The Charlottetown Conference: Confederation a Brilliant Move

 P.B. Wait’s article, The Charlottetown Conference, is an excellent attempt at convincing the reader that “the substitution of Confederation for Maritime union was a brilliant stroke engineered by Canadians from the province of Canada, who would not have dreamt of going to such a conference had it not been for their own peculiar exigencies.”[1]  Waite’s thesis is perhaps the strongest part in his article overall because it portrays the basic belief that the Conference was originally meant to discuss ‘Maritime union’, but was brilliantly guided towards the idea of Confederation by the delegates from the province of Canada.  The article provides a strong explanation for Waite’s intended audience, the average Canadian, who is looking for a readable explanation on how the Dominion of Canada came to exist. Waite presents several sub-arguments that guide the reader from the initial resistance to the idea of ‘Maritime union’, how the idea of an Intercolonial railway began the negotiation process, how the Canadians convinced the Maritime delegates on the idea of Confederation.
P.B. Waite substantiates his sub-argument that “Maritime politicians were reluctant to accept Maritime union”[2] by giving some plausible explanations for this reluctance.  Waite thoroughly explains, for example, that the Maritime politicians could not agree on where the new capital of ‘Acadia’ would be located.  Waite substantiates this example by pointing out that “the province of Canada had spent ten years wrangling over the question of the capital”.[3]  Also, Waite points out several plausible arguments that each province would make in regards to choosing the new capital.   However, this sub-example is somewhat flawed because it does not present evidence from primary evidence that can be substantiated on the debate over the location of the new Maritime capital.  Perhaps Waite could have investigated the Hansard of the legislative assemblies in order to provide a more convincing piece of evidence. 
Waite also in this argument does bring forth counterbalancing evidence that substantiates the claim to ensure that the dream of a ‘Maritime union’ continue to exist.  Waite notes that having three provinces with “the full apparatus of a two-chamber legislature, a responsible government, and yet with a combined population of not more than 700,000. It was ridiculous and it was expensive”.[4]  Also, he notes the bureaucratic waste that could be solved with the union of the Maritimes by pointing out that each Maritime colony was similar to separate countries.  Waite substantiates this fact by pointing out that each colony “had its own stamps, coinage, [and] customs duties”.[5]  This duplication, if it were removed, would obviously create some cost savings for the Maritime provinces.  Overall, Waite substantiates the need for Maritime union because of the obvious economic stupidity of the maintenance of the status quo during that time period.
Waite claims that the Intercolonial Railway was the initial spark that started the movement towards negotiating some form of union between the Maritime Provinces.   The author substantiates his claim by noting the process of trials and tribulations the Maritime provinces and the Province of Canada had to go through in order to come to an agreement that was eventually rejected by London.  However, Waite does claim that “the Trent crisis of November-December 1861”[6] helped to move forward negotiations a little faster.  The reader, after reading this, is not sure what ‘the Trent crisis’ really is.   Therefore, perhaps an explanatory footnote in this area in order to convey the significance of this event would have been beneficial to Waite’s audience, the non-historian.
Also, in this section Waite claims “Her Majesty’s Government made stipulations that made the Canadian delegates acutely uncomfortable”.[7]  However, Waite does not say what stipulations the British Government made that made the Canadian delegates uncomfortable, thereby, leaving the reader questioning if this claim is true at all.  Perhaps a further explanation in a few parts of this area of his article would be beneficial to the reader via endnotes.   Endnotes would be beneficial to Waite’s audience because the notes would provide an area where an explanation to substantiate his claim could be given without bogging down the non-historical reader with details.  Overall, this section needs some minor editing in order to ensure that proper evidence is utilized to substantiate the author’s claims.
Waite’s best argument is when he outlines the actual Charlottetown Conference itself.  His argument that the Canadian delegation had, for weeks, “been preparing their scheme of union”[8] is further substantiated by the extensive evidence he provides.  The evidence that Waite presents is that each Canadian delegate had been given a specific area to present to their Maritime counterparts at the conference.  Waite presents this evidence while providing a commentary on how this evidence was conveyed and the reactions of the Maritime delegates to each of the speakers.  This allowed Waite, in the end, to claim that the Quebec Conference was necessary in order to finalize the agreement because there were some compromises that still needed to be made to satisfy some of the doubts of the Maritime delegates.  Overall, this sub-argument convinces the reader that this is where the Canadian delegation brilliantly convinced the Maritime politicians to embrace the idea of Confederation.
P.B. Waite’s sub-arguments are not exactly supported by totally solid primary or secondary sources.  However, since Waite is writing for a non-historical inclined audience, the article needed to be simplified by trying not to overwhelm the reader with details.  Therefore, Waite is forced to strip away some of the details in order to simplify his explanations.  Sighting this need, this article would not be suitable for an audience of historians without substantial re-editing in order to include suitable evidence and footnoted sources.  Although the arguments are simplified for his audience, Waite’s arguments do follow a believable process from the initial reluctance toward the idea of Maritime Union to the overall conclusion on how the idea of Confederation was embraced. 
The Canadian Historical Society made an excellent choice in choosing P.B. Waite as the author of this particular event in Canadian history. This is because Waite, an Historian at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has written extensively on this particular time period and, thus, possesses a certain knowledge of the event that enables him to provide a simplified overview of the event and still maintain his argument’s believability.  The knowledge of the event and his ability to simplify the event for his readers has, overall, allowed P.B. Waite to present an excellent an convincing historical argument for a non-historical audience.
About P.B. Waite
P.B. Waite, born in Toronto, has been a historian with Dalhousie University and was Head of the Department of History from 1960 to 1967.   Waite has written several articles and books including: The Life and Times of Confederation, 1864-1867 (1962), Pre-Confederation (1965), and Canada, 1874-1896.
Waite, P.B. The Charlottetown Conference. Ottawa: The Canadian Historical Association, 1970.



[1]P.B. Waite. The Charlottetown Conference. (Ottawa: The Canadian Historical Association Historical Booklets, 1970): 3.


[2]Ibid., 3.


[3]Waite 4.


[4]Ibid. 4.


[5]Ibid. 4.


[6]Waite 5.


[7]Ibid. 5.


[8]Waite 11.