House of Lords Debates (UK) — February 22, 1867
BRITISH NORTH AMERICA BILL — COMMITTEE.
Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee read.
THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY presented petitions from the Governors, Principal, and Fellows of the M’Gill College, Montreal, from the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers of Lower Canada, and others, directing attention to several provisions of the Bill and especially to the 93rd clause, which in their operation they feared would have the effect of subjecting them to the will of those possessing the majority of the representation, and they desired the introduction of a clause into the Bill now before Parliament for their security. The petitioners disclaimed all feelings of distrust or hostility to their Roman Catholic brethren, but they foresaw difficulties likely to arise in the future history of the colony which they wished to obviate by timely legislation. The petitioners felt strongly on the point, as their petitions showed. At the same time, so sensible were they of the importance of passing this measure, that if the modifications which they had suggested could not be accepted without endangering the measure itself they would not insist on their demand.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON said, that through the courtesy of the noble Earl who presented these petitions he had enjoyed a previous opportunity of learning their contents; in fact, they had been referred to him at the Colonial Office, and copies of them would be found in the official correspondence. The petitioners he knew to be men of position and great respectability in the Lower Province, and it was accordingly his duty to entertain with due care and consideration the points which they urged. Having done so, he was bound to say that it was wholly impossible to amend the Bill in accordance with the wishes of the petitioners without compromising the success of the measure. The real point which they desired was to secure for ever, both in the general and in the local Legislatures, the same relative representation for the Lower Province which it now possessed. Independently of the fact that many of the proposals were of a municipal character and might be settled by the local Legislature, to introduce the clauses asked for would violate one of the principles upon which the Bill was based—namely, that the local Legislatures should have the power of amending their own constitutions. He could not but think that the views of the petitioners must lead to a multiplication of those sectional interests of which already there were, perhaps, too many in the Provinces. Those petitioners, it seemed to him, were needlessly afraid of the consequences of the scheme. The 80th clause provided that no change should be made in certain districts of Lower Canada—the very districts, in fact, which returned the Protestant minority—without the consent of the Members returned by those districts. Hence the House would perceive that it was almost impossible for any injury to be done to the Protestant minority. The real question at issue between the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities was the question of education, and the 93rd clause, after long controversy, in which the views of all parties had been represented, had been framed. The object of that clause was to guard against the possibility of the members of the minority suffering from undue pressure by the majority. It had been to place all these minorities, of whatever religion, on precisely the same footing, and that, whether the minorities were in esse or in posse. Thus the Roman Catholic minority in Upper Canada, the Protestant minority in Lower Canada, and the Roman Catholic minority again in the Maritime Provinces would all be placed on a footing of precise equality. He could only say further that if he were to accept an Amendment based on the petitions presented by his noble Friend, it would be difficult to resist other Amendments of an analogous character put forward by opposing interests. In fact, only a few minutes before he entered the House that day he had received a paper setting forth the views of a strong and very respectable Roman Catholic minority, who feared that the 93rd clause would not extend to them the protection which they conceived to be their due. His answer to them, as to his noble Friend, must be that to comply with their wishes would be to depart from a compact entered into by the representatives of all shades of religious and political opinions. If the compromise were departed from in favour of one party, it must inevitably be departed from in favour of another. Therefore, he could not accept from his noble Friend the Amendment which he knew had been prepared, but with much consideration had not been pressed.
LORD LYVEDEN asked for some information as to the powers of the delegates by whom this compromise was entered into, and the quarters from which they derived their authority. A large and influentially-signed petition would soon, he believed, be presented, expressing a hope that this Confederation scheme would not be passed into law before May next, when the results of the elections in Nova Scotia would exhibit in a clearer light to the people of this country what was thought of the Bill in that Province.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON said, that so far as regarded Prince Edward’s Island and Newfoundland, inasmuch as they refused to be included in the Confederation, it was not necessary for them to send any delegates. With regard to the delegates who came to this country to negotiate the Confederation, they derived their power from the several Provinces which they represented, and were armed with the fullest authority from the Legislative bodies. In the case of Nova Scotia, in which Province only was there a semblance of a difference of opinion, the matter was fully debated as to whether the Governor should be authorized to appoint delegates to proceed to this country for the purpose of arranging the terms of union of the Province, and after a very full discussion it was carried in the affirmative by 13 to 5 in the Legislative Council, and by 31 to 19 in the Legislative Assembly. With respect to Upper and Lower Canada, nothing could be more complete and comprehensive than the power granted to the delegates.
Motion agreed to: House in Committee accordingly; Amendments made: The Report thereof to be received on Monday next.