Essay Comparing Two Accounts of the Compact Theory of Confederation - An Unclear Design

Below is an Essay Comparing Two Accounts of the Compact Theory of Confederation
An Unclear Design

Creighton defines the ‘compact theory of Canadian federalism’ as a theory that argues that Confederation represented a union of the French and English linguistic/cultural groups rather than a union of political jurisdictions. Creighton argues that this theory is an attempt to rewrite history to serve the interests of Quebecois nationalists in the 1960s. The argument behind the compact theory is based on the premises that (a) the intentions of the Fathers of Confederation are relevant to modern policy development and (b) examining the policies and debates of the era of Confederation can elucidate these intentions. The debate between Creighton and Heintzman primarily concerns the latter premise and is based on one main area of contention.

Before examining the cases of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, it is necessary to briefly review the authors’ stance on bilingualism, biculturalism, and Confederation. Heintzman agrees with Creighton’s claim that that Confederation itself did not recognize a cultural compact. It is clear that the Fathers of Confederation had not discussed the rights of French Canadians outside of Quebec in 1867. Consequently, the political arrangements of Canada reflected an agreement between political jurisdictions (Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces) rather than between language groups. Although he notes that some Fathers of Confederation like George Brown may have held views consistent with the compact theory, Heintzman agrees with Creighton’s analysis that neither the text of the British North America Act nor the transcripts of the conferences suggest that the Fathers of Confederation supported the tenants of the compact theory. In other words, there is some scholarly agreement that Confederation itself does not represent a commitment to bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada.

There are two main areas of contention between Creighton and Heintzman concerning the cases of Manitoba and the North-West. First, the two authors disagree about the significance of these two cases. One of the central premises of the compact theory is based on a conception of the ‘era of Confederation,’ in which it is possible to determine the intentions of the Fathers of Confederation. Supporters of the compact theory argue that the era of Confederation is limited to those years that encompass the Manitoba and North-West cases. However, Creighton suggests that this conception of the era of Confederation may be overly selective in its choice of cases by highlighting the fact that Manitoba and the North-West “did not lay down a national bicultural pattern which was … followed thereafter.” In other words, there is reason to reject the compact theory on the grounds that it ignores an important trend that began shortly after Confederation.

Despite having some grounds of dismissing this selective notion of the era of Confederation, Creighton proceeds to a second area of contention by arguing that these two cases do not demonstrate a commitment to bilingualism and biculturalism. The compact theory is supported by the contention that the legal status of the French language and separate schools for French-speaking inhabitants was extended to the newly acquired territories of Manitoba and the North-West territories with support from both political parties. Creighton argues that these policies were the product of the “force of circumstance” rather than true policy and that bilingualism was only recognized in the North-West as a result of partisan politics and opportunism. Heintzman challenges these conclusions by arguing that Cartier’s characterization of the Manitoba Act as a “model for all future development in the West” and the inclusion of French language provisions in the final [NWT act] were unopposed in the debates that produced these acts. However, Heintzman commits a major logical fallacy by essentially equating a lack of opposition with support. Consequently, Heintzman fails to undermine Creighton’s claims about the cases of Manitoba and the North-West.

In addition to these faults, Heintzman’s entire argument relies on a single unelaborated principle. Heintzman argues that French Canadians entered into Confederation on the justified assumption that it represented a commitment to establishing a bilingual and bicultural country, even if the constitution did not suggest a cultural compact. According to Heintzman, this expectation was based on a “spirit of generosity and good-will” that ostensibly pervaded the negotiations and aftermath of Confederation. Silver offers some support for Heintzman’s contention, arguing that many French Canadians viewed Confederation as “an ‘alliance’ or ‘association’ of nations” founded on “equality and fair dealing between French and English Canada.” However, the relevance of French Canadians’ perception of a ‘spirit of generosity’ is entirely based on Heintzman’s contention that a moral obligation can be said to exist where one party to a contract held certain assumptions concerning the nature of the union into which it agreed to enter and where a reasonable justification for those assumptions can be demonstrated.

Although this principle is supported by the modern standards of contract law, Heintzman fails to elaborate on the relevance of this principle to negotiations at that time. Furthermore, even if it can be accepted that this principle is objectively valid, Heintzman fails to consider the expectations of English Canadians, who Heintzman claims were not “conscious” of agreeing to the establishment of a bilingual country. Therefore, the principle upon which Heintzman’s analysis of French Canadian expectations is based is dubious.

In short, although Heintzman’s analysis of French Canadian expectations of Confederation is illuminating, it fails to support the notion that Confederation established a bilingual and bicultural country. [Points] The usefulness of a interpreting the view of the Fathers of Confederation for Canadian policymakers is diminished in the twenty-first century by the multi-ethnic composition of the country, as well as the increased recognition of Canadian aboriginals as a ‘third nation’ that was unjustly excluded from the discussions. While historians should continue to debate the Confederation era without reservation, they should be mindful of how their particular interpretations of history may be used by others and adopt Creighton’s vocal scepticism of political figures that attempt to use contentious interpretations of history to advance an agenda.