Causes of Anti-Confederation movement in the Maritimes between 1867 and 1930

Write an essay about ‘Explain the causes of the anti-Confederation movement in the Maritimes between 1867 and 1930.’

The Anti-Confederation Movement began in 1867 in opposition to the confederation that was started in the same year. Prior to the confederation in 1867, there were British Colonies in all regions of Canada and North America. In 1867, confederation process was completed after the representatives of all colonies travelled to London and asked the British government to allow them to unite and become one country. This led to the British North America Act 1967 which resulted in the formation of Canada as a confederation in July 1, 1867. The anti-confederates of the Maritimes agreed to join the confederation initially because they were promised that the union would increase the prestige and power of colonies. They were also told that they would benefit from elimination of tariff barriers and access of markets. The confederation would increase the complementarities of each colony and economies would provide each other with what they lacked. Each colony would maintain its individuality.

While the Maritimes recognized the advantages of joining the confederation, they were not sure whether the large union of Canada would actually be advantageous to them. Their fears were based on economic, sentimental and political issues.[1] These fears led to the anti-confederation movement which was formed to represent the interests of the Maritime colonies: New Brunswick (NB), Nova Scotia (NS) and Prince Edward Island (PEI). The anti-confederation movement originated from Nova Scotia and was led by Joseph Howe.[2] Nova Scotia benefited from the railway and Canadian markets, so it did not want to lose them. They felt that the confederation would take control of all the resources including the railway, and NS’s merchants and consumers would lose their resources. This led to their opposition of the confederation. In the 1867 federation elections, only one 1 out of 19 representatives elected into the House of Commons supported the confederation. 18 representatives from Nova Scotia were elected through the anti-confederation movement.

The anti-confederation party was formed after the confederation of 1967 to fight the confederation. It was headed by Joseph Howe in late 1860s and later led to the formation of the Maritimes Rights Movement in 1920s. Joseph Howe first supported the principle of confederation, the Maritime union, and imperial union.[3] However, he opposed the British North American colonies and all the confederation agreements made at the Quebec conference. Howe opposed the Quebec Resolutions by giving both personal and public reasons. Charles Tupper was his main political rival in Nova Scotia. Tupper supported the confederation and he was the only pro-confederation to be elected into the House of Commons in 1867.

In the federal government, representatives of the anti-confederation movement fought against the Act of the Canadian Union. The members of the Nova Scotia legislature and Nova Scotia members of the House of Commons used all their constitution power to fight for the repeal of the Act of Union. They argued that the Act did not reflect the wishes of the people of Nova Scotia; hence its power was not entrusted on the people.[4] Therefore, the main cause and strength of the anti-confederation movement was the enactment of the Act of Union which led to the confederation of North American colonies in Canada.

While Joseph Howe and his anti-confederation supporters fought against the confederation, other Maritime Provinces also showed dissatisfaction with the confederation policies which seemed to go against the interests of the people of the Maritime region. This was boosted by the political union of the region. Such a union started even before the confederation when regional sentiment in the Maritimes led to a serious discussion of political union.[5] Smith A.J. was a cautious oppose of the new railway policies of the confederation because the railway benefited his province of New Brunswick. Smith and Howe consulted and encouraged each other in their opposition, and suggested that Maritime union was a viable alternative of opposing the confederation. Therefore, Maritime union became the basis for the anti-confederation movement in the Maritimes and was later supported by all the three Maritime Provinces.

The three Maritime Provinces were divided politically, but a common view against the confederation united them. Some political leaders from the provinces suggested that the confederation should be fought from the provincial legislatures. This fight against the confederation played a crucial role in forming the anti-confederation movement. The confederation agreements produced several issues that led to unity of effort and common perspectives in the Maritimes for several decades after the confederation. The new agreement caused chronic shortages of revenue in the three Maritime Provinces.[6]

The people of Nova Scotia and News Brunswick worried about the new legislations about the intercolonial railroad. Prince Edward Island was also affected by the new confederation policies because the Island railways were taken over by the federal government. This takeover caused Prince Edward Island to join the regional transportation network which drew them closer to other provinces of the Maritimes. As a result, the unity of Maritimers increased and this resulted in regionalism. This regionalism strengthened the anti-confederation movement of the Maritimes, and later led to the formation of the Maritimes Movement in 1920 which supported the anti-confederation ideologies.

The confederation was first formed to create a liberal order in the North American colonies, but it ended up causing disparities in those colonies; and the Maritime colonies were the most affected.[7] The policies did not consider any interests of the Maritimes. Because their wishes were not met sufficiently, the Maritimers had to oppose the confederation. Various groups from the Maritime region fought for the rights of the Maritimes; hence supporting anti-confederation movement. Some of those groups include: merchants, manufacturers, politicians and consumers. The anti-confederation movement was also strengthened by the pro-confederate’s failure to listen to their wishes.

