Who created Canada: Conservatives or coalition?
NationalPost.com – posted/CanadianPolitics
Apr 13, 2011. Adrian Humphreys
It was 25 minutes into a speech in Kitchener, Ont., that Stephen Harper moved to his rousing conclusion: “Friends, we are here for Canada, the country we as Conservatives created.” It is an appealing line of election rhetoric, but historians debate the accuracy of the Prime Minister’s analysis.
“It’s an over-simplification but I’m not going to say it is inaccurate or unfair. That’s what politicians do, it’s what politicians say at election time,” said Michael Bliss, a Canadian historian and professor emeritus with the University of Toronto.
“Sir John A. Macdonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada and an architect of Confederation, so that’s where Mr. Harper would get that. The Liberals, of course, will point out that it was a coalition that created Confederation.”
Coalition? The c-word?
Indeed, said Michel Ducharme, professor of pre-Confederation Canada at the University of British Columbia.
“Politically, [Mr. Harper made] a very astute statement but historically it is more than debatable, I’d say it was false,” said Mr. Ducharme.
As with many aspects of history – and politics – much is open to perspective and interpretation.
“If he meant after Confederation, it is true that Conservatives were in power and built the institutions of Canada after Confederation,” Mr. Ducharme said, but the Conservatives were the least among the partners who negotiated the idea of Confederation, a unification of three British colonies into a federal dominion.
Confederation was debated and negotiated from 1864 to 1867 with different political leaders of different political parties contributing.
The governing authority of the Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) was dubbed the Great Coalition, comprised of George Brown, leader of the Clear Grits (which became the Liberal party); George-Étienne Cartier, leader of the French-Canadian nationalist Parti bleu; and John A. Macdonald, leader of the Liberal-Conservatives.
Mr. Ducharme said Macdonald was the junior coalition partner because he controlled the smallest number of seats at the time.
The discussions of a federal union took shape at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, convened in Prince Edward Island to discuss a Maritime union. Macdonald asked to be included.
On July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada was formed. The original components were the provinces of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Macdonald was with a precursor party of the Conservatives, New Brunswick premier Samuel Leonard Tilley was first elected as a Liberal and Nova Scotia premier Charles Tupper was a Conservative.
Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Mr. Harper, said Tuesday the speech was a reference to Macdonald’s early governance.
“Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, a Conservative, was what media outlets like the CBC call ‘the architect of modern Canada,’” Mr. Soudas said.
So if historians generally attribute the creation of Canada to a coalition, surely Mr. Harper didn’t intend to highlight the positive potential of a coalition, given his pejorative use of the word to dissuade people from supporting the Liberals this election.
“This is the irony of speaking about pre-Confederation Canada in this election,” said Mr. Ducharme.
“I think this is a beautiful sentence. It is very smart in that it is very ambiguous. But as to creating Canada? The answer is it was a compromise.”
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