Canada Must Be a Country Not of Licence But of Liberty, May 17, 1867 – Speech by George-Étienne Cartier

Fathers of Confederation

[Returning home after the London Conference, Cartier steps off a Grand Trunk train and delivers this speech to a crowd approaching 10,000 waiting at the Montreal’s Bonaventure Station, declaring “Canada will become a nation, stretching from one ocean to the other.” Cartier claims for himself an active role in Confederation, stating “with all the resolve and all the energy I could call on, I walked towards the goal I wanted to reach, and I did reach it.”Although Cartier acknowledges special duties to the French-Canadian community he leads, Cartier contends all faiths and communities must be respected in Canada, declaring: “in a country consisting of different races who hold various beliefs, all rights must be protected, and all faiths respected. Canada must be a country, not of licence, but of liberty, and all liberties must be protected by the law.”]

Friends and electors,

I do not have to tell you how grateful I am for the honour you are doing me by welcoming me with such enthusiasm on my return among you. I take pride in your acting as such, in your being motivated by profound conviction, and in your recognizing that I may have been able to do something for my country. While taking into account your usual kindness, I must link this reception to the great political event that just took place. From the ordinary province it was, Canada has now grown to nationhood, taking its rightful place among peoples of the world. (Applause.)

The name of Canada will no longer apply only to Upper and Lower Canada; it will also include the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and soon Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, the Red River territories, as well as English Columbia. We have accomplished a great endeavour by uniting the colonies; Canada will become a nation, stretching from one ocean to the other. And if you have travelled here today, from your homes and occupations, it is because you wish to show your high approval for this moment. (Applause). I wish to express my gratitude to you for this, on my own behalf, and on behalf of my country.

Speaking for my friends and electors, the Mayor kindly mentioned the services I had rendered in the course of my career. Dedicated as I have been to politics, I am not without knowing what qualities are needed for success in that field. I realize I do not have all those qualities, and that there are no doubt men who are superior to me. But I know of no one who is my superior in terms of sincerity, honour, and the interest I take in my country. (Applause). Those principles have been my constant guides, and whatever has been said or written, I have never departed from them. (Applause). With all the resolve and all the energy I could call on, I walked towards the goal I wanted to reach, and I did reach it. (Applause). The new regime will be organized shortly. We will have a central government to administer questions of general interest and common to all provinces. At the same time, a local government will be established for each province to rule on questions that are peculiar to it. That way, no party will be offended.

Mention was made, in your address, of the national feelings that have inspired my main political actions. It is true, Gentlemen, that I am Catholic and French Canadian, and I have never forgotten the duties those two titles impose on me. But I have long held the principle that politicians in Lower Canada should not only devote themselves to the interests of their coreligionists; in a country consisting of different races who hold various beliefs, all rights must be protected, and all faiths respected.

Canada must be a country, not of licence, but of liberty, and all liberties must be protected by the law (Applause). Such are the principles that have guided me in the past, and they will continue to guide me in the future.

Dear electors from the District of Montreal East, you have kindly told me, through the words of my friend Mr. Starnes, that you wished for me to continue representing you in the next Parliament. I have never refused to serve you, and I have no intention of shrinking from the new duties this office imposes on me. I am perfectly well aware of my position’s importance and all the responsibilities linked to it. However, after having taken active part in this great accomplishment that is Confederation, I cannot hesitate to work towards its implementation. Yes, you can count my most active cooperation, and be assured that I will continue my parliamentary life as long as I have the strength and health to serve you. (Applause.)

I was certain that Confederation would add to the prosperity of the provinces, and it is for that reason that I gave it my most dedicated support. I also knew that there was a city that was destined to draw, among all others, the greatest benefit from this measure; and that city is Montreal. (Applause.)

In closing, friends and electors, I thank you once again for the honour you have just done me, and I express my most sincere wishes for the prosperity of each one of you. (Prolonged applause).

Translated by Jean-Paul Murray, from the 1893 edition of Discours de Sir Georges Cartier, edited by Joseph Tassé, published by Senécal & Fils at Montreal.