British Columbia, Legislative Council: Debate on the Subject of Confederation with Canada (18 March 1870)
By: British Columbia (Legislative Council)
Citation: British Columbia, Legislative Council, Debate on the Subject of Confederation with Canada: Reprinted from the Government Gazette Extraordinary of March, 1870 (Victoria: William H. Cullin, 1912) at 95-105.
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DEBATE ON THE SUBJECT OF CONFEDERATION WITH CANADA.
FRIDAY, MARCH 18TH, 1870.
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The Hon. Attorney-General—I rise to move the adoption of clause 14:—
“14. The Union shall take effect on such day as Her Majesty by Order in Council (on an Address to that effect, in terms of the 146th Section of ‘The British North America Act, 1867,’) may direct: and British Columbia may, in such Address, specify the Districts, Counties, or Divisions, if any, for which any of the four Senators to whom the Colony shall be entitled shall be named, the Electoral Districts for which—and the time within which—the first Election of Members to serve in the House of Commons shall take place.”
These terms, or rather the terms which come back from Canada, will of necessity come before the new electoral body, whose existence His Excellency has shadowed forth, and the particulars as to the division into districts must be left for the decision of that House. It is impossible at present to specify the time.
Hon. Mr. DeCosmos—Cannot an approximate time be named? Besides there are other things upon which the country will want information; such, for instance, as whether the voting for members will be by ballot, and what is to be the qualification of voters. I think it ought to be fixed. The Dominion law is more liberal than that to which the people of this country have been accustomed. I believe in the ballot, but it will be better to leave it to the constituencies.
Hon. Chief Commissioner—This clause has been left general, that it may be settled by the newly-constituted Council.
Hon. Dr. Helmcken—If there is a qualification for the House of Commons it must be general for the whole Dominion. At present I believe the qualification is that existing in the Provinces before union. Ultimately there must be a qualification for the whole Dominion.
Hon. Dr. Carrall—There is no general law for qualification.
Hon. Mr. Humphreys—The clause is indefinite and dangerous. The Dominion qualification will virtually disfranchise half the British settlers in British Columbia. We are legislating in the interests of the people; this ought to be determined at once.
Hon. Mr. DeCosmos—I believe in British subjects, having a fixed residence, and of a certain age, voting in British Columbia. It should be a residential manhood suffrage.
Hon. Dr. Helmcken—We cannot deal with the subject now. It is impossible to divide the Colony into districts until we know how many Senators we are to have.
Hon. Mr. Holbrook—Mr. Chairman, I move a recommendation to strike out the words “if any.”
Hon. Mr. Wood—I think the words ought to stand. The Organic Act says that Senators shall be selected for districts; but it may be desirable that Senators should be appointed for the whole Colony. They are nominated, and nominated because they are the best men that the Governor can obtain. [No no, no—Hon. DeCosmos] I believe the Executive are in the best position to know whether the principle of appointing Senators is best or whether they should go for the whole Colony.
Hon. Mr. Humphreys—As this stands it throws the whole power into the hands of the Canadians. The Lieutenant-Governor will be a Canadian and will name Canadians. We ought to know by whom these appointments are to be made.
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Hon. Mr. Robson—It is a great pity that these sectional differences should be allowed to prevail. We ought to consider ourselves British Colombians. The Governor-General, with the consent of ‘his Council, appoints the Lieutenant-Governor, and the Lieutenant-Governor, with the advice of his Cabinet, recommends the Senators. [No, no—Hon. Dr. Helmcken.] Yes, it is so. He recommends to the Governor-General, who appoints. It is a great pity to raise these disputes about Englishmen and Canadians.
Hon. Mr. Humphreys—It is all very well to talk that way. I maintain that the Englishmen sitting at this table have said less as to nationality than the Canadians. We want to be governed by British Columbians.
Hon. Dr. Helmcken—We had better drop these nationalities.
Hon. Mr. Wood—The Hon. Member for New Westminster should not be angry because we want to provide against the possibility of ill-feeling by timely precaution. ” Safe bind, safe find.” When the Governor-General appoints Senators, it i understand it right, he appoints the political friends of his Cabinet. If we are to have Responsible Government there will always be some check; if not we may be in the position of having members selected by the Lieutenant-Governor without the assistance of any responsible Cabinet. [Hear, hear—Hon. DeCosmos.] A Canadian Lieutenant-Governor will act with the same sort of feeling that the English Government will. Senators will be selected by favouritism, and supporters of Confederation will doubtless be selected in this Colony, unless we have Responsible Government and Representative Institutions in full vigor. Canadian interests will doubtless be very prominent in this Colony, and power acts injuriously on the human mind—it is one of the corruptors of the mind.
Hon. Attorney-General—I should be very sorry to see the words ” if any ” struck out ; their retention leaves the matter open. Hon. Members seem to have forgotten that Senators must be residents of British Columbia. Probably they may be selected on the ground of their having an appreciation of the whole country, instead of a section only. It may be that Senators will be appointed for the whole Colony.
