Ex(pressed) Debate: The Ottawa Daily Union and anti-confederate philosophy in Canada West

by Ryan Lux

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This article explores the philosophical arguments that informed opposition to confederation in Canada West leading up to the passage of the British North America Act – arguments that stain dominant conceptions of confederation as pragmatic and materialistic. As political philosophy, opposition to confederation will be examined through the 19th century trans-Atlantic debate between homo Mercator and homo Politicus, arguing that anti-confederate thought was informed by the latter position. In order to determine whether opposition to confederation was indeed informed by philosophy, and whether these views had influence in Canada West, anti-confederate discourse of a Reformist daily newspaper in Ottawa is examined and analyzed through a homo Mercator lens. This paper will shed light on the integral role newspapers played in mediating the debates and explain the crucial relationship between the 19th century Canadian press and politics. The results of this examination demonstrate that the preponderance of newspaper support for confederation are more the result of political and economic dominance of pro-confederate papers and the Grand Coalition of Tories and Reformers, than an uncontested pragmatism. As a consequence, this paper concludes that confederation must be understood, instead, as a philosophical battle fought between two conceptions of state – an inked debate that did as much to foster a national  Canadian consciousness as the philosophies informing it.


Canada West, Confederation, Philosophy, Newspaper.


Ryan Lux is a first years M.A. student studying at Carleton University’s school of Canadian Studies. He completed is bachelor of journalism in 2010 and spent three years working as a newspaper reporter. Ryan is interested in critical media studies, specifically examining questions of Canadian politics, history and the public spheres.

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