Ged Martin, the chair of Canadian studies at Edinburgh University in Scotland, was in New Brunswick this week to stir the pot. He told a packed house (maybe not that packed) that New Brunswick was the main reason why the Confederation occurred and survived. As stated in the TJ “Despite Prince Edward Island touting itself as the birthplace of Confederation – New Brunswick actually played a greater role in ensuring the formation and early success of a united Canada”.
“I have always felt that New Brunswick has a bit of a collective historical inferiority complex about the standard story that the province really didn’t do very much about confederation and had to be dragged kicking and screaming in. “I regard that as a travesty – New Brunswick’s role was in fact crucial.” Martin goes as far to say that the province largely “steered the formation and survival of the Dominion of Canada.”
Professor Martin, however, doesn’t seem to realize that more than a few folks down this way think that Confederation wasn’t a particularly good outcome for New Brunswick. I’m not suggesting there is an appetite to split away now – a la Scotland or Quebec ambitions – but more than a few historians, scholars and other thinkers have suggested that if the Nova Scotia had got its way and we ended up with the more limited “Maritime Union” this region would have prospered more than otherwise. It would have controlled its own immigration, trade, investment and other policies.
Professor Martin continues:
“It was New Brunswick politicians who ensured that the September 1864 Charlottetown Conference endorsed the wider union of British North America, not the smaller scheme of Maritime Union pushed by the Nova Scotians,” Martin said. “New Brunswickers ensured that the Nova Scotia push to get Maritime Union didn’t go ahead – they didn’t want that.” Martin said the province’s politicians felt that New Brunswick would essentially be relegated to “greater Nova Scotia” under a Maritime Union.
Again, in hindsight some would suggest Nova Scotia was on the right track.
I’m not a historian and I think this debate could play out endlessly with no real resolution. There are too many unknowns. Those that argue in favour of Confederation say New Brunswick would have ended up like Northern Maine. Those that argue against say Halifax would have been Boston. I have read a fair amount about the period and suspect that either the Yanks would have taken the area over or Upper Canada would have kept trying until they won.
It’s fun to discuss and interesting that one cloistered academic across the Pond is actually thinking about the land of maple syrup, fiddleheads and rolling hills. There are few of his ilk these days.