conscientious belief, that if this country can be admitted as a Territory on just and equitable principles, it is as much as we can look for. If we are only reasonable and moderate, we have now within our reach something valuable. But if you hanker too long about it — if you dilly-dally too long — it may be that this opportunity will pass away (hear and cheers). I do therefore most earnestly say to you, gentlemen, waste no time needlessly. Take the tide as it now is, at full; take it and I believe you are safe and will be prosperous. On the other hand, neglect it, and what will be your position? In a broken and shattered ship, without helm, without compass, or chart,— in a dark and dismal night, you are adrift upon a stormy ocean amidst whose billows, and rocks and shoals, you are but too likely to founder and make shipwreck (loud cheers).
Mr. Riel — I think the Chairman’s speech is admirable — its words are very fine — but it has not the power to convince.
At half-past twelve, the Convention adjourned for an hour and a half.
Three o’clock, P.M. — Debate resumed.
Mr. Sutherland — I move that further discussion on the question before us, be considered unnecessary.
Mr. Boyd — I second the motion. It seems to me most important that we should first enter the Dominion as a Territory, and in due time take our position there as a province.
Mr. Riel, in French,— interpreted by Mr. Ross — Mr. Sutherland’s motion seems to me, simply an exhibition of fear, without giving any reasons. A man who acts in this way, is a man who might not unfairly be entitled a coward. For myself, I say that discussion on this subject should not be shut off. As a Province, we would have a higher status; and it is certainly worth considering why we should not look for that higher status. It remains to be seen whether we would be best as a Province or a Territory. I, too, am an English subject; but I do not wish to be so to excess. I never heard a more unreasonable request than that now made, and in attempting to choke off discussion in a matter of so much importance, Mr. Sutherland has shown himself not to be the man for us. I move an amendment that the discussion be continued.
Mr. Sutherland — If I pushed myself forward, I might take such remarks in very good part. But I am not here to represent myself; and I know that my constituents never expected that I would be detained here so long. As to my part in the discussion, I do not believe any member here can teach me. We have considered the question this forenoon to no purpose. If anything can be brought out for the good of the country I am willing to support it, I have the good of the country at heart; and if I had not, I would not have been going round these last few months without fee or reward.
Mr. Riel — I spoke of Mr. Sutherland as the representative of a certain district — not personally. Personally I have high respect for him, believing him to be a good representative and an honest man.
Mr. Schmidt seconded Mr. Riel’s amendment.
Mr. Bunn — In favor of Mr. Sutherland’s motion I would say that even if the subject were discussed, and the merits in both cases equal, still, as a matter of precaution, we ought not to enter as a Province first. By entering as a Territory we have four or five years of experience, and we do not shut off discussion — we merely take a longer time to do it.
Mr. Riel — I cannot see the sense of the opposition to discussion. Why not look at both sides. We must not get discouraged at the delay, as the matter in which we are engaged is most important.
Mr. Ross — I think we ought to discuss the question on its merits, and think we will come to a just decision. I am not in favor of entering as a Province, but am not against discussing it.
Mr. Bunn — Mr. Ross’s course confirms me in my position. The whole Convention looks to him for information; and he says that when he has given us all the information he can, we will not seek to enter as a Province.
Mr. Riel’s amendment was put and carried:— Yeas 20; nays 19.
