“Meeting of Opposition Members of Parliament of Lower Canada” (Liberal party Manifesto), The Globe (31 October 1859).


Document Information

Date: 1859-10-25* (Date of Meeting where manifesto was issued)
By: The Globe, A.A. Dorion, Lewis Drummond, L.A. Dessaules, Thomas D’Arcy McGee
Citation: “Meeting of Opposition Members of Parliament of Lower Canada”, The Globe (31 October 1859).
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An Important Document.

MEETING OF OPPOSITION MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT OF LOWER CANADA.

At a meeting of the Opposition members of Parliament of Lower Canada, held in Montreal on Tuesday, October 25th, the Committee appointed at a previous meeting to consider the political position of the country, and the duties thereby imposed on the Liberal party of Lower Canada, presented their Report: it was then resolved,—

“That in view of the importance of the constitutional changes recommended by the Committee, the Report be published before being submitted for adoption, and that this meeting stand adjourned till Tuesday, the 22nd of November next.”

Report of the Committee appointed at a meeting of members of the Parliamentary Opposition of Lower Canada, held in Montreal on the 13th October.

Your Committee have approached the task assigned them with a profound consciousness that a grave constitutional crisis has arisen, which imposes on the Liberal party of Lower Canada duties of corresponding gravity.

It has been evident for several years past to attentive observers, and especially to those who have been called upon to mingle actively in public affairs, that a condition of things was rapidly arising that would render imperatively necessary some modification of the suosisting [sic] relations between Upper and Lower Canada; and the nature of the changes best calculated to meet the emergency, when it should arise, and to ensure the future good government and well-being of the country, could not fail to form the topic of frequent debate in Parliament, and of much earnest thought and discussion in the community at large.

Although a crisis similar to the present in its essential elements was, perhaps, inevitable in process of time from the operation of natural causes, there can be no doubt that its development has been greatly accelerated by the appalling profligacy that has characterized the administration of our Government for some years past. Considerations which, formerly in this country, and which have always in the mother country from whose institutions ours are professedly copied, served to restrain and guide public men, such as a decent regard for their own reputation and antecedents, a respect for the plain requirements of the constitution and of the laws of the land, and a becoming deference to enlightened public opinion, have been utterly disregarded by our present rulers, until the once coveted position of a responsible minister of the Crown in Canada has ceased to be an object of honourable ambition, if its possession has not already become a subject of positive reproach in the estimation of the intelligence and virtue of the country.

We have now, therefore, to deal not merely with the evils inherent in a system, never perhaps adapted to the peculiar circumstances of the country, but with those evils, aggravated and intensified by years of misrule, of extravagance, and of unblushing corruption, such as never before marked the career of a Government ostensibly founded on the will of the people. In proposing constitutional changes, we have therefore to consider, whether they are calculated to remove existing evils, and to prevent the possibility of their recurrence in the future. In short, the two-fold problem now demanding solution, is how to obviate the difficulties arising out of the existing union, and how to secure the desired purity, economy, and efficiency of administration.

To many minds no doubt the simple and obvious solution would be the Repeal of the Union Act, and the restoration of separate governments in the two sections of the Province. The Union, never acceptable to the majority of the people of Lower Canada, having confessedly failed to realize the objects and expectations of its promoters,—there being, in point of fact at this moment, as little real union, as there was when the Union Act was passed twenty years ago—what remedy, it is asked with some force, can be proposed, at once so natural and of so easy attainment, as the simple repeal of that act? Thus would be terminated, it is argued, all the difficulties that can be fairly imputed to the Union, and to each of the Provinces would be left the work of reforming its administrative system or remodelling its constitutional machinery, or both, as to its people should seem meet.

