Quebec Resolutions
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Quebec Resolutions

In October 1864, 33 delegates from around British North America converged on Quebec City to decide on the terms of Confederation. The constitutional framework known as the Quebec Resolutions that emerged from the three-week gathering shaped the future of Canada.
Thirty-three delegates from around British North America gathered in Quebec City in October 1864 to hammer out the terms of Confederation.
Thirty-three delegates from around British North America gathered in Quebec City in October 1864 to hammer out the terms of Confederation.

The terms of the Quebec deal were cautious, legalistic and deliberately different from the revolutionary phrases of the French and American constitutions a hundred years before. The Canadian model was written like a careful contract, promising peace, order and good government.

"Our principle, distinct from the American, is founded on an equal union of authority and liberty... Our safety lies in the growth of a national sentiment that we are a people amongst the great people of the world," wrote Montreal delegate Thomas D'Arcy McGee

The key concept of federalism - the idea that the central government would be granted certain powers while the provinces retained others - was molded into shape.

However one man, almost single-handedly ensured that the balance of power would lean toward the federal government.

John A. Macdonald played a large role in shaping the Quebec Resolutions. The Upper Canadian politician was the only one at the conference with a background in constitutional law. Macdonald drafted 50 of the 72 resolutions and his desire for a strong central government was reflected in the document. Macdonald was convinced that the American model giving more political power to the individual states than the central government, was a dangerous doctrine that had led to attempted secession and civil war.

"We have given the (federal) general Legislature all the great subjects of legislation. We thereby strengthen the (federal) general parliament and make the confederation one people and one government," Macdonald said.

Federal legislative authority would be vested in the elected House of Commons and the appointed Senate.

One of the Quebec Resolutions specified that membership in the House of Commons would be based upon representation by population. The system reduced the proportion of seats French Canadians would have in the federal Parliament, down from their current 50 per cent. Some Maritime delegates argued that under this system, the smaller provinces would be overwhelmed by the larger ones.

The Senate was designed to balance power between the more populated Province of Canada and the smaller Maritime provinces. The Senate would have three equal blocks of seats; one for Lower Canada, one for Upper Canada, and one for the four Atlantic provinces combined as a single entity. The composition proposed was 30 seats for Upper Canada, 30 seats for Lower Canada, ten each for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and five each for Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

When the Quebec Resolutions were adopted by the delegates, an elated George Brown wrote to his wife, "Conference through at six o'clock this evening - constitution adopted - a most creditable document... a complete reform of all the abuses and injustice we have complained of!! Is it not wonderful? The old French domination is entirely extinguished ... Some will say our constitution is dreadfully Tory - and so it is - but we have the power in our hands (if it passes), to change it as we like. Hurrah!"

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