This week, we are going to look at some of the Fathers of Confederation. While we are going to devote a week to exploring the roles that notable women played in our country’s founding, we are going to start with the guys. Today, we begin with an underdog who rose to Canada’s highest office, if only for a short time.
The Right Honourable Sir Charles Tupper is considered by some to be a mere footnote in Canada's history. After all, his biggest claim to fame is that he holds the dubious distinction of being Canada's shortest-serving Prime Minister. Instead of focusing on this, we will look to his accomplishments preceding his 69-day term as our sixth Prime Minister.
Tupper held a significant role in Canada's Confederation, as he was Nova Scotia's premier from 1864 to 1867. He was originally against the idea of unification with the other British North American colonies due to his belief that the smaller colonies would lose significant autonomy. However, he eventually reconsidered this position in light of the vast economic advantages that Nova Scotia would gain as a result of confederation.
When the American civil war broke out, Tupper, along with many of the other Fathers of Confederation, saw a threat to British interests. They feared that the war would eventually spill north of the 49th parallel. The concern was that, after winning against the Confederacy, Union commanders would keep the momentum of their large army and set their sights on conquering British colonies as well. The importance of a strong British North America was no longer simply a matter of economics for Tupper. He believed that Nova Scotia's autonomy could best be protected by allying with the other British North American colonies, and that their very survival depended on it.
Originally, Tupper, as a co-chairman of the Charlottetown Conference, had simply proposed uniting the Maritime provinces to this end. When John A. Macdonald threw his hat into the ring in 1864, Tupper welcomed him with open arms, seizing the opportunity to draw the might of the Province of Canada into the fold.
Later that year, Confederation hit its first roadblock. The French-speaking representatives to the Quebec Conference felt that they had far more to lose in terms of of autonomy than the other colonies. Tupper shrewdly saw this reluctance as a way to have it both ways, in that he could now lobby for Confederation, but also for greater autonomy of the provinces. In order to get the French on board, Tupper argued for a strong federal government, but also agreed that the legislatures of the colonies should retain some of their power, and ensured that some form of regional representation would be enshrined in the upper house of the national legislature.
While Nova Scotia ultimately took an economic hit due to some of the finer details of the agreement, Tupper's contributions to Confederation are undeniable. He helped form the composition of what would become Canada's senate, as well as assisted in laying the groundwork for our federalist system and division of powers, as seen in ss 91-92 of the Constitution Act, 18671.
Not too shabby for a short-timer.
1 Constitution Act, 1867 (UK), 30 & 31 Vict, c 3, reprinted in RSC 1985, Appendix II, No 5.