We must not, however, forget, that we could not, if we would, revert to the state of things existing anterior to the Union. Although but little progress has been made in consolidating it by a fusion of the leading elements comprising our population, or by an assimilation of their laws or institutions, an enormous public debt, for which the whole Province is liable, has been created, and is represented by public works, the common property of, and equally necessary to, both sections. Having common creditors and common assets, an equitable division of the latter, with the assent of the former, would be a difficult, if not impossible achievement. The old difficulty of fairly apportioning the Customs revenue between the two Provinces, would instantly be revived in an aggravated form, proportionate to the larger and more complicated commercial relations developed since the Union. That some basis of apportionment would have to be established in the event of a dissolution, is manifest, because the expense and inconvenience attending separate revenue systems in two provinces, so related geographically and commercially, and, it may be added, by reason of their common connexion with the mother country, politically, would not long be tolerated by either.

But, apart altogether from the objections of a practical nature to a dissolution, pure and simple, of the existing Union between Upper and Lower Canada, which have been merely glanced at, there are others which, in the estimation of those who would look beyond the present, and would frame our institutions with reference to the future destiny of our country, and the important part they believe she is to play in the affairs of this continent, possess even greater weight.

Neither can we comprehend how the re-adjustment of Representation could effectually prevent the recurrence of the conflicts and collisions arising out of the distinct character of our two-fold population. In each section, there would still be minority and majority parties, and unless the principle of the double majority could be enacted as a fundamental law, we should be exposed to an endless round of the same complaints that we now hear, of one section ruling the other, contrary to its well-known public opinion, and to see reproduced in our politics, the same passions, the same intrigues, the same corruption, and insincerity. The enactment of the double majority is not advocated in any quarter. The impossibility of clearly defining the cases to which it should apply, and of distinguishing them from those apply, and of distinguishing them from those to which it should not, is felt by all; but were it even possible, it would only lead to new phases of difficulty, by compelling majorities professing opinions and principles diametrically opposed to each other, to unite, and thereby effectually to extinguish the influence of the one or the other minority, or of both. It is difficult to conceive one single legislature composed of two majorities and two minorities, these two majorities without any identity of principle, acting, nevertheless, together by common consent, so as never to trespass the one on the other, and so that each section of the Province would always be governed by a majority of its representatives. On many questions this course could not be carried out without alternately forcing the majority of the representatives of each section of the Province to abstain from voting, or to declare themselves in favour of measures which their judgment and their conscience would disavow. The complications of such a system, amounting to nothing short of an application of the federal principle to a single Legislature, would render it impracticable.

Your committee are impressed with the conviction that, whether we consider the present needs or the probably future condition of the country, the true, the statesmanlike solution is to be sought in the substitution of a purely Federative, for the present so-called, Legislative Union; the former, it is believed would enable us to escape all the evils, and so retain all the advantages appertaining to the existing Union, while by restricting the functions of the Federal Government to the few easily defined subjects of common or national concern, and leaving supreme jurisdiction all other matters to the several Provinces, the people of each sub-division would possess every guarantee for the integrity of their respective institutions which an absolute dissolution of the Union would confer.

The proposition to federalize the Canadian Union is not new. On the contrary, it has been frequently mooted in Parliament, and in the press during the last few years. It was, no doubt, suggested by the example of the neighbouring States, where the admirable adaptation of the federal system to the government of an extensive territory, inhabited by people of divers origins, creeds, laws, and customs, has been amply demonstrated; but shape and consistency were first imparted to it in 1856, when it was formally submitted to Parliament by the Lower Canada Opposition, as offering, in their judgment, the true corrective of the abuses generated under the present system.

Upper Canada then, as she has uniformly since, demanded that Parliamentary Representation should be based on population, as the sole condition on which the existing Legislative Union could be maintained; and believing that this demand would, sooner or later, be acquiesced in by Lower Canada, her public men were not disposed to view with much favour the suggestion of a Federal Union. Their expectation has been fulfilled. Lower Canada has maintained an unwavering opposition to any change in the basis of representation that would alter the relative strength of the two sections in the government of the Province. The obstacles to the consolidation and harmonious working of the Union having increased with time rather than been diminished by it, and having now become so formidable as to lead many to consider them as insurmountable—while administrative abuses, believed to be mainly the out-growth of all ill-assorted Union, have been more rife than ever—the public mind of Upper Canada appears at this moment to be undecided between persistence in their former demands, a call for a dissolution of the Union, or for the adoption of the Federal system

The discussion now going on in Upper Canada justifies the hope that the Liberal party of that section of the Province will, at its approaching Convention, pronounce in favour of Federation. It therefore now becomes imperative upon the Liberals of Lower Canada to determine whether they will sustain the views enunciated in Parliament in 1856, and urged upon every subsequent occasion when constitutional charges were discussed.