An interval of a quarter of an hour ensued, after which
Mr. Ross asked leave to make a few remarks on the question as to whether it was desirable to enter the Confederation as a Province or a Territory. At the outset, he said, I may say in one word, that I am opposed to our entering as a Province, and I am satisfied that my position will appear a just and good one — a position for the interests of the people of this country. If we enter as a Province, the first thing I have in my bill of indictment against that position is, that the man we want to represent us in the Senate of the Dominion, must possess, according to the fundamental act of union, $4,000 worth of real estate or buildings, above all liability. Considering our peculiar circumstances, that would I think operate injuriously against us. The next point I will mention is, that the Senator, even if possessed of this property, must be nominated by the Governor-General of Canada — not elected by us at all (hear, hear). And the man so nominated may be thoroughly hostile to us in all respects. The next point I make is, that according to the act of constitution, after the census of 1871, we would lose largely of the representation we are now asking as a Territory. We ask four representatives if we enter in that way; and taking all things into consideration, we may get that number. But if we enter as a Province, after the census of 1871 — that is, next year — we would lose three, if not the whole of our representation,— because, according to the law of Confederation, we must have a certain population before we can be represented in the Federal Parliament. My fourth point is this, that the Dominion Parliament has the full control of all the funds for public purposes,— to be disbursed as they seem right and proper — without heeding any suggestion, dictation or control from us. They have the right to impose taxes, at their discretion, for public purposes. This is something we did not contemplate when arranging the terms on which we should enter as a Territory. It is not that I see in this so much to fear for the people of this Territory, but I would rather they should not run the risk of it. If we enter as a Province,— and this is my fifth objection — the Dominion has the perfect right to annul any decision which our Local Legislature may come to. Now the very sense and spirit of some part of our discussion in the past, is that we should have control of our local affairs. Having enlarged on this point, Mr. Ross went on to say — I wish to call attention to the fact, that we have laid great stress on the qualification of voters, as was shown by the fact that we spent over a day in the discussion of the matter. If we enter the Confederation as a Province, we must at once take the qualification of voters prevalent in the Dominion. We cannot expect exclusive privileges, if we want at once the status of a Province. Then, under the Confederation Act,— and this is the next point — Canada has the exclusive right to legislate with reference to the public debt. By the arrangement proposed as a Territory, we settle the public debt at once, and do so in a manner which can never be injurious to us, even if afterwards we become a Province of the Dominion (cheers). Again, the Dominion has the exclusive right to legislate in respect to the militia of the country. Are we to place ourselves in a position where any member of us can be impressed into the militia service of the Dominion in any way we do not choose? (hear hear). The Province has the right to impose direct taxation; and there might not be any harm in that if our own people had control of the Local Legislature always. But the time is coming, perhaps, when foreigners, having very little sympathy with us, may exercise that right, and it may be that we will have but a small voice in the matter (cheers). As long as we remain a Territory, under the conditions we have set forth, there will be no fear of direct taxation, except under the control of the Local Legislature. We have been told further, that we can borrow money on credit of the Province. But that might or might not be an advantage. The people of Red River, if they had the right to borrow on the public credit, could borrow only on the lands of the country.
Mr. Riel — I do not admit that.
Mr. Ross — The money can only be raised in that way: and as soon as we attempt to make money out of the public lands, we deter emigration. All the money we can judiciously raise on our public lands, will not, in my opinion, pay for their survey and management. My next point against our entering as a Province, is that the Dominion has a right to appoint all our judges.
Mr. Riel — You have been in Toronto, and would be chosen.
Mr. Ross — If I were to consult merely my own personal interests perhaps I would wish this country to enter as a Province, but that would not be in the interests of the people of the country. Having alluded to the Red River people as a peculiar people, Mr. Ross went on further to argue against the country entering the Dominion as a Province.
Mr. O’Donoghue — I have heard many eloquent speeches on this subject. First of all I would refer to that of Mr. Ross. In the opening part of his speech, he said that, according to the Constitution, if we entered as a Province, we would not be entitled to more than one, or perhaps half a representative. In this I did not find him consistent with his position on a previous occasion. Then he told us that one could represent our interests as well as three or four. I did not oppose him strongly on that ground, because I knew it was a fact. And I have only to say that if it was a fact two days ago, it is a fact to-day; and that being the case it refutes Mr. Ross’s argument. As to the $4,000 worth of clear property which is required from a member of the Senate, we must remember, in speaking of the Constitution of Confederation in this and other respects, that it was framed when the North-West was not a part of the Dominion (hear, hear). And let me add, that you will find in the Provinces already Confederated, some things which are not in accordance with the Constitution of Confederation. In Newfoundland, for instance, they have universal suffrage. Does any one fancy they will change the voting qualification there? They never will. And if the North-West is to enter Confederation, why should there not be special rules laid down as well in the event of its entering as a Province as a Territory? If under the Constitution of Confederation, we can get the bill of rights which we ask as a Territory, why are we not equally able to get it on entering as a Province? (hear, hear). Again, I cannot agree with Mr. Ross in saying that Canada can throw on us any share she likes of the debt of the Dominion. It would be unprecedented; and I am sure no one in this country who advocates its incorporation into the Dominion as a Province, would do so on the ground that we were to share the public debt of Canada. Mr. Ross made so many points that I can hardly remember them all. He alluded, among other matters, to the militia. He says that if we enter as a Province, the general government would have control of the militia here. If that is the case, it is surprising to me that Mr. Ross, as one of the committee, did not think of preventing that in the bill of rights. In that bill I find nothing inserted to prevent them from forcing us to go down and fight the battles of Canada, whether we existed as a Territory or a Province. With reference to the question of changing the Constitution, Mr. Ross argued that if it were once changed by the Province, it might be ruin to the country. I would simply say, in reply, that if this power of change is given, it contains the further power of repealing any act of a former Legislature which may be regarded as destroying the Constitution. If the enactment is found to be injurious to the country, it can be repealed.