Hon. Mr. Holbrook—After hearing the explanations of the Hon. Attorney-General, I feel more desirous to press my recommendations, to show that we from the Mainland desire to have our fair share of representation. I think the words most objectionable.
Hon. Mr. DeCosmos—I find by the Resolutions passed at the Conference of Delegates. in London, that Senators were to be taken from the Legislative Council. We are told by the Government that we are to go into Confederation without Responsible Government; then we ought to have a guarantee that the first Senators shall be representative men, and that they shall not be chosen by the Governor and put into office for life without reference to the people.
Hon. Mr. Humphreys—I shall move a recommendation that the first Senators shall be nominated by the Legislature.
Hon. Dr. Helmcken—The position will be worth $600. The difficulty will be to get anyone to go there. People are chary of going into the Legislative Council now, and they will not be very anxious to go to Canada. As to choosing Senators from one place, it is out of the question. And it is equally out of the question to appoint them by the Legislative Council.
Hon. Mr. Humphreys—We are here as the agents of the people, delegates in point of fact, and we are bound to legislate in accordance with the well understood wishes of the people. In reference to having these Senators appointed, we are bound to see what they are and whether the people are likely to approve of our acts.
Hon. Attorney-General—Hon. Members must remember that these Resolutions will be submitted to the people, a much-abused term, as the Hon. Member for Victoria District has truly said, and our common object must be to make the terms acceptable to the people. They will have to pass upon them in the last resort, and to say we will or we will not have them.
Hon. Mr. Pemberton—The objection seems to me to be to dividing British Columbia into districts. It is a qualification for Senators that they must reside in their districts; therefore, I think it will not be desirable to divide the Colony into districts. I think the clause should stand as it is.
Hon. Mr. Robson—One matter deserves attention in connection with this item. I believe that the indemnity to Senators is $600 in a lump sum, without travelling expenses. I think it is now commuted, and this would place British Columbia Senators at a disadvantage with other It is no hardship to other Provinces, but would be most unfair to British Columbia. Travelling expenses both ways should be allowed.
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Hon. Attorney-General—My conviction is that mileage is now allowed. If I am right, ten cents a mile both ways is allowed.
Hon. Mr. Barnard—It is the prerogative of the Governor; we had better vote for the repeal of the Organic Act,
Hon. Mr. DeCosmos—Under the proposed constitution Senators would be chosen by an irresponsible Governor, on the advice of an irresponsible Minister. Those who own this country do not want such a state of things to be.
Hon. Mr. Wood—It is better to bear in mind that the Organic Act applies to three, or at the most four, Provinces: Canada East, Canada West, and the Maritime Provinces. Here we want exceptional terms.
Hon. Mr. Robson—Hon. Members seem to assume that we are going to enter Confederation without Responsible Government. This I repudiate. I say we shall enter with privileges equal to other Provinces I decline to assume anything else. With regard to the appointment of Senators by the Legislative Council, I would ask by what Council? By this or by the new House? It would not satisfy the people that a Council nominated by the Governor should appoint; and it is yet to be seen that the new House, as shadowed forth by the Governor, would be less objectionable than this one. We are entirely in the dark.
Hon. Mr. Humphreys—As I understand it, these Senators are to be appointed after Confederation, and consequently the recommendation refers to the new Council. His Excellency that he will give a majority to the popular members, and I have no doubt he means what he says. I believe him to be a most estimable gentleman; but I have a feeling that he has been misled. It is not likely that in a few weeks’ travel he could understand the wants and feelings of the people. You must eat, drink, and sleep among them to understand a people. If I were a great Government contractor I would support the Government. I ask some reason of rank. It would be very easy to give us a majority of two or three popular members; but unless we have a large majority of representative members the Government might still get their own way.
Hon. Mr. Robson-I desire, Mr. Chairman, to answer two points. I believe we shall fight for and have Responsible Government. In referring to the Governor’s speech, the Hon. Member for Lillooet says the new Council will be just similar to this; that it will still be unrepresentative. I cannot see why there should be this doubt about the constitution of the new Council. If there were to be only a majority of two or three the Council would still be unrepresentative; and the people will not be contented with such a form of Government. The argument of the Hon. Member for Lillooet refutes itself in the most conclusive way. The people do not want an unrepresentative House not having their confidence to elect their Senators.
Hon. Mr. Ring—What have we to do with the Organic Act? Why should we put ourselves under the iron points of the Organic Act, and be dragged under a barrow all the days of our lives? If the Act is wrong it must be repealed. Now is the time to express our opinion.
The Chairman put the recommendation of Mr. Humphreys, which on division was lost, and of Mr. Robson, which on division was lost.
Clause 14 passed as read.
Hon. Attorney-General—Sir, I rise to move the adoption of clause fifteen, which is as follows:—
“15. The constitution of the Executive authority and of the Legislature of British Columbia, shall, subject to ‘The British North America Act, 1867,’ continue as existing at the time of union, until altered under the authority of the Act.”