If Lower Canada insists on maintaining the Union intact—if she will neither consent to a dissolution of the Union, nor consider the project of a Federation, it is difficult to conceive on what reasonable grounds the demand for Representation according to Population can be resisted. The plea for such resistance has hitherto been, that danger might arise to some of her peculiar and most cherished institutions; but that ground will be no longer tenable if she rejects a proposition, the effect of which would be to leave to her own people the sole and absolute custody of those institutions, and to surround them by the most stringent of all possible safeguards, the provisions of the fundamental law of the land, unalterable save by the action of the people affected by them.

The logical alternative now presented to the people of Lower Canada would, therefore, seem to be, Dissolution or Federation on the one hand, and Representation according to Population on the other. However obnoxious the latter may be, is there not danger of its being imposed upon this section of the Province, should the refusal to entertain measures of reform intended to leave the entire control of local interests and institutions to local authority, be persevered in? The power that imposed the Union upon us, and that altered it without our consent, by repealing the clause requiring the concurrence of two-thirds of the members of both Houses to change the relative representation of the two sections, could, we ought never to forget, be invoked to enforce this change also.

Your committee will not be expected, it is presumed, to do more than indicate the conclusions at which they have arrived with respect to the more prominent features of the proposed system of Federation. They are clearly of opinion that whatever be the number of the Provinces into which it may ultimately be thought advisable to divide the Province of Canada, the old division line between Upper and Lower Canada, must be preserved.

In the distribution of powers between the Local, or State, and the Federal Governments, the controlling and pervading idea should be to delegate to the Federal Government such authority only as would be essential to the objects of the federation; and by necessary consequence to reserve to the subdivisions powers as ample and varied as possible. The customs, the post office, the laws concerning patents and copyrights, the currency, and such of the public works as are of general interest to the whole province, would form the chief, if not the only subjects with which the general government should be charged; while everything relating to purely local improvements, to education, to the administration of justice, to the militia, to laws relating to property, and generally all questions of local concern,—in fine, the power to legislate on all matters not specially devolving on the Federal Government—would be lodged in the government of the separate provinces.

By this division of power the General Government would be relieved from those questions of a purely local and sectional character, which, under our present system, have led to so much strife and ill-will, and have enabled an unscrupulous Government, by subsisting on the mutual jealousies and antipathies of the people of the different sections, to plunge the country into financial difficulties, from which it will take years of frugality and good management to extricate it.

The Committee believe that it is clearly demonstrable that the direct cost of maintaining both the Federal and Local Governments need not exceed that our present system, while its enormous indirect cost would, in consequence of the additional checks on expenditure involved in the new system, and the more direct responsibility of public servants in the Province to the people immediately affected by such expenditure, be entirely obviated. The Federal Legislature, having but few subjects to deal with, might despatch its business in short sessions; and, as the number of members need not be large, the expenses of the Federal Legislature would be but a fraction of our present expenditure, while the cost of maintaining all the Local Governments, if they were modelled on those of the best and most economically governed States of the neighbouring Union, could not swell the aggregate beyond the limits of our present expenditure.

The proposed system could in now way diminish the importance of the Colony, or impair its credit, while it presents the advantage of being susceptible, without any disturbance of the federal economy, of such territorial extension as circumstances may hereafter render desirable.

In conclusion, your Committee strenuously recommend to the Liberal party in Lower Canada the propriety of seeking for a solution of the present difficulties in a plan of Confederation, the details of which should be so matured as to meet the approbation of a majority of the people of this Province, and, in order to further this end, to promote the most ample discussion of the subjects as well in Parliament as throughout the country.

A.A. DORION
LEWIS T. DRUMMOND,
L.A. DESSAULLES,
THOS. D’ARCY McGEE.

Montreal, Oct. 25, 1859.

 

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