“An Elective Legislative Council,” The Globe (3 April 1852)
By: The Globe
Citation: “An Elective Legislative Council,” The Globe (3 April 1852).
AN ELECTIVE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL.
The proposed alteration in the construction of the second branch of our Legislature, has attracted some attention from the press, but has not received that close examination which we anticipated. A number of our cotemporaries seem determined for the change, right or wrong; and two or three of them, we observe, attack the Globe bitterly for opposing the movement—though they make no attempt to meet our objections. As a sample of their style of reasoning, we extract from the Bowmanville Messenger:—
“We feel confident that the ‘powers that be’ could not introduce a more popular measure—the Clergy Reserves excepted—than that which the Globe says they have in contemplation, nor one that would add more to their popularity as an administration. The present Legislative Council is, and always has been, a perfect nuisance,—a stumbling-block in the way of a progressive people,— and the Ministry could not confer a much greater benefit upon the people and the country than by adopting the elective system, and making our Legislative Councillors responsible to their constituents for their conduct. Such a change is loudly called for. The Globe, we are sorry to say, comes out full tilt against the proposed change, and in favour of the present established humbug, on the ground that the adoption of the elective principle savours too much of democracy—is altogether too anti-British for the people of this British colony.
It is all moonshine to oppose such a measure because it smacks of democracy. If it is a good one, and likely to be beneficial to the country, that is all we need care about; it matters not to us whether the principle is of republican origin, or whether it first originated in Her Majesty’s dominions, if it is only applicable to our case, and calculated to improve our present non-responsible system of appointing gentlemen as Legislative Councillors who are independent of the people, and who can bid defiance to their well known wishes. This is the great evil of the present system, and the sooner it is upset the better.”
This is a fair specimen of the arguments of those (with one exception) who have yet entered the lists in favour of the change. “We go for it—huzzah boys—who’s afraid!” We humbly suggest to our erudite cotemporaries of the Bowmanville Messenger, Toronto North American, Norfolk Messenger, &c., that an “organic change” of our constitutional system is deserving of being calmly reasoned out, and ought not to be advocated by a silly clap-trap cry. But if they must make clap-trap—why not adhere to the truth in making it? We have not come out in favour of the “present established humbug;” on the contrary, our remarks inclined towards one large Representative Chamber. We do not oppose an elective Upper House because it “smacks of democracy”—but because it smacks of stand-still-ism. Were we not used to such things from such quarters, we would wonder how any man could deliberately write thus, when he must have known it to be incorrect, if he read the words he professes to comment upon. What good do these papers expect to do by misrepresenting so grossly what other papers say? Is it that they cannot meet the genuine arguments, and must create imaginary ones which they can meet?
We wish we could keep the advocates of the Elective Upper House to the point. They always run off into panegyrics on the elective principle, and avoid the details. Every one admits the advantage of the principle—the difficulty of carrying it into two branches of the Legislature, and yet maintaining Responsible Government, is the point which has to be solved. If one House is Tory and the other Radical—how shall a Ministry have a majority in both? Both speak the “well-understood wishes” of the sovereign people—what shall the Governor-General do when one House addresses him to dismiss his Ministers and the other to keep them? This is the point to be met, and it should be fairly met without clap-trap. Set Responsible Government aside and it can be done; but there must in that case be a new barriers erected to restrain the Ministry of the day, as under the American system.
The Editor of the Journal and Express is the only advocate of the change who meets the point. He maintains that two elective houses can exist even with British responsibility. But how does he propose to do it? He says, “the difficulty can be easily overcome by electing both branches of the Legislature at the same time and for the same period. Then both will spring direct from the people and represent the feeling of the majority.” They possibly might not—even then, when parties were close run, the majority might be different in the two houses. But if both houses are to be elected at the same moment, from the same constituencies, and for the same term, and are to be alike subject to a dissolution at any moment by the Executive—what advantage is to be gained by having two houses? Divide the present 84 Representatives into two bodies of 42 each, would their measures be any better than they are now? The expense to the country would be enormously increased. We can [illegible] an advantage in two houses differently chosen and for different periods, but we can see none in the Journal’s plan.
What is the object to be gained by the proposed change? Popular measures that cannot be obtained now? More facility in carrying public opinion into effect? Not at all, the present system offers no barrier in this way. The Legislative Council is too subservient to the demands of the people’s representatives—that is its offence. Now, this is a complaint which Conservatives may prefer, but not Liberals; as far as they are concerned, the more complaisant the Peers are, the better for them. But yet Liberals are crying for a measure whose only recommendation is that it will raise a Constitutional barrier to the carrying out of their own measures! Let us sift this matter well ere making any change; but when a change is resolved on, it appears to us the argument will be found all on the side of one large Representative Chamber, with some provision for revising the Bills for legal intechnicalties, ere final passage.
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