And before touching upon the merits of the Resolution itself. I wish to explain that the time which must necessarily elapse before Confederation will allow ample opportunity to procure a change in the Constitution and I desire to impress upon Hon. Members that this question of alteration in the form of Government is not necessarily connected with the Resolution now before the House. I make these observations in consequence of observing a notice of the Hon. Member for Lillooet, on the subject of Responsible Government, on the Orders of the Day. On behalf of the Government, I desire to say that there is no desire whatever to shirk the full discussion of the question of Responsible Government. I throw the door open and invite the fullest discussion; but, as the question of the change of the Constitution of this Colony is one that lies between this Colony and the imperial Government, it does not form an item in these Resolutions. Therefore, I would ask Hon. Members to postpone the consideration […]
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[…] of Responsible Government and pass these Resolutions.
On a question of such importance, a special day, irrespective of these Resolutions, should be set apart for discussion. There is no desire whatever on the part of the Government to shirk the question. The matter of the Constitution is under negotiation between this Colony and the Imperial Government at this moment. Supposing these Resolutions are passed, other negotiations must take place. First, Canada has to accept them; then there is reference back to British Columbia to submit to the popular vote, so that there will be full time allowed for the new institutions to be inaugurated. If the people say that they do not want the terms, but that they want Responsible Government, they will undoubtedly get it. I cannot conceive our going into Confederation with a Crown Council; we must expect to go in with fuller Representative Institutions. If we do not have Confederation under these terms, we shall, nevertheless, have Representative Institutions; and a majority, under the Imperial Act, will have the power to change and get Responsible Government,— that is, party government. My point is, that it is unnecessary to drag in Responsible Government now; it is not necessary to mix it up with these Resolutions. Our vote on this Resolution need not be decided on Responsible Government, or party government. We shall still be open to send any other Resolution on the subject of party government to the Governor. I, therefore, throw out the invitation to discuss it more fully on a future day. I feel sure that it this course is adopted the discussion will be more free.
Hon. Mr. Ring—I think, Sir, that His Excellency’s message, it I may so call these Resolutions, invites us to discuss Responsible Government. Sir, we have been in former days favoured with Representative Institutions, and have been defrauded by them. I desire to know what we have gained by the Irresponsible Government that has for some years past oppressed us. What, I ask, has been done about the various questions that have come up- the Sisters’ Rocks, the Court of Appeal? The answer has been no funds. Where do the funds come from? From the people. If the Governor heard the views of the people, he might, perhaps, change his views. I ask Hon. Members here, who have lived under Responsible Government in Great Britain, [Hear, hear, from Mr. DeCosmos] not to be recreant to their country. Hon. Members on the other side may say they are against Responsible Government and refer to a former House of Assembly of Vancouver Island. This is no argument. I trust that Hon. Members loving British institutions will be true to their country. Because there are defects in some Assemblies, do not let us run into the abject error of saying we are not fit for self-government. We have borne this too long. Do not let us hand over to Canada our consent to submit to this degradation. Let us not say that we are not fit; that we surrender the question of self-government. Who, I ask, has examined the people? Who has tried them and discovered whether or not they are competent to exercise the privileges of Responsible Government? There are many points in this clause which demand discussion, but I am not going to exhaust myself. I say, however, that the question of Responsible Government must be considered. I throw the gauntlet down.
Hon. Mr. Humphreys—Mr. Chairman, as mover of the Resolution on Responsible Government, I do not think it necessary to take up the time of the House. I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind that the official members are convinced that the people are in favour of Responsible Government. As a student of history, young as I am, I begin to realize this truth: that all liberty and improvement has been infused into communities by the shock of revolution. or violent agitation. There is no hope of political improvement in time of tranquillity and without agitation. The official members of this Council are remarkable for their profound indifference to right and wrong. It is in their interest to postpone the settlement of this question of Responsible Government. I hold that there is a great necessity for this Resolution. The question ought to be settled now and for ever. Why should we be compelled, year after year, to fight those battles for reform over and over again? Let this question be settled so that we may have leisure for other things. Hon. gentlemen say the people are not in favour of Responsible Government. Time will show. I say that they will almost as a unit insist upon it, and I lay down this proposition—no Responsible Government, no Confederation; no Confederation, no pensions. Instead of tightening the Governmental reins they should be slackened. If Responsible Government is not granted these officials will still lose their power; for then, in all probability, a mightier nation than Canada will take charge of us. I am in favour of Confederation if it gives us permanent advantages, not otherwise. We must have a free constitution. My conscience tells me that my votes on these Resolutions are not prompted […]
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[…] by selfish motives. If the people get Responsible Government I am satisfied. His Excellency admits that he would not like to extend the liberal form of Government to this Colony. My opinion is that there is no community unfit to govern themselves. Government is not a complicated machine, There is very little difference between carrying on a Government and carrying on a business. One-half of the depression in this Colony is, in my opinion, attributable to the despotic form of government. Just fancy the head of a mercantile house allowing his clerks to carry on the whole business of the firm as they pleased. [Hear, hear, from Mr. DeCosmos.] without Responsible Government you will lose Confederation. It is not necessary to say any more. Let us have something like the Government of Ontario. Those whom I have the honour to represent sent me here to advocate Responsible Government. I will read from a petition now in my hands.