There are various political concerns of the Maritimers which led to the anti-confederation movement. For instance, the Maritimers feared that they would not be well represented in the federal government and no one would protect their interests. Ontario claimed that representation in the Common House should be based on the population of each province. This indicated that most of the representatives in the House of Commons would be from Central Canada. As a result, the interests of central (upper) Canada would be considered more than the interests of the Maritimes region.[8] This led the Maritime region to unite and form the ant-confederation party to represent the interests of the Maritimes in general.

If the confederation would be adopted, The Maritimers would always depend on Quebec. Ontarians would also dominate others openly, and the Maritimes would be the most affected. The Maritimers believed that Ontario and Quebec had no intentions of allying with anyone.[9] In the Upper House, Canada made concessions to the Maritimers. Representations of the senate were based on the regional equality. As a result, Maritime colonies were given as much senators as Quebec or Ontario (24 senators per colony). Despite this equality representation in the senate, Maritimers fear that they would be politically powerless in the union.

The Maritimers also suffered economically as a result of the confederation. This led them to oppose the confederation through anti-confederation movement. Economically, the Maritimers had two fears of the confederation. First, they feared that they might not be able to sustain themselves if customs and excise taxes were moved to the central government. Secondly, they felt that they could not benefit from their connection or linkage to the market of Canada.

Under the confederation, several colonies would eliminate tariff barrier that they had previously erected against each other. Furthermore, they would maintain a single tariff trough the federal government to protect them against other countries.[10] Each province including the Maritime Provinces was supposed to abandon their rights to levy taxes and customs. These taxing powers were then transferred to the central government. However, the Canadian provinces would not all be affected by the taxation policies in a similar manner. Maritime Provinces would give up a larger proportion of their revenues to the federal government compared to other provinces of Canada.

Due to the transfer of the taxing responsibility from the provincial governments to the federal government, it became clear that the provincial governments would not be self-sustaining using the tax base that remained. As a result, the federal government would take over all provincial debts and provide subsidies to support the provincial governments. An annual grant was also provided for each individual in the provinces depending on the population of each province. Furthermore, the provincial governments would also impose direct taxes in order to meet their increasing costs. Despite the agreements on taxation policies, Maritimers still felt that provincial governments would be both deficit-driven and inconsequential. The taxation favored the federal government which is controlled by the provinces of central Canada than other provinces.[11] Therefore, the economic interests of Central Canada would not be met like in other provincial governments of central Canada. This led to increased support for the anti-confederation movement.

The suggestion that Maritimes would benefit the Maritime Provinces seemed promising in the face of it. However, the benefits of such interconnection of markets between the Maritimes and Central Canada did not bear good fruit as suggested by the founding fathers of the confederation. One of the difficulties of the market prospects of Central Canada was the existence of little trade between Central Canada and the Maritimes. Although the markets of Central Canada were opened, the little trade between the Maritimes and Central Canada caused less benefits of the market liberalization as earlier anticipated. The trade accounted for only 2.5%-3% of the total exports of Canada between 1863 and 1866.[12] Therefore, confederation would not cause any economic benefits of trade between Central Canada and the Maritimes. That is why the Maritimers opposed the confederation in 1867.

Maritimers also joined the anti-confederation movement because they realized that the provinces of Canada were not as complementary as posited by the fathers of confederation. Banks, insurance companies and other companies competed with each other in all provinces. Various products would also compete in various provinces. For instance, Prince Edward Island produced Fish, grain and potatoes; while Quebec some fish and Ontario produced grain. Furthermore, New Brunswick produced timber, ship and fish among other products; similarly, Quebec produced timber, ships and fish among other products. Ontario also produced timber. Due to these competitions among various products in different provinces, the provinces of Maritime would not benefit from any complementariness of products.

Confederation was also committed to transcontinental economy whereby the west will be opened to the markets of Canada. McDonald and Brown wanted Canada to stretch from sea to sea. This would lead to the development of Western parts of Canada which would act as captive market for Central Canada producers.[13] As a result, Maritime Provinces felt that they would be left behind in terms of development projects. Given the transportation costs of the Maritimes, Maritime Provinces would find it hard to compete with Upper Canada.

The Maritimers were assured of the construction of an intercolonial railway that would connect Central Canada to Nova Scotia. The federal government also promised the use of Maritime ports in winter. As a result, Maritime products would be available to the central Canada and their ports would be further developed. This promise of the intercolonial railway was fulfilled, but due to the confederation, the management of the intercolonial railway was transferred to the federal government. This led to opposition of the confederation by the Maritimers because it did not allow for the Maritimers to benefit from the intercolonial railroad. As a result, Maritimers supported intercolonial movement to strengthen their opposition to the new intercolonial railroad policies.

