“Parliamentary Reform!”, The Globe (25 October 1864)
By: The Globe
Citation: “Parliamentary Reform!”, The Globe [Toronto] (25 October 1864).
It is as well that all parties should understand exactly what is meant by the decision of the Quebec Conference, in regard to the basis of representation in the popular branch of the federal parliament. That decision is in accordance with the understating reach at the time the present Canadian Government was formed, and with the agreement which, it is understood, was made at the Charlottetown and Halifax Conferences of last month. Nut we have it now in a formal and definite shape, from a large body of delegates representing all the Provinces. The great principle of representation by population is distinctly affirmed and made the basis of the proposed federal constitution. We are told, and we have no doubt the statement is true, that the decision at Quebec was unanimous. We are bound to say, that through all the discussions since the promulgation of the ministerial policy in June, there has been, so far as we have noticed, scarcely a single person or journal professing friendliness to the scheme of federation or confederation, to make serious objection to the agreement that population should be the basis of representation. Once that great principle had been conceded, its justice has hardly been disputed, save by persons opposed to the whole arrangement. On this account, we can the more readily believe the statement that the Quebec Conference has been able to come to a unanimous agreement upon this essential point. It speaks volumes for their patriotic determination to form the new constitution upon sound and just principles, that they have done so. The popular chamber of the federal legislature will occupy a position of primary importance under the new constitution. It will be the body representing by direct election the will of the people of the whole confederation upon all questions with which the general Parliament and Government will have to deal. It will be the body controlling the finances of the British America — making and unmaking the federal cabinets – and deciding the great questions which will arise. The destinies of all British America, so far as they depend upon political arrangements, will, it not too much to say, we virtually entrusted to the care of that house. With an honest, intelligent federal assembly, funded by statesmanlike counsels, it is scarcely possible that we can have bad or corrupt government; but with a venal, time-serving, or misguided assembly, it would be scarcely possible for us to have good government. Under responsible government, the house to which ministers are responsible gives character not simply to the cabinet, but to the whole political system and policies of the country. Compared with the proper constitution of the House, most of the other questions which the Conference is deciding are quite subordinate. The constitution of the federal assembly is vastly more important than that of the upper chamber — more important even than the constitution of the local governments. The mode of selecting the upper chamber in the confederation