Hon. Attorney-General—This is out of order. I rise to call the Hon. Member to order. This is not the time to present a petition.
Hon Mr. DeCosmos—The Hon. Member has a right to read from it.
Chairman—The Hon. Member cannot read from a petition which has not been presented to and received by this House.
Hon. Mr. Robson—Mr. Chairman, I request that you will be careful in ruling on this matter. Hon. Members have the right to read from documents to show the views of their constituents. It is alluded to as the best means of acquainting the House with the views of the constituency which the Hon. Member represents.
Hon. Attorney-General—On the other hand, I would say that the right of petitioners must be respected; and if Hon. Members are allowed to read petitions, then petitions can be got in by a side wind.
Hon. Mr. Robson—In my opinion the Hon. Member has a right to read from a document of this kind.
Hon. Dr. Helmcken—Having looked at this document I see it is not a petition to this House, and may therefore be quoted.
The Chairman, having looked at the document, decided that it might be quoted.
Hon. Mr. Humphreys then read a portion of the prayer of the petition, which purported to be to Her Majesty the Queen.
Hon. Mr. Robson—The Honourable and learned Attorney-General has appealed to those Honourable Members who are in favour of Responsible Government to postpone the question for the present. I should be glad to accede to the request it the Honourable and learned gentleman will meet the objections that present themselves to my mind as to that course. In my opinion, to vote for this section now will preclude the possibility of our bringing on the subject of Responsible Government in the House this Session. We shall be met with the assertion that it has been already discussed and decided for this Session. I am quite sure the Honourable and learned Attorney-General does not wish to catch us in a trap.
Hon. Attorney-General—Certainly not. As Honourable Members have insisted upon opening the question, I now propose to go on with the discussion.
Hon. Mr. Robson—I am most anxious to meet the views of the Government in this matter, it possible; but, we are asked to vote aye or no upon this clause, I say that in voting for it we shall be casting our votes in direct opposition to Responsible Government.
Hon. Attorney-General—The discussion must go on now. You have begun; it is too late to withdraw. The lists are closed, and the gang of battle down.
Hon. Mr. Robson—Mr. Chairman, I will address myself to the question before the House, which I feel to be the most important clause in these terms; a question, in fact, which underlies the peace. prosperity, and happiness of British Columbia; a question which, if carelessly or improperly treated now, may eventuate in the most serious consequences to the Colony; for I believe the people are as ready now as in earlier days to fight for freedom, and to shed their blood in defence of their political rights. It becomes us, then, to be candid with ourselves and with each other—very serious, firm, and dispassionate in discussing this clause, as it might result in most disastrous consequences. As I read the clause, it places it beyond the power of the colonists to obtain the form of Government which they, I believe, really want; and it we pass it we shall obtain no more than that slightly more liberal form which is foreshadowed in His Excellency’s Speech, under the cover of Representative Government. Profoundly impressed as I am with the gravity of the subject we are now called upon to consider, […]
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[…] any remarks I may be enabled to offer will proceed rather from a sense of duty to my constituents and to my country than from any hope of changing the views or influencing the vote of any Honourable Member.
What is Responsible Government? I have been led to believe that considerable confusion of ideas exists upon this point; and I was the more impressed with this upon listening to the remarks ot the Honourable Member for Cariboo, a few days ago. That Honourable gentleman compared the introduction of Responsible Government into this Colony to applying the machinery of the Great Eastern to a dairy churn. Now, Sir, Responsible Government is not a quantity; it is a principle; and as such it is applicable to the Great Eastern or to a dairy churn,—capable of being applied to a tiny lady’s watch. It is a principle admirably adapted to the largest communities in the Old World. It is a principle admirably adapted to the smallest communities in the New World. It is a principle that may be worked out in a cabinet of a hundred. It is a principle which may be successfully worked out in a cabinet of three. Without it no Government can, in the true sense, be called a people’s Government. All true Governments derive their power from the people. All true Governments must be responsible to the people. Responsible Government is, then, a principle which may be adapted to, and successfully worked out in, this community. If this proposition is incontrovertible, which I maintain it is. who can say that British Columbia is not large enough for Responsible Government?
There are men here of ability to form a Cabinet. The Cabinet of the day is, under the responsible system, the Government, just so long as it has the confidence of a majority of the representatives of the people in the House. In the event of that confidence being lost. one of two courses is open: The Ministers place their resignation in the hands of the Governor who commonly calls upon a prominent member of the opposition to form a Ministry; or, it they believe that the House does not truly represent the people upon the question at issue, they advise a dissolution and an appeal to the country. What would Responsible Government have to do here? In dealing with this question I, of course, assume British Columbia to be a Province of the Dominion; and, I confess, that were it otherwise, were it proposed to remain a separate Colony, the case would be different. I do not say that even then I would not advocate the introduction of Responsible Government, but that advocacy might be less hearty and less firm. Regarding British Columbia as a Province of the Dominion, the chief objections are removed by the removal to Ottawa of all those larger and more complex questions of legislation which might threaten to crack the brain of our embryo statesmen.
