Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Robert A. Wardhaugh


This dissertation explores how the Upper Canadian and Ontarian belief that their province could preponderate within Confederation impacted the dominion of Canada’s political development. It reveals that federalism in Upper Canada remained weak until Reformers recognized that their province could exercise preponderant influence in a federation where representation in the national legislature was based upon population. After this realization, Reformers increasingly believed that they could best serve their province and country by using their potential parliamentary preponderance to quash policy demands from the rest of Canada that did not align with their national vision. This was not, however, the only way Upper Canadians interpreted their colony’s role within Confederation. As 1 July 1867 neared, many Upper Canadians acknowledged their province’s potential power but doubted its ability to dominate national policy debates. They also argued that opposing initiatives from the rest of Canada would destabilize Confederation. This second group, therefore, cautioned against opposing the rest of Canada or suggested using their province’s political muscle to support the passage of compromise policies that accommodated demands from other parts of the country.

The dissertation explores how the ebb and flow of these two preponderant federalisms in Ontario impacted Canadian political debates from 1867 to 1896. The sense of power and entitlement that underlay preponderant federalisms often emboldened Ontarians to foment national political crises by rallying their province’s politicians to oppose policy initiatives from other parts of the country. The willingness of other Ontarians to withhold their support from these agitations or to stand behind compromise policies, however, frequently divided Ontario’s voice and limited the effectiveness of attempts to pit the province against other parts of Canada. The dissertation also challenges several bodies of research. First, contrary to the assumptions of political scientists, the House of Commons can be analysed as an intrastate institution when studying the development and significance of asymmetrically populous provinces within federations. It also proves that the inhabitants and politicians of Ontario rarely acted with the unity that many political scientists passingly suggest. Disagreements among Ontarians concerning the use of their province’s preponderance often fractured its potential influence. Second, the dissertation challenges several historiographical assertions regarding Ontario political culture. The provincial consciousness inherent to suggestions that Ontario’s preponderant potential required it to desist from antagonizing the rest of Canada, or to use its potential influence to facilitate compromise, calls into question the centralists’ contention that Ontario Conservatives supported nation-building policies because they subordinated their provincial identity to national imperatives. The willingness of provincial rights politicians and newspaper editorialists to advocate using Ontario’s influence to safeguard provincial autonomy overturns the scholarly contention that pursuing preponderant influence and provincial autonomy were contradictory goals. Lastly, by examining the role Ontarians wanted their province to play in Confederation, instead of focusing on their policy demands, this dissertation also questions the propensity of regional alienation scholars to contend that Ontarians were apathetic to policy initiatives from the rest of Canada.