Mr. Ross — But at the time, the power may be in the hands of foreigners.
Mr. O’Donoghue — With reference to the Governor-General having the appointment of all the Judges, I am very glad Mr. Ross reminded us of that. We were forgetting a stipulation concerning it in the bill of rights. If the Governor-General has the right to appoint Judges in a Province, of course he will have the same right in a Territory, if no special condition prevents it. Mr. Ross further referred to our raising money on public lands and said that all we could raise from them would not pay for the survey. As a Territory, I would ask, have we any condition providing that we are not to be taxed for the survey of the lands?
Mr. Ross — as a Territory, we have nothing to do with the lands.
Mr. O’ Donoghue — We do not give them up; and in my opinion ought not to do so. Besides, we raise money on the whole Territory — not on our actual farms; and I am sure the North-West can raise as much money as perhaps any other Province.
Mr. Riel — They want the North-West for that very purpose — to raise money from it.
Mr. O’Donoghue — I do not declare in favor of a Province or a Territory. Many things have to be considered. Mr. O’Donoghue here entered into a lengthy argument showing the riches of the Territory — that money could be raised from it by a Provincial Government — that they ought not to give up the public lands to the country they joined — that in the event of our entering Confederation, we had as much right to claim Canadian lands as Canada had to claim our lands. In support of the latter position, he cited Texas, which held its own public lands on joining the Union. It had been hinted, he said, that if we did not close with Canada at once, we would have to fall back on our oars, and remain as we are at present. Perhaps that would be best. He did not see why we should rush headlong into Confederation. Might we not do at least as well as an independent Colony, or almost anything else? We are independent now. Why not continue so? We are all reputed rich. Why not continue so? Why not, as another alternative, alluded to by the Chairman — why not look forward to annexation? With annexation to the States we would not have to give up any of our Territory, rights or privileges.
Mr. Riel, in French, complimented Mr. O’Donoghue on his speech, and agreed with him in the main. Mr. Riel then proceeded to deal with the details that presented themselves in connection with this discussion. As to the point concerning the Judges, and other points which had been raised, he argued that we had laid down some conditions as a Territory, and the fact of our entering as a Province did not deprive us of the right to lay down any restrictions. Having touched on other points, Mr. Riel referred again to the question of occupying the time of the Convention, which had been raised by some members, and urged that in matters of such vital consequence, the Convention should take full time to deal with them. Mr. Riel alluded to a remark of Mr. Ross in committee that it might not be bad for us to stay a while before entering Confederation,— that it might be as good for us as for Nova Scotia. He (Mr. Riel) was glad to hear such an authority as Mr. Ross on the question. It was not urged that we should stay out as long as Nova Scotia did — but merely to delay in case they were unwilling to grant what the Convention asked.
Mr. Fraser — No doubt, all parties have their minds pretty well made up. I, therefore move that in the opinion of this Convention “we should enter Confederation as a Territory.”
Mr. Tait seconded the motion.
Mr. Ross having spoken against entering as a Province,
Mr. Fraser’s amendment was then put and carried:— Yeas 24; nays 15.
Mr. Ross, seconded by Mr. Taylor, proposed that during the evening, the Secretaries furnish Mr. Smith with the List of Rights adopted, and that to-morrow he come and give his opinion on the list.
Mr. Riel said that there was another article he desired to add to the list. He would move an amendment, seconded by Mr. Poitras, that to-morrow the Convention consider an article, to be added to the list, providing that all bargains with the Hudson Bay Company, for the transfer of the Territory, be considered null and void, and that any arrangements with reference to the transfer of this country, shall be carried on only with the people of this country.
Mr. Ross asked and obtained leave to withdraw his amendment, in order to allow of a discussion on the point raised by Mr. Riel.
At seven o’clock P.M. the Convention adjourned till ten o’clock next morning.
Next page: 11th Day: 5 February
 While the Hudson’s Bay Company’s on-site governor, William Mactavish, was incapacitated due to illness, John Black was acting governor. He had also acted as Recorder and president of the General Quarterly Court of Assiniboia and was former Secretary for Lands, New South Wales (1859–1860).
 HBCA, E.9/1, 15.