House of Commons, 2 May 1870, Canadian Confederation with Alberta and Saskatchewan



Monday, May 2, 1870


Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald ―I rise, sir with the consent of the House, to submit the result of our deliberations for the framing of a constitution for the country heretofore known as Rupert's Land and the North-West Territory. In moving for leave to introduce this Bill, of which I have given notice, I may premise by stating that there has been a discussion going on as to whether we should have a Territory or a Province, The answer we made on behlaf of the Canadian Government was that such a thing as a Territory was not known to the British colonial system, that the expression was not recognized, that the expression was Colony or Province, and that we thought it would be better to adhere to the old and well known form of expression―well know to us as Colonists of the Empire―and not bring a new description into our statute book. It was not, of course, a matter of any serious importance whether the country was called a Province or Territory. We have Provinces of all sizes, shapes and constitutions; there are very few Colonies with precisely the same constitution in all particulars, that there could not be anything determined by the use of the word. Then the next question discussed was the name of the Province. It was thought that was a matter of taste and should be considered with reference to euphony and with reference also as much as possible to the remembrance of the original inhabitants of that vast country. Fortunately the Indian languages of that section 1298 COMMONS DEBATES May 2, 1870 of the country give us a choice of euphonious names and it is considered proper that the Province which is to be organized, shall be called Manitoba. The name Assiniboia, by which it has hitherto been called, is considered to be rather too long, involving confusion, too, between the river Assiniboine and the Province Assiniboia. I suppose, therefore, there will be no objection to the name that has been fixed upon, which is euphonious enough in itself, and is an old Indian name, meaning "The God who speaks—the speaking God." There is a fine lake there called Lake Manitoba, which forms the western boundary of the Province. A subject of very great importance, which engaged much of our consideration, was the settlement of the boundaries of the Province we are organizing. It is obvious that that vast country could not be formed into one Province. It is obvious that the Dominion Government and the Dominion Parliament must retain, for Dominion purposes, the vast section of that country, which is altogether or nearly without inhabitants, and that the Province must be confined to the more settled country that now exists. We found happily that there was no great difficulty in regard to this matter, that there was no discussion upon the subject, and I may read a description of the boundaries that have been settled upon. "The region which is to form the new Province of Manitoba commences at a point on the frontier of the United States Territory, 96 degrees West of Greenwich, and extends to a point 98 degrees and 15 minutes West, being bounded on the South by 49th parallel of latitude, and on the North by latitude 50 degrees and 30 minutes." He here placed a map on the table showing the boundaries of the new Province and the members gathered round to examine it.
Hon. Col. Gray—How many square miles are there in the new Province?
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—Eleven thousand square miles. It is a small Province as the House will observe, but yet it contains the principal part of the settlements which are ranged, as those who have studied the matter know, along the banks of Red River and the banks of Assiniboine from the point of their confluence at or near Fort Garry up westward towards Lake Manitoba. One of the clauses of the Bill which I propose to lay before the House, but which is not yet in such a position as to go into the printer's hands preparatory to the second reading, provides that such portions of the North-West Territory, as are not included in this Province, shall be governed as an unorganized tract by the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, under a separate Commission 1299 under the Great Seal of the Dominion, and that until they are settled and organized they shall be governed by Orders in Council.
Mr. Mackenzie—Does the Bill provide a Constitution for that territory?
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—No. It simply provides that the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba shall be Governor of the remaining portion of the Territory under directions of Orders in Council, and action upon separate commission issued under the Great Seal. In settling the Constitution of the Province the question of how far representative institutions should be properly conferred at this time has been fully discussed. The House knows that this subject was discussed last summer by the press in all parts of Canada, and that there was a good deal of objection that the Bill of last Session, provisional as it was, and intended to last only a few months, did not provide representative institutions for the people of that Territory. That Bill provided that the Lieutenant Governor should have an Executive Council, and that that Council should have power to make laws, subject, of course, to the veto power, the paramount power of the Governor General here. It was passed simply for the purpose of having something like an organization ready, something like the rudiments of a Government, from the time the Territory was admitted into the Dominion, it being understood that the Act should continue in force only until the end of the present session of Parliament. On the introduction of that Bill by the Government, it was received in that particular, and I think in every particular, with the almost unanimous sanction and approval of Parliament. The Government felt they were not in a position from acquaintance with the circumstances of the country and wants of its people, to settle anything like a fixed constitution upon the Territory. They thought it, therefore, better that they should merely pass a temporary Act to last for a few months providing for the appointment of a Lieutenant Governor, for which office my hon. friend from North Lanark was selected, who, when he arrived upon the spot, would have an opportunity of reporting upon the requirements of the country, and after discussing the matter with the principal men of the settlement, to suggest what kind of institutions were best suited to those requirements. Unfortunately no opportunity was offered for entering into that discussion or getting that information. One result, however, of the enquiry that was instituted in this country, was to pour a flood of light upon the Territory, and I have no doubt every hon. member of this House has taken advantage of 1300 COMMONS DEBATES May 2, 1870 it so as to enable him, with a greater degree of certainty, to approach the