On March 8, 1867, the British North America Act was passed by the House of Commons in Britain, less than a month after it had been introduced in the House of Lords. It was a speedy job of legislation, so much so, that the Canadian delegates were a little “miffed” because it had not caused more debate. John A. Macdonald’s grumbled: “The English behave as though the British North America Act was a private bill uniting two or three parishes.”
Some British M.P.’s were suspicious that the bill was being rushed through, but the only man who offered any opposition was John Bright, free-trader and reformer. In this case, he was on the side of the underdog, Joseph Howe, who had been in London since July trying to keep Nova Scotia out of Confederation.
Howe even went to Lord Carnarvon and claimed that fifty-two of the seventy-two resolutions leading to the British North American Act had been drawn up by Macdonald who had probably been drunk at the time. Carnarvon, greatly upset, wrote to Governor-General Lord Monck in Canada asking him to investigate. Evidently he was reassured because the bill went through without delay.
John Bright tried to have the bill set aside by criticizing the colonial system generally. He said that if the provinces of British North America were going to keep asking Britain for money for defence and railways, then it would be better if they were given their independence and paid their own way.
M.P.’s were so little concerned that many of them were not in their seats when the British North America Act got its last reading on March 8. They came rushing in immediately after, because the next item of business was a bill to place a tax on dogs, and most of them owned dogs!
The British North America Act was officially proclaimed on March 29, and Queen Victoria set July 1 as the date for Confederation.
To learn more about today’s post, I would suggest visiting the Canadian History webpage. Another very good resource to look at is the Confederation Timeline at Canada Channel. If you’ve never been, another great place to visit is the Encyclopedia Britannica. All very good places to start.