Dorion led the Parti Rouge (Liberals) in the 1850s and he had served with George Brown in a short-lived government. Early in 1865 representatives from the United Province of Canada (today’s Quebec and Ontario) met to decide if they would proceed with a federation that had been negotiated to include the English colonies in Atlantic Canada. Dorion was opposed to this wider confederation, as were a majority of the francophone delegates. They feared that the English majority would overwhelm the French. Dorion also opposed the idea of a legislative union, in which the central government held most of the power. His arguments in 1865 illustrate the historic disagreement over the founding reality of Canada. Was confederation to be the union of two nations, or was it a federation of equal provinces? These conflicting views still exist.
In 1864, the colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland planned to meet in Charlottetown to investigate a union among the British Maritime colonies. John A Macdonald and other representatives from Upper and Lower Canada invited themselves to the meeting and arrived by steamship. They proposed a wider union which would include Upper and Lower Canada. The group met again in Quebec City in October 1864 and agreed to proceed. Then in February 1865, the legislature of Upper and Lower Canada met to decide whether to ratify the proposal. Macdonald’s was the first of many speeches in the long debate in Quebec City.
This is a fitting speech as Canada winds down its 150th year since Confederation. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was one of the great pre-Confederation orators. This speech, urging the creation of a new Canadian nationality, was delivered three years prior to conferences in Charlottetown and Quebec City, which negotiated the details of Confederation. McGee came to Canada from Ireland via New York and settled in Montreal where he was a newspaper editor and later a politician. The US civil war was raging in 1862 and McGee warned that to survive people in British colonies to the north must create their own nationality, an un-hyphenated Canadianism.