The policies on the intercolonial railroad which placed the management and control of the railroad under the federal government caused strong disapprovals by the Maritimers. Placing the management and control of the intercolonial railroad under the hands of the federal government meant that it would benefit the prairies and central Canada more than the Maritimes where the railroad derives most of its business and economic benefits. In this regard, the Maritime Provinces opposed the policies through anti-confederation movement. Under the confederation agreement, the De facto jurisdiction of the intercolonial government was moved to the Board of Railway commissioners in the central government. As a result, freight rates rose in the Maritimes to the levels of Ontario. By 1920, the freight rates had risen to 216%. These rates inflicted a lot of economic pain to the merchants and manufacturers operating in the Maritimes between 1867 and 1930.

As a result of the intercolonial railroad policies, special rates were also cancelled.[14] Such special rates include sugar rates. Cancelling such special rates affective both consumers and merchants in all the three provinces of the Maritimes. As a result, Maritime Provinces decided to unite against the confederation; hence the formation of the anti-confederation movement. Export trade and tariff protection became difficult for the Maritimers during the confederation. Prior to the confederation, the Maritimers enjoyed comparatively low tariffs. Because the Maritimes was not well represented in the House of Commons, the higher Canadian tariffs were adopted as opposed to the lower Maritime tariffs. This would lead to the loss of Maritime’s loss of its long standing customers of in return for unprofitable access to Central Canada’s market.

Maritime’s sentimental feelings also played a crucial role in the emergence of anti-confederation movement in the Maritimes. National feelings, patriotism and pride in self-government played an essential part of the post-confederation movements. Maritimers were unhappy for losing their independence to Central Canada. The Maritimers felt as if they were selling their birthright by joining and accepting the confederation. In 1869, “better terms” were introduced, but anti-confederation agitations continued. The world depression between 1873 and 1896 also encouraged increased support for the anti-confederation movement in the Maritimes.

More crises that encouraged the anti-confederation movement occurred in 1880s.[15] The provisions of such a national policy did not favor the interests of the Maritimes on any account. While the Maritimes thought that it is necessary to develop the already existing economies of Canada, the National Policy encouraged east-west continental economy and Western development.

The high tariffs introduced through the National Policy were meant to protect infant industries in Central Canada. This led to increased taxation in the Maritimes which caused more disadvantages because they could not develop industries of their own, yet they had to pay a lot of duties of up to 50% more than the former rates. The national policy also caused free flow of capital and manpower in Canada, adversely affecting the Maritimes.[16] This is because the Maritime Financial institutions could not compete effectively with those of Central Canada. This angered the Maritimers and strengthened their support for the anti-confederation movement.

In conclusion, it is clear that the anti-confederation movement of the Maritime which began in Nova Scotia under the leadership of Joseph Howe was caused by several economic, political and social factors. In terms of economic factors, the movement was caused by high tariffs, taxations and poor markets for the Maritimes caused by the confederation. Politically, Maritimers wanted their interests to be represented but they were underrepresented in the confederation agreement. Finally, the pride of being a maritime caused Maritimers to desire independence rather than the union caused by the confederation.


[1] Belanger, Claude. 2001. The Maritime Provinces, the Maritime Rights’ Movements and Canadian Federalism. Marianopolis College.

[2] Beck, J. Murray. 1965. Joseph Howe anti-confederate. Ottawa: The Canadian Historical Association.

[3] Beck, J. Murray. 1965. Joseph Howe anti-confederate. Ottawa: The Canadian Historical Association.

[4] Romney, Paul. 1999. Getting it Wrong: How Canadians Forgot Their Past and Imperilled Confederation. University of Toronto Press.

[5] Forbes, Ernest R. 1983. Aspects of Maritime Regionalism. Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association.p3

[6] Forbes, Ernest R. 1983. Aspects of Maritime Regionalism. Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association.p6

[7] Belanger, C. (2001). The Maritime Provinces, the Maritime Rights’ Movements and the Canadian Federalism. Marianopolis College, Department of History.

[8] McKay, I. (2000). The Liberal Order Framework: A Prospectus for a Reconnaissance of Canadian History. Canadian Historical Review, 81, 617-645.

[9] Forbes, Ernest R. 1974. The Origins of the Maritime Rights Movement. Fredericton: Acadiensis Press.

[10] Belanger, Claude. 2001. The Maritime Provinces, the Maritime Rights’ Movements and Canadian Federalism. Marianopolis College.

[11] Forbes, Ernest R. 1974. The Origins of the Maritime Rights Movement. Fredericton: Acadiensis Press.

[12] Belanger, Claude. 2001. The Maritime Provinces, the Maritime Rights’ Movements and Canadian Federalism. Marianopolis College.

[13] Belanger, C. (2001). The Maritime Provinces, the Maritime Rights’ Movements and the Canadian Federalism. Marianopolis College, Department of History.

[14] Forbes, Ernest R. 1974. The Origins of the Maritime Rights Movement. Fredericton: Acadiensis Press.

[15] Rusty B., Mackinnon, R.A. and Wynn, G. 1993. Of inequality and interdependence in the Nova Scotian countryside, 1850-70. Canadian Historical Review 74 (1): 1-43.

[16] Cross, William P. 2002. Political parties, representation, and electoral democracy in Canada.    Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.

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