Meaning of Confederation

Canadian Confederation refers to a process through which the Federal Dominion of Canada came into being on July 1, 1867.  This process resulted into the formation of four Canadian provinces out of the three British colonies. The British Province of Canada was divided into new Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.  Therefore, the term Canadian Confederation is used to describe the political process, which led to the unification of the colonies in the 1860s as well as the subsequent inclusion of other territories and colonies into the unification.

The Basis of the Canadian Confederation

Confederation resulted from a number of reasons, and these reasons had both internal-motivation as well as external influence.

Internal factors that influenced the Confederation

The influence of the internal factors on the process of Confederation began with the termination of the Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty, which was a free trade policy allowing the delivery of goods into the United States without being subjected to taxes and tariffs. This treaty had been in operation since 1854. The treaty was largely beneficial to Canada, and its cancellation in 1865 was regarded by the United States as part of the punishment that Great Britain had to suffer for her unofficial support of the South during the American Civil War.

The Confederation was also prompted by the political deadlock that resulted in the Great Coalition, which led to the formation of the present United Province of Canada. The political deadlock was between the two main party leaders, Sir John A. McDonald and George Brown. The two were great political rivals until the former announced his readiness to liaise with any political party or organization that would avail good fortunes to his home country. Basically, the political deadlock pitted Canada East and Canada West; and since each block had equal number of representatives in the Legislative Assembly, the battle was intense. Each side held divergent views during the discussions that, in some instances, resulted into frequent political deadlocks. More often than not, little headway was made owing to the bitter conflicts between the two camps. However, the ultimate compromise was in favor of the Federal Union or Confederation.

The third internal aspect that informed the need to unify was the realization of the common interest. For instance, it became apparent that having an inter-colony railroad would advance the level of trade, military movement, as well as transportation in general. The construction of the railway linking to the colonies had great economic benefits in the sense that it facilitated the movement of trade goods along with business people. Additionally, the linking of the colonies through a common railway was perceived to be the best way of facilitating the movement of troops. In this regard, the railway was hoped to go a long way in creating stability in the volatile region. It was also hoped to alleviate the debt as well as the financing problems that earlier been incurred during the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway.

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Soon after the completion of the Grand Trunk Railway, a problem in transportation ensured when the St. Lawrence River became frozen. The freezing halted the movement of people, troops, and goods. The Gaspe Mountains posed great challenges to the transportation of goods to the Atlantic colonies. Lastly, the internal politics of the colonies, which were characterized by economic nationalism as well as the promise of economic development, inspired the need for Canada to become a Confederation.

External factors to Confederation in Canada

Canada Confederation was greatly triggered with the external threats of America to invade the British North America colonies. This was presumed to be the case as the U.S. had not altered its doctrine of Manifest Destiny. The doctrine held that that the United States, through its Anglo-Saxon race, was meant to expand across the continent. In response, the colonies joined forces in an endeavor to become a formidable united block against the expansionist threats.

Moreover, Great Britain’s desire to have her colonies reach a level of self - sufficiency influenced the need to form a Confederation. This was widely believed to bring into an end the influence of the Corn Laws. In a way, the colonies were also seeking to avoid paying the taxes and tariffs that were associated with goods traded between them and the United States.

In addition, the people in Canada West together with the government of the time favored expanding settlement into the Rupert's land and the North West Territories. The Rupert's Land Act of 1868 ended the rule of Hudson's Bay Company over the North-Western Territory and Rupert's land, effectively admitting the territories into Canada Confederation.

Reasons why Canada expanded to the West

After the confederation, Canada expanded towards the western part of the continent as well as northern towards the Arctic Ocean. The expansion to the West resulted from the government’s attempt to become actively involved in the administration of the North-West Territories. These territories had initially remained unexplored and uninhabited. The expansion to the West was also prompted by the demographic pressure as well as the rapid population growth in the provinces of Canada. As such, there was a need for an extra portion of land so as to cater for settlement and farming activities. This scenario did push people westwards, a situation which led to the expansion of the country. The need to meet these agricultural and settlement needs prompted settlement in the present-day Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta regions, all of which are in the West. The claim to the lands in the west had to be rapid so as avert the imminent threat of the American expansion into the western lands that bordered the country. The Manitoba Act of 1870 created Manitoba as a province in the Canadian Confederation.

However, the western expansion faced the resistance due to an uprising staged by the Métis. The uprising, led by Louis Riel, sought to defend the ancestral land of the Métis people. The tussle led to an eventual compromise where in 1870, the new province of Manitoba was carved from Rupert's Land. The expansion westwards was, presumably, a strategy by the British colonies to empower themselves through confederation. The expansion is, in fact, accredited with the inclusion of Newfoundland as the 10th Canadian province in 1949, and it has influenced the social/demographic, political, as well as economic status of Canada.


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