The Local Government would alone have to deal with local questions, and thus it would have very simple duties to discharge—scarcely more difficult, in fact, than those falling within the functions of a large municipality in Canada. Are the people in British Columbia fit for it? And here I would express my sincere regret that the representative of Her Majesty in this Colony has felt it to be his duty to pronounce an adverse opinion. I will yield to no one, either in this House or out of it, in entertaining a high respect for His Excellency, for his talent, experience, and honesty of purpose; but I do say,—and I say it with respect, more in sorrow than in anger—that I cannot think his knowledge of the people of this Colony was such as to justify him in so early pronouncing upon their fitness for self-government.
Hon. Attorney-General — The Honourable Member for New Westminster will, I am sure. pardon the interruption but I feel it to be my duty to deny that the Governor ever said, or that any member of the Government has said or thought. that the people of British Columbia are unfit for self-government.
Hon. Mr. Robson—I thank the honourable and learned Attorney-General, and I appreciate his motives. There is no one less disposed than myself to speak or write one word calculated to weaken the hands of the Government, or cause the well-deserved popularity of His Excellency to wane; but yet I cannot conceal from myself the fact that a mere play upon words will not mend matters. Whether it is the Colony or its inhabitants that has been pronounced unfit for self-government, the practical results remain the same: and it is with these we alone are concerned. From my own knowledge of the people. and it is the result of eleven years’ contact with them, I have no hesitation in saying they are pre-eminently fitted for self-government. There are scores of men in this country with calloused palms and patched garments, well fitted by natural endowments, education, and practical experience in the working of Responsible Government in other Colonies, to occupy seats either in the Legislative Assembly or in the Cabinet of British Columbia. He who would judge of the intelligence and mental acquirements of men in this Colony by outward appearance and by present occupation, certainly would not judge righteous judgment. The opinion of His Excellency the Governor to the contrary not […]
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I boldly assert that the people of British Columbia are fit for Responsible Government. Do they want it? Doubtless there are those in this House, possibly even in the unofficial ranks, who will deny that the people of British Columbia really desire to have Responsible Government under Confederation. It is sometimes difficult to account for divergence of opinion; but I venture to think that I have the weight of both argument and evidence on my side when I assert, as I do, that the great body of the people—certainly an overwhelming majority—do earnestly and intelligently desire that form of government. It is difficult to believe that any man who has given due thought to the subject can possibly hesitate. Look at the position this Colony would occupy under Confederation, without the full control of its own affairs—a condition alone attainable by means of Responsible Government While the other Provinces only surrender Federal questions to the Central Government, we would surrender all. While the other Provinces with which it is proposed to confederate upon equal and equitable terms retain the fullest power to manage all Provincial matters, British Columbia would surrender that power. Her local as well as her national affairs would virtually be managed at Ottawa. Could a union so unequal be a happy and enduring one? The compact we are about to form is for life. Shall we take into it the germ of discord and disruption? The people desire change; but they have no desire to exchange the Imperial heel for the Canadian heel. They desire political manumission.
I stand here, and, in the name of my ancestors, protest before Heaven against the surrender of constitutional rights purchased by the best blood of our race—a priceless legacy we have no right to barter away, even if we would. We owe it to our ancestors to preserve entire those rights which they have delivered to our care. We owe it to posterity not to suffer their dearest inheritance to be destroyed But, if it were possible for us to be insensible of these sacred claims, there is yet an obligation binding upon ourselves, from which nothing can acquit us; a personal interest which we cannot surrender. To alienate even our own rights would he a crime as much more enormous than suicide, as a life of civil security and political freedom is superior to a condition of serfdom; and if life be the bounty of Heaven, we scornfully reject the noblest part of the gift if we consent to surrender that certain rule of living, and those constitutional rights, without which the condition of human nature is not only miserable but contemptible. I know but too well that the people of this Colony have, during these years past, been unjustly and unconstitutionally deprived of their rights; but the perpetration of a wrong in the past can constitute no argument for perpetrating that wrong in the future; and it would appear a most fitting moment, when a new constitution is about to be offered, to demand the full restoration of political rights of which we have been for some time so unjustly deprived.
