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AHC: Unitary Canada

Venocara

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With a POD no earlier than the enactment of the 1840 Act of Union, how could the unitary system that the Act established be stabilised in such a way that would allow it to last to the present day? Would a unitary Canada still be able to incorporate the Maritime states and the western lands as Canada did in OTL? Does something need to be amended with the Act itself to allow a unitary state to succeed in Canada?
 

Ricardolindo

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With a POD no earlier than the enactment of the 1840 Act of Union, how could the unitary system that the Act established be stabilised in such a way that would allow it to last to the present day? Would a unitary Canada still be able to incorporate the Maritime states and the western lands as Canada did in OTL? Does something need to be amended with the Act itself to allow a unitary state to succeed in Canada?
From my limited knowledge, it's impossible. The Canadian colonies had a hard time unifying even into a federal state, let alone an unitary one.
 

TheCoolCucumber

Well-known member
I agree with @Ricardolindo, a unitary state really isn't possible. Neither the maritime provinces or BC will agree to it, nor do I think it would be particularly practical. What is much more likely is that you could have an incredibly strong Federal government that can dominate the provinces. This is basically how the country was until the early 20th century, when the courts started limiting the Feds powers (particularly by limiting the POGG powers).

I'm not sure what a good POD would be to do this, it would be helpful to get earlier judicial independence from the UK, because it was the JCPC that really gutted Federal powers, but I'm not sure that would be enough. Another, later option would be for Mackenzie King to succeed in his negotiations with the provinces regarding healthcare. Healthcare becomes a Federal responsibility and the provinces get significantly reduced taxation powers, which would make them more dependent on Federal support in other areas.
 
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Dan1988

Sorry, sunshine, wrong place
Yeah, a unitary state really wouldn't last long for Canada if it expanded outside of the core former United Province. It only really existed in the first place to forcibly assimilate French-Canadians (as well as trading on Lower Canada's good financial stewardship to cover up Upper Canada's gigantic debt from its railway and canal construction), which fortunately did not work as Lord Durham and the others had hoped. A Canada that remains under the 1840 Act of Union would only be limited to Canada West and Canada East (what we now call most of Ontario and southern/eastern Quebec, respectively). It would have been much easier if the 1840 Act of Union did not occur, but that's just my opinion, and instead much of the focus would be reforming Lower Canada itself, similar to (but different from) the July Monarchy. Such a colonial regime could have been longer lasting and would have immediately addressed the Patriotes' grievances then and there. Upper Canada, too, could also have its governance reformed, but would remain separate
 

Venocara

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I'm not sure what a good POD would be to do this, it would be helpful to get earlier judicial independence from the UK, because it was the JCPC that really gutted Federal powers,
Is there anything that can be done at the beginning of the Confederation to noticeably strengthen the central government's powers?

What is much more likely is that you could have an incredibly strong Federal government that can dominate the provinces. This is basically how the country was until the early 20th century, when the courts started limiting the Feds powers (particularly by limiting the POGG powers)
Could you please elaborate on this?

A Canada that remains under the 1840 Act of Union would only be limited to Canada West and Canada East (what we now call most of Ontario and southern/eastern Quebec, respectively).
Is it at all possible for the unitary system to last until the present day if it is limited to the OTL United Province?

Also, would it be possible for just a Maritime Union (maybe including Newfoundland) to have a unitary system without going back to 1769?
 

TheCoolCucumber

Well-known member
Is there anything that can be done at the beginning of the Confederation to noticeably strengthen the central government's powers?
It's been ages since I read anything about confederation negotiations, so I really don't know any specifics, but I will reiterate that the Federal Government was incredibly powerful during the early years of Confederation, the challenge is maintaining that power.

Could you please elaborate on this?
So POGG stands for Peace, Order, and Good Government. The constitution allows the Federal Parliament to pass laws not necessarily within it's area of responsibility if it's in the persuit of one of these goals, or at least that is how it was interpreted. The Courts (and particularly the JCPC) put a lot of limits on this powers starting around the beginning of the 20th century, and greatly weakened the Federal Government by doing so.

I have a couple of books about Canadian constitutional law laying around somewhere, I'll try to find them so I can get a bit more specific.
 

Dan1988

Sorry, sunshine, wrong place
Is it at all possible for the unitary system to last until the present day if it is limited to the OTL United Province?
In the long term, it would be very problematic for continuing the United Province into the present day - which was how Confederation was thought up of in the first place, as its politicians saw it (separately from the Maritime colonies). Federalism would only really work in terms of addressing French-Canadians' specific needs, which the United Province was initially designed to work against (which was one of the reasons why it failed), but at the same time it could only work if there was cooperation between English-Canadian and French-Canadian politicians. If it were not possible to convert the United Province into a federal one for some reason, some serious thought would have to be considered towards heavily reforming the system to lessen the biases against French-Canadians and thus stop the assimilationist bias that was behind it all. Otherwise, it would just be easier to de-amalgamate the United Province back into Upper Canada and Lower Canada, since too many things were working against the unitary system surviving in the long run except as separate entities (as the later post-Confederation provinces and the pre-1840 colonies demonstrate).

