The Great Enterprise
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The Great Enterprise
Campaign Against Confederation
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Lower Canada Dissent
After drawing up the Quebec Resolutions (which formed the basis for a Canadian constitution), the Fathers of Confederation still had to sell their ideas to the citizens of British North America.

In the English half of the Province of Canada, there was almost no debate about Confederation. That wasn't the case in French Canada.

There was resentment among some French Canadians especially when John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier - two of the powers behind the constitution - announced they would not hold an election on the Quebec Resolutions.

Antioine-Aimé Dorion, the leader of the French Canada's opposition Rouge Party, said, "If confederation should be adopted without the people of this province's sanction, the entire country will sorely learn to regret it."

Dorion stressed that French Canadians would be reduced to a minority of the seats in the federal Parliament, down from their current 50 per cent. And there would be debts and new taxes for building railways, and for acquiring the Hudson's Bay Company territories, which he believed would be populated largely by intolerant English Protestants.

It was not merely a fight between political rivals. A young journalist and lawyer named Wilfrid Laurier also passionately opposed Confederation.

"Twenty-five years ago the French nation... was more vigorous, more united, strongly French.� Today it is... without strength, divided, not yet Anglicized but becoming so... We must use all the influence we have left to obtain a free and separate government."

In the winter of 1865, the Rouges went from community to community, trying to stir up opposition to the terms of Confederation. But their leaders did not have a clear alternative to offer. In the far-flung communities across French Canada, there was little time for distant political battles and the Rouges had a powerful enemy.

For years they had been battling the influential Catholic Church over its unquestioning support of authority. Now Cartier convinced the Church to end its silence concerning Confederation. Most of the Quebec bishops agreed to support the new union both from the pulpit and in the quiet of the confessional.

In the end, Cartier and Macdonald put the Quebec Resolutions to a vote in the provincial legislature. It passed easily: 91 in favour, just 33 against. But the members representing French ridings were split down the middle.

The people of Upper and Lower Canada never voted on the resolutions themselves. But in the next general election, supporters of Confederation were massively re-elected.
A young journalist and lawyer named Wilfrid Laurier - who would later become a Canadian prime minister -  passionately opposed Confederation. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
A young journalist and lawyer named Wilfrid Laurier - who would later become a Canadian prime minister - passionately opposed Confederation. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

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