A word about the constitution which the Governor proposes to confer upon this Colony. Regarding it in the dim light shed upon it by the Executive, it is not unfair to assume that there will be one more popular Member taken into the Executive, and that the people will have a majority of two in the Legislature. Let us suppose that the Legislative Council has 20 Members, 11 elected by the people and 9 appointed by the Governor. Three are taken from the 11 into the mysterious chamber of the Executive, where they become —I will not say corrupted—manipulated; educated to see things somewhat differently from what they saw them before. In a House so constituted, is it unfair, is it uncharitable to conclude that, on all Government measures at least, the Government would command a majority? Take 3 from 11, and 8 remain. Take 8 from 20, and how many remain to the Government? Is it not 12? Where, then, is the people’s majority under the proposed constitution? And yet I am constantly told that this is not the proper time to ask for Responsible Government—that if the people want it they will possess, under the new constitution, the ready means of obtaining it. Sir. I do not see the matter in that light. I see in the proposed constitution a condition of things which promises a five years’, possibly a ten years’, agitation for what the people are prepared for now, desire now, are entitled to now.
All Governments are naturally conservative. All persons holding positions of honour, power. or emolument, are conservative. Think you those holding office by appointment will favour or promote a change which would make them responsible to the people—exchange their commission from the Crown for the more brittle tenure of “public opinion “? On the contrary, we should find those in power opposed to the people in their struggle for Responsible Government; and how long the struggle might last, it would be idle to predict. Besides, the people of Canada do not desire to see British Columbia occupying any such false position. They know too well the value of free institutions, and their adaptation to new countries, to think of withholding them from us. These institutions were not won without a long and bloody struggle, even in Canada; and the prosperity and contentment […]
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[…] of that people date from the inauguration of Responsible Government. The failure of representative institutions, formerly enjoyed upon this Island, is frequently cited as an argument against Responsible Government being introduced here. I admit the partial failure of these institutions. That failure was not, however, on account of the institutions being ” representative,” but because they were not “responsible” The essential principle was wanting.
There was no constitutional connecting link—no bond of sympathy between those who sat by the will of the people and those who sat contrary to, and in defiance of, that will. The system, painted, though it was, in popular dress, was rotten at the core—proved a delusion and a sham. The people, sometimes in indifference and contempt, permitted unsuitable men to be elected, and the whole thing, came to rack and ruin. It is to avoid a repetition of that unseemly farce that the people demand that any new constitution which may be conferred upon this Colony shall be based upon the only true principle of responsibility. This question should be finally settled. The Colony desires political rest. To inaugurate a fresh political agitation with Union is most undesirable, and might lead to disastrous results. The possible consequences of a refusal to grant Responsible Government coincident with Confederation, is a part of the subject I almost hesitate to touch. I would neither prophecy, predict, nor threaten; but I would ask the Government to read well and carefully the lessons written in blood in other countries Human nature is much the same on both sides of this great continent.
Has the Anglo-Saxon race become so utterly degenerate here that it is prepared to barter away for mere money subsidies those rights which were purchased with so much blood elsewhere? I utterly refuse to think so meanly of this people. We have seen that even the half-breeds at Red River have too much of the old blood in their veins to permit a fancied political wrong. I am not going to predict a rebellion here. Heaven grant there may be none. But I do feel it my duty to warn the Government against unnecessarily provoking such a possible contingency. Why should there be such an unaccountable antipathy to investing the people of British Columbia with those political powers enjoyed under the British Constitution? Why is the present form of Government so unpopular with the people? I will tell you why. It is just because it is not a people’s Government. They had no hand in making it. They had none in working it. They can have none in unmaking it. Only let the people have a hand in forming the Government, in selecting men of their own choice to rule over them, and we would find a popular Government, a strong Government, strong in the heart and confidence of the people. The very same gentlemen who are unpopular now, because ruling without the consent of the people, would be popular then, because ruling by the act and with the consent of the people.
The people of British Columbia are naturally a conservative people. Restore to them their political rights, and no Government would need to fear an undue desire for change. The people know best how to manage their own local affairs. Depend upon it, Sir, the people are seldom wrong in their opinions; in their sentiments they are never mistaken. Those now in power have a great responsibility resting upon them. Upon the manner in which they acquit themselves in regard to this very question may hang the most momentous consequences. Will they promote everlasting wellbeing, or precipitate untold evil? Heaven grant that they may do the right! I stand here today to advise and warn, not to threaten and predict. The Government has a very grave responsibility in this matter, and may well take a lesson from other countries. The possible consequence of a refusal to grant a reasonable request may be a repetition of the Red River trouble. Let not the Government make a fatal mistake, or they may find themselves in a state of political agitation that may lead to the most serious consequences. I believe that, under circumstances analogous to what occurred in the Red River Territory, the Imperial Government would treat the inhabitants of this Colony with even more consideration. It would not be a question of bayonets and fleets to coerce this Colony, but it would be a question of what concessions ought to be made. I say that the Government have an opportunity now not only of shunning evil, but of doing a great work. Oh! let not the Government make the fatal mistake of saying the people shall not manage their own affairs
Do not let them make the fatal mistake of compelling the people to reject these conditions at the polls. Now I have discharged a duty; I have said all I feel called upon to say at this stage. I have stated my own views and, I venture to think, those of an overwhelming majority of the people of British Columbia, as well as of my own constituents. I trust the Government will take care how they force a vote on this question, which affects this whole community , [” Hear, hear.”] This is, in a sense, distinct from the conditions, and it is probable that the Governor must obtain what we are now asking from a different quarter. But, obtain it from where he will, it must, I say, be obtained.