Also, would it be possible for just a Maritime Union (maybe including Newfoundland) to have a unitary system without going back to 1769?
Maritime Union-specific? No, it's not possible. From the time the Maritime Union proposal came up, the only possible workable model was federal, as far as I can tell, particularly if you're going to get Newfoundland involved. While it could be possible to have a half-united region by incorporating PEI into Nova Scotia, New Brunswick is a lot more tricky because it was originally founded specifically as "the Loyalist province" since Nova Scotia was felt to be too suspiciously sympathetic to the Yankees. So there's that element of somewhat mutual suspicion playing out. There's a reason why much emphasis within the Maritime colonies/provinces tends to focus more on cooperation rather than amalgamation.
 

Roger II

Well-known member
It's been ages since I read anything about confederation negotiations, so I really don't know any specifics, but I will reiterate that the Federal Government was incredibly powerful during the early years of Confederation, the challenge is maintaining that power.


So POGG stands for Peace, Order, and Good Government. The constitution allows the Federal Parliament to pass laws not necessarily within it's area of responsibility if it's in the persuit of one of these goals, or at least that is how it was interpreted. The Courts (and particularly the JCPC) put a lot of limits on this powers starting around the beginning of the 20th century, and greatly weakened the Federal Government by doing so.

I have a couple of books about Canadian constitutional law laying around somewhere, I'll try to find them so I can get a bit more specific.
Can I ask more about how they circumscribed that power?
 

TheCoolCucumber

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Venocara

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If it were not possible to convert the United Province into a federal one for some reason, some serious thought would have to be considered towards heavily reforming the system to lessen the biases against French-Canadians and thus stop the assimilationist bias that was behind it all.
How could this be accomplished?

I think a good start to keeping POGG powerful would be to avoid Lord Watson's judgement in the Local Prohibition Reference of 1896.
How likely is this and what would be the long-term impact of this change?
 

Dan1988

Sorry, sunshine, wrong place
How could this be accomplished?
Before we talk about how this could be accomplished, we need to have a look at the context of how the 1840 Act of Union came about.
<http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/readings/1840.htm>

If there is to be a unitary Canada, the best idea would be to start with the 1840 Act itself, and if not that then afterwards. Now, the Durham Report heavily mis-characterized the 1837-8 rebellions as being ethnic in origin (which was not the case until the very end, when things were well and truly going downhill for the Patriotes) and hence the very racist (or class-ist, if you want) view he puts forward of French-Canadians having no history, no culture, and all that (which, of course, was not true). Therefore, lost among his recommendations for responsible government and all that for which is justifiably celebrated in modern Canada, he also believed the only good thing that should be done was to assimilate French-Canadians into English-Canadians. For that reason, Lord Durham is a villain in French Canada, and it let into efforts to prove him wrong - not only sparking an insane obsession with history, but also indirectly helping the Catholic Church into power and dominating over French-Canadians' lives as the guardian of the nation.

This fear was even more so the case with the panic in French Canada surrounding the 1840 Act of Union - and I do mean panic. First off, from the link at the top of this post:
In several respects, the Union Act showed unfairness toward Lower Canada:

Art. 1 Eliminated the small amount of self-government the Canadiens had enjoyed between 1791 and 1838.

Art. 12 Required equality of representation between the two sections of the province even though Lower Canada had a population which exceeded that of Upper Canada by 200 000 people (L.C. had 650 000 people and Upper Canada had only 450 000).

Art. 28. With a Lower Canadian population on the average much poorer than that of Upper Canada, it will be difficult for the average Canadien to run in elections because of the high property qualification.

Art. 41. The French language is reduced to a second class status, that of a translation language.

Art. 46. The French civil law system may be threatened by the existence of an anglophone majority in the House.

Art. 50. Revenues were higher in Lower than Upper Canada.

Art. 55. The consolidation of the public debts of Upper and Lower Canada is in fact a fictional one since Lower Canada entered the Union with a credit balance of $190 000 while Upper Canada had a debt of $5 900 000. (Different sources provide different figures)

It became evident from the start that the Union Act did not have a chance to stand the test of time for three reasons:

  • The lack of responsibility in government was sure to displease every reformer in the province and the problems evident in the period of 1791 to 1840 were bound to resurface.
  • The Union of Upper and Lower Canada could only be successful if both partners saw a distinct advantage in such a union and if the principle of duality was respected; however, it is clear from the start that the Union was set up as an instrument of assimilation founded on the domination of one people over another.
  • To be successful the Union would have had to call on the loyalty of all of the people in the province; with equality of representation the members of the two sections will tend inevitably, to speak out in favour of their section of the Province; thus, sectionalism is bound to appear rapidly because the unity of interests of the people of the two sections of the Province was not great enough to counterbalance their great difference.
Thus, the failure of the Union Act, as the main cause of Confederation, could have been predicted from the beginning... The Union, with its clear intent of assimilation, was to generate trauma and political realignment in Quebec. Its effects were to be felt for over a century in the ultramontane form of nationalism that dominated the province for so long and in the ideology of ‘la survivance’ .
Thus, the 1840 Act showed clear bias towards Upper Canada in an effort to force Lower Canada to conform, which fortunately did not happen. The easiest solution, therefore, is to eliminate the offending language and disregard the assimilationist stuff (which means Upper Canada's railway and canal debt would have to be disposed of elsewhere). Or, even better, have the 1840 Act of Union not see the light of day in the first place and keep both Upper Canada and Lower Canada separate, because all it did was create a lot of damage. To do that, of course, would require a POD before the enactment.

