Despatch from Lieutenant Governor Arthur H. Gordon to the Secretary of State for the Colonies [Division of Powers] (22 September 1864)
By: Arthur H. Gordon
Citation: New Brunswick, Correspondence Concerning Proposals for Inter-Colonial Union, Legislative & Federal (Fredericton: G.E. Fenety, 1865) at 14-16.
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The Lieutenant Governor to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
Fredericton, 22nd September 1864.
Sir,—In my Despatch of 12th instant, I stated that the Conference of Delegates appointed to consider the Union of the Lower Provinces had adjourned from Charlottetown, in Prince Edward Island, to Halifax. The Delegates have since removed to Saint John, and on the 15th instant reached Fredericton, still accompanied, as they have been through out their journeyings, by the Canadian Cabinet. From hence they returned to Saint John, where they separated, with the intention of meeting again at Quebec on the 10th proximo.
It is not, however, to chronicle the rambles of this ambulatory Conference that I now address you, but to convey to you such further information as I have been able to collect with respect to the probable results of its deliberations.
As I anticipated, the Union of the Lower Provinces appears to be for the present totally lost sight of in the consideration of the larger scheme now proposed, and the apprehension which I expressed in my Despatch of 12th instant have been realized ; for the principle that the Lower Provinces should enter the Federation as three separate and independent bodies was, with little apparent reluctance, conceded by the Canadian Ministers, when it became evident that a persistence in the idea that the Legislative Union of the Lower Provinces should form a preliminary to the subsequent Federal Union was likely to endanger the success of the latter scheme.
The discussions of the Conference were for the most part conducted in a conversational and informal manner. Two subjects, however, were, I understand, debated at some length, in more elaborately prepared speeches. These subjects were—the composition and mode of election of the Legislative Council, and the authority from which appointments to the local judiciary should emanate.
With regard to the former subject less difference of opinion was found to exist than I should have anticipated. It was agreed that the Federal Legislative Council should consist of 60 members, 20 from Upper Canada, 20 from Lower Canada, and 20 from the Maritime Provinces. It was generally desired that the members of this body should be nominated for life by the Crown, and with hardly an exception, the elective principle, as applied to the Legislative Council, was decidedly condemned. The system of nomination is on the whole, perhaps, the best feasible method of appointment. The very best mode of selection would, in my opinion, be that of election for life by a very highly qualified constituency—but in this case a perpetual agitation would probably be kept alive for the reduction of the qualification. In my opinion, however, the mode of selection is far less important than the retention of the scat for life when once obtained. The possession of a seat for life tends to encourage an honest freedom of thought, speech and action on the part of Members of the Upper House, and it is in this character of comparative independence that one of the main uses of the Legislative Council is to be found.
With respect to the appointment of the Judges, a very animated discussion took place; and I am informed that one of the Delegates made an extremely effective speech on the subject. He showed that were the Federation established, and the local Legislatures consequently deprived of much of their present importance, there would be less temptation than now exists for leading members of the Bar to enter into the field of local politics. Those who wished to enter public life at all, would naturally look to the Federal Legislature as the scene of their labours; and if the local Governments were allowed to appoint Judges to be selected from their own supporters in the local Assemblies, the Bench might he speedily filled with men who would fail to command the respect of those practising before them. He, therefore, strongly urged that the appointment of all the Judges should be vested in the Central Government, and urged the adoption of some measure which should entirely remove these appointments from the influence of party politics. On the other hand considerable reluctance to adopt this view was, I learn, exhibited by some Members of the Conference.
With regard to the important question of the attributes to be assigned to the respective Legislatures and Governments, there was a considerable divergence of opinion.
The result of the discussion roughly appears to be the following apportionment of subjects as those to be dealt with by the General and Local Legislatures respectively.
To the Federal Legislature is given the control of—
Interest and Usury Laws,
Insolvency and Bankruptcy,
Weights and Measures,
Navigation of Rivers and Lakes.
Patent and Copyright Laws,
Marriage and Divorce,
Militia and Defence,
The Local Legislatures are to be entrusted with the care of—
Education, (with the exception of Universities,)
Control of Public Lands,
Mines and Minerals,
Hospitals and Charities,
Roads and Bridges,
Registration of Titles,
As I have already observed, it is proposed that the Conference should meet again at Quebec on the 10th proximo, and I suppose that some decision will then be adopted as to the Constitution of the local Legislatures and local Executive Governments, a subject which at present has only been touched on with great hesitation, and treated with the utmost vagueness.
I have, &c. (Signed)
Arthur H. Gordon.