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I beg to move the following amendment, as meeting the case more fully than the resolution offered by the Hon. Member for Lillooet :—
“Whereas no union can be either acceptable or satisfactory which does not confer upon the people of British Columbia as full control over their own local affairs as is enjoyed in the other Provinces with which it is proposed to confederate; therefore, be it
“Resolved, That an humble address be presented to His Excellency the Governor, earnestly recommending that a Constitution based upon the principle of Responsible Government, as existing in the Province of Ontario, may be conferred upon this Colony, coincident with its admission into the Dominion of Canada.”
Hon. Attorney-General—Allow me to observe on this, that the Hon. Member is asking the Government to grant what it has no power to give.
Hon. Mr. Robson—The Governor has promised to seek the power to grant us a new Constitution. We only ask that in that new Constitution we may have Responsible Government.
Hon. Mr. DeCosmos—Mr. Chairman I do not intend to occupy the House for many minutes. I agree with the Hon. Member for Lillooet, and I disagree with the Hon. Member for New Westminster. I think, Sir, that we ought to have representative institutions and Responsible Government, irrespective of Confederation. The Hon. Member for New Westminster’s proposition unites it with Confederation. I think this is a mistake; but it is of no matter, so long as we get it. I look upon British Columbia as a municipality under the British Crown. Under Canada it will be a municipality with less power. Anyone who knows anything of municipal law knows that it is based upon three principles: territory, authority, and responsibility. This Colony has the first two, and we are now asking for the third, and the terms sent down to the Council do not contain the elements of responsibility of the Executive to the people. Everything is tending to this point. Without responsibility, no matter how elective the new Council is, it will be a failure. The people want Responsible Government and representative institutions under ‘any circumstances. I think the people would be traitors to themselves if they accepted any form of Government which had not the element of responsibility. I would rebel if there were enough like me in the Colony, and arrest every member of the Government that I thought was robbing me of my rights. I would go to a further extreme. However, I shall not trouble the House with a long speech on this matter, as I consider it of little use. This question ended, I am contented to leave this Council and go to my constituents,
Hon. Dr. Carrall—Mr. Chairman, I should like to ask what all this breeze is about? It is perfectly clear to all that as soon as we enter the Confederacy the people of this country can have any form of Government they desire. I refuse to take up the issue without Confederation, in a state of isolation. We are dealing with Confederation. I am, equally with the Hon. Member for New Westminster, aware of the priceless boon of responsibility which exists in England, which may fairly be called the standard-bearer of nations, and I am equally aware that the same responsibility does not exist in the Unitcd States. During the late war I was in the United States army. Stanton, the then Secretary of War, was a most unpopular man. They wanted to get rid of him, but he could not be removed. When I took the ground that Responsible Government was not expedient. it was not because I did not approve of the system. It is I say, the wisest and best form of Government, but it is too cumbrous for this Colony. I will repeat my objections:
The Council contains no men of influence, the constituencies are too remote, and the inhabitants are all engaged in bread-seeking; there are few men of independent means who would take part in Responsible Government, and, consequently, the direction of public affairs would fall into the hands of men who are not fitted, or qualified to govern the country, or otherwise into the hands of Victorians; neither of which I, for one, wish to see. How unfortunate it would be for Caribooites if the Hon. senior Member for Victoria (Dr. Helmcken) were elected for Cariboo. I say, then. that it must fall into bad hands. or into the hands of Victorians. I offer that argument as a British Columbian. The Executive Council do not care one fig what sort of Government the people take. The Executive say the question is one for the people to decide. We have a measure of responsib y now. The Hon. Member for New Westminster says that His Excellency will do certain things. I take his speech as it reads, and I have no doubt that a majority of the people’s representatives will sit round the board; none know how great the majority will be. [Attorney-General—”Hear, […]
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[Hon. Dr. Carrall:] Responsible Government has never been made a distinct issue throughout the Colony. [” It has “—Mr. DeCosmos.]
[Hon. Dr. Carrall:] The Hon. Member says that it has; I say it has not. It has been named with Confederation, but not by itself; and until it is made a separate question, my advice to the Governor will be not to grant it. The Governor has left you to choose any Government you deem best. Do you think it would be better to have as permanent heads of departments two or three gentlemen who are familiar with the wants of the Colony, or a moveable Ministry going out on a question of repairs to Cowichan Road, or something of that. kind? These are amongst the things that you have to consider, and if, after due consideration, the people desire Responsible Government, they will have it. I am here to state that His Excellency the Governor has no wish or desire to keep back Responsible Government; if he had any such desire, is it likely that he would have reconstituted his Executive Council so as to make it elective? I apprehend that people do not consider what they are talking about when they’ask for Responsible Government; they have not probably considered the failures that have been made in respect of Responsible Government.