Now, what ultimately made the United Province of Canada work as it did was how politicians on both sides of the Ottawa River ultimately came together to make the best of a bad situation. People in power knew that assimilation was never going to work, so they tried to work with their French-Canadian colonies to try to ameliorate the situation. So, if the 1840 Act of Union is going to work, it would have to take into account Lower Canada (well, at this point, Canada East's) distinctiveness and unique national characteristics and therefore give it special status. After all, Scotland and Ireland were not forced to give up anything when they merged with England, so why should French Canada vis-à-vis English Canada? On top of that, Lower Canada (soon to become Quebec upon Confederation IOTL) insisted on having federalism for its own reasons during the Confederation debates. So something should be done to accommodate those who want French-Canadians in control of their own affairs.

So, a unitary Province of Canada would have to submit amendments to the British Parliament of the 1840 Act of Union that would remove much of the pro-assimilationist language. French would be restored to pride of place alongside English; pre-Revolutionary French civil law would be restored, and lower the property qualification (if not abolish it altogether), among other things. Furthermore, responsible government (not introduced in the 1840 Act of Union) should finally be granted to the Province; if it's possible, though probably not until later on, Lower Canada having Home Rule within the responsible government structure would be most desirable. However, one bit that should remain under central control would be the educational system, which would guarantee equality of the two languages throughout the country (and for that, something would eventually need to be done to address the Orange Order, which would probably end up being a massive threat to the whole project).

Why single out education, you might ask? Much of the support base for the 1837-8 rebellions lay in the growth of the professional classes between 1791 and 1837, which lost its power after the failure of the rebellions. However, many of their grievances were commonplace and lay at the heart of the concept of responsible government in the first place (having a government accountable to the people, and hence by extension having a capacity for self-government), and which was finally implemented by the Baldwin/La Fontaine Government. To make it work in the long term requires rebuilding the professional classes while also having their grievances addressed at the same time, which would cool the temperature and prevent any serious challenge to the government (hence why autonomy in Canada East should be an ultimate goal - and which can be accommodated in a unitary system). The easiest form to do that, and to get around the Church's monopoly on education viz. the classical colleges, would be the educational system - and hence a different take on the separate school (which Quebec used to have until it deconfessionalized its schools and reorganized them on the basis of language; only Ontario retains the classic formula as such). So there would be English and French secular schools alongside English and French Catholic schools (English secular schools would originate from Protestant schools, so English Protestant schools coexisting with the secular and Catholic schools could be a reality, in which case "secular" would basically mean non-denominational and with alternate means of moral and religious instruction), which have the same curriculum but which ensures French-Canadians are not left behind their English-Canadian counterparts (so no abolition of Québec's Ministry of Public Instruction, like OTL - where it would not be reconstituted until the Quiet Revolution) and provides alternate economic opportunities to, well, agriculture (which nationalists explained as being God's natural vocation for French-Canadians to carry out their messianic vision).

Just some ideas to throw out there, but they highlight what I think is the crux of it. Having the 1840 Act of Union survive would actually mean rejecting the assimilationist bias of the Durham Report and backing away from it as official policy, and instead treating French Canada with dignity and recognizing/helping to fulfill its aspirations (a good portion of which are held in common with Reformers in Upper Canada, hence responsible government). Otherwise - well, there's the rest of my posts in this thread. Best the United Province didn't exist at all and easier to concentrate on Lower Canada first and separate from Upper Canada.
 

Venocara

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Just some ideas to throw out there, but they highlight what I think is the crux of it. Having the 1840 Act of Union survive would actually mean rejecting the assimilationist bias of the Durham Report and backing away from it as official policy, and instead treating French Canada with dignity and recognizing/helping to fulfill its aspirations (a good portion of which are held in common with Reformers in Upper Canada, hence responsible government). Otherwise - well, there's the rest of my posts in this thread.
Thank you for this - it seems like a very well-considered and sensible approach to the issue.

The problem that I see is that it may be a bit too sensible. In OTL, 1840 to 1847 the policy that British Governor-Generals used to keep the Canadas in line was easily summarised by force and sectarian violence, only this kept on getting interrupted because they kept dying after brief tenures. It's why I'm not really sure if they would be willing to adopt an approach that is such a radical departure from what was the done thing at the time. Do you think that this approach was doomed to failure?
 
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