Joseph Howe's career as a prominent journalist and politician whose limited formal education did not hinder his rise in either profession was a major advocate for Nova Scotia's independence and led the province's opposition to joining the Confederation. First using his control of the Novascotian newspaper as a platform from...
Joseph Howe's career as a prominent journalist and politician whose limited formal education did not hinder his rise in either profession was a major advocate for Nova Scotia's independence and led the province's opposition to joining the Confederation. First using his control of the Novascotian newspaper as a platform from which to rail against local politics and corruption and in support of freedom of speech, and later as a candidate for public office with an anti-corruption agenda, Howe succeeded in being elected to a series of positions in Nova Scotia's provincial government, including serving as its premier from 1860 to 1863.
Seeing the Canadian Confederation as a threat to the region's close relationship to Britain, and to Nova Scotia's control over its own affairs, Howe sought to keep Nova Scotia independent from Canada. The province's relatively small population meant little political representation in the nation's parliament, and consequently little political power for Halifax. Provincial election results repeatedly demonstrated strong support for independence from the Confederation, and Howe continued to advance arguments against any action that could threaten its independence and Nova Scotia's close ties to England. He was also highly skeptical that a Confederation or union would succeed given the disparate ethnicities and loyalties that permeated Canada. He was quoted at one point as saying that it would take "the wisdom of Solomon and the energy and strategy of Frederick the Great" to solidify a union of all the provinces. On the floor of the Canadian Parliament, he argued eloquently against Nova Scotia's joining the Confederation:
"They [Nova Scotians] feel that have been legislated out of the Empire by being legislated into this Dominion. They will read his [Canada's first Governor General Viscount Monck] speech with sorrow and humiliation, and not gratification. . . I do not believe that the people of Nova Scotia will ever be satisfied to submit to an act which has been forced upon them by such unjust and unjustifiable means."
Despite his opposition to Nova Scotia's joining the Confederation, he eventually accepted a quid pro quo arrangement offered by Prime Minister John MacDonald guaranteeing Howe an important position at the national level and Nova Scotia a major increase in revenues from the national government. One of the factors leading Howe to accept Nova Scotia's accession to the Confederation was his growing disillusionment with the response he received from the British when he traveled to London to appeal to the Crown for help maintaing Nova Scotia's status and what he thought was a special relationship with the British. His observations of the British Parliament in action debating the British North America Act was dispiriting, and he summed up the feeling well that had permeated the American colonies during their growing movement toward independence: "If disloyal men can be made at all it is by such treatment as that," and "If you ask me if I feel that confidence now [with respect to Britain reciprocating his loyalty to the Crown], I am sorry to say that I do not." [Quotes are taken from Dictionary of Canadian Biography, "Howe, Joseph"]
And, so, Howe eventually relented and accepted John MacDonald's offer of high position and increased federal aid for Nova Scotia.