There have been some failures, as, for instance, in Jamaica and in Victoria. A class of people get into power under Responsible Government whom no person would like to have as rulers. There are petty interests mixed up with politics in small communities, which prevent the system working so well in them as in large countries like Great Britain, where there is a healthy tone and a vast population, and, consequently, great questions of national importance. I maintain that after Confederation the questions connected with local affairs will be so small, and so entirely connected with particular localities, that a staff of permanent heads of departments will be far better for the Colony than Responsible Government. I make this statement from conviction. I am perfectly free to take any course I like, notwithstanding I am an Executive Councillor. My position has not in any way curtailed my views. I could have advised Responsible Government if I had thought proper, and would have done so if I had thought it desirable for this Colony. If anyone believes that the Organic Act does not allow Responsible Government to be obtained at any time, let him move to make clause 19 specially applicable to this Colony.
Hon. Dr. Helmcken—It is in the terms already, only it is not specially named.
Hon. Dr. Carrall—Well, name it specially and put it in; I will support it if anyone proposes it. We know what His Excellency’s intention is with regard to giving representation in the new Council, but we do not know the measure of it. If there is an overwhelming majority for Responsible Government in all districts, electors will take care to send Responsible Government Members to the next Council. If the people are determined to have this ” priceless boon,” let them send men who will say they will have it. I feel impelled to administer a soft and gentle rebuke to the Hon. Member for New Westminster, who has, I must confess, won my esteem by his manly, straightforward support of these Resolutions; but I must take exception to his language: it has been too emphatic—unintentionally, of course—because led away by the subject. He has used inflammatory language which he had better not have uttered, language which was not exactly in accordance with what I conceive to be correct. That clause in the Governor’s speech which speaks of our not being fit to govern ourselves: Governor Musgrave has never said so; if he had, I should have taken it as a personal insult.
I say, as a British Columbian, I am capable of governing myself ; and if we can, individually, govern ourselves, it is fair to suppose that the Colony, as a whole, can govern itself. It you had the whole population comeatable [sic] altogether, so that they could be parallel like an army, and you could make them give expression to their views, and out of that get a Government, it might be practicable; but instead of that, here we are with a scattered population, isolated centres separated from each other. The majority are here for the sole purpose of making money, and they don’t feel that anxiety that has been represented about Responsible Government; they want to be governed as cheaply as possible. If I am wrong, if it turns out at the polls that even a trifling majority are in favour of Responsible Government, they can have it. The iron heel of Canada is all nonsense. Governor Musgrave is the man we have to deal with, and I say that Responsible Government is a relief to any Governor, for it comes between him and the people. Governor Musgrave says that it is (I paraphrase) ” my duty, with my “experience, to give fair and frank advice to the people; to tell them what I think is for their “good. If they determine differently to my advice, the fault is with them.” Supposing that Governor Musgrave had put Responsible Government in as a condition, and had thrust it upon the people, would not the respectable minority who are against it have said—or possibly, and […]
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[…] as I think, probably, have said—His Excellency had acted unwisely?
This question has been before the people; they would have been justified in jumping at the gilded bait of Responsible Government if the Government had not proposed a new system; but as he has done so, the people will do well to consider before they swallowed the barbed hook that lies under the bait. I desire to disclaim speaking in the interest of officials; their position would, so far as I believe, not be injured in any way by the introduction of Responsible Government. Those among them who were commissioned in England (I mean the heads of departments) will be rendered so independent that they will be above fighting after their own interests. I think it unlikely that they will remain here. As to the balance of officials, if Canada is as liberal now as of old, or as liberal as Australia, they will be well provided for, whether we have Responsible Government or not. Probably they will be “utilized,” since that is the term we are to use. I claim for the system which His Excellency has foreshadowed, that it is more suitable to the present circumstances of this Colony than any other system which can be given us. Responsible Government has acted well in large communities, but in small ones I doubt its efficiency. It is like a painted ship on a painted ocean. If it were obtained in a small Colony like this, there would be a constant game of battledore and shuttlecock going on—in to-day and out to-morrow.
Fancy the Honourable Member for Victoria City presiding at the Lands and Works Department one day, and I, having paid him all the compliments I could, come over another day to have an interview with the Chief, and find that there has been a change of Ministry, there is another man in. My ideas may be wrong; if so, they can be corrected at the polls. If I were a man of property, with a large stake in the Colony, I should decidedly object to Responsible Government. I have given my opinion candidly and honestly. I may never sit at this Council Board again. I have given my advice to His Excellency, to this Board, and to my constituents. conscientiously. If I am wrong, the people will correct me. I speak from conviction. No doubt there is talent in British Columbia; no doubt there is plenty of administrative ability; there are many better men than myself, I am very sure, and that is one reason that I oppose Responsible Government. [Laughter.] But the main difficulty is that the best men won’t come here; the chaff is blown here, the wheat remains behind.
On motion of Hon. Mr. Drake, the debate was adjourned to Monday.