subject of what the Constitution ought to be. Besides that we have discussed the proposed Constitution with such persons who have been in the North-West as we have had an opportunity of meeting, and the result has been as I will shortly describe. In the first place, as regards the representation of the Province of Manitoba in the Dominion Parliament, the proposition of the Government is that the people of the Province shall be represented in the Senate by two members until the Province shall have a population at a decennial census of 50,000. From thenceforth the people there shall have representation in the Senate of three members; and subsequently, when the population shall amount to 75,000, they shall have representation of four members. That will give them the same representation in the upper House of the Dominion Legislature as has been proposed for Prince Edward's Island, and agreed to by the representatives of that Province at the Quebec conference—Prince Edward's Island being the smallest of the Provinces, having a population of about 85,000. The Bill does not provide for any increase of numbers beyond four. It is not likely that, in our day at any rate, the Province will have a population which will entitle it to more. With respect to its representation in the House of Commons, it is proposed that it shall have four members in this House—the Governor General having, for that purpose, power to separate and divide the whole of the Province into four electoral districts, each containing as nearly as possible an equal number of the present community of settlers. The executive power of the Province will, of course, as in all the other Provinces of the Dominion, be vested in a Lieutenant Governor, who shall be appointed like the other Lieutenant Governors, by Commission from the Governor General, under the Great Seal of the Dominion. He shall have an Executive Council, which shall be composed of seven persons, holding such offices as the Lieutenant Governor shall, from time to time, think fit, and, in the first instance, shall not exceed five in number. The meetings of the Legislature until otherwise ordered by the Legislature itself, shall be held at Fort Garry, or within a mile of it. With respect to the Legislative body, there was considerable difficulty and long discussion whether it should consist of one chamber or two; whether, if one chamber, it should be composed of the representatives of the people and of persons appointed by the Crown, or Local Government, or whether they should be severed and the two chambers constituted— all these questions were fully discussed. After mature consideration, it was agreed that there should be two chambers. I see my hon. friend (Hon. Mr. McDougall) laughs, but, being a true 1301 liberal, he will not object to the people having a voice in the settlement of their own Constitution and to determine whether they shall have one or two chambers or even three if it suits their purpose to have them. It is proposed then to have two chambers, but the Legislative Council is not a very formidable one. It is to be composed in the first place of seven members. After the expiration of four years it may be increased to twelve, but not more than that number. The object of making that provision is this, that we could not well have a smaller Legislative body than seven; and yet it might be well that the Government of the day—the Lieutenant Governor having a responsible Ministry—have the power of meeting the difficulty arising from a possible deadlock between the two chambers—the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. It is therefore proposed that after the end of the first four years—after the first Parliament of the Province, the Lieutenant Governor may if he thinks proper upon the advice of his Executive Council, who have the confidence of the people and of their representatives, increase the number up to twelve. The Legislative Assembly shall be composed of a body of twenty-four members—the Lieutenant Governor dividing the Province for that purpose into twenty-four Electoral Districts having due regard to the various communities into which the settlement is at present divided. All these clauses and stipulations are, of course, subject to alterations by the people themselves, except so far as they relate to the appointment of the Lieutenant Governor, which, of course, rests upon the same authority as in the other Provinces of the Dominion. In all other respects they may alter their Constitutions as they please. It is provided in the Bill that all the clauses of the British North America Act, excepting as altered by the Bill itself, or excepting those clauses which apply only to one or two Provinces, and not to the whole of the Provinces, shall apply to the new Province. The Bill contains various other clauses with which I will not now trouble the House because they refer to matters of no great interest, except as they are requisite to carry on the machinery of the Executive and Legislative bodies. Until the Legislature otherwise provides, the qualification of voters for members both of the House of Commons and Local Legislatures shall be the same as provided by the Confederation Act for the District of Algoma. I think the House will agree with me that no other qualification can be provided. The clause runs that every British subject who has attained the age of 21 years, and who is and has been a householder for one year, shall have a right to vote. The duration of the Legislative Assembly shall be four years, as in the other Provinces.
1388 COMMONS DEBATES May 5, 1870
Mr. Colby dissented from the views expressed by the preceding speaker. He defended the conduct of the Government throughout the entire North- West business, and contented that not only was the country satisfied with the course they had adopted, but the House was also, for he had never seen the benches so empty, during an important discussion. He did not blame the Hon. Mr. McDougall, for he considered a better appointment could have not been made. He did not blame the hon. Minister of Justice, for although it had been asserted that the hon. gentleman had never displayed astuteness except in keeping himself into office, he (Mr. Colby) believed it was through the astuteness of the Prime Minister that the country had come so safely through the difficulty. He believed it was better not to make the new Province too large at first, but to allow it to expand as the population spread over the country, and he thought a better population than French Canadian Catholics could not occupy that key to the North-West. They were par excellence a loyal people, and they were in the best position to render assistance in protecting that valuable avenue. The hon. member for Waterloo seemed wedded to a single Legislative Chamber for a new Province, but he (Mr. Colby) did not approve of that exceptional form of legislation for the people of Manitoba.


Canada. House of Commons Debates, 1875-1949. Provided by the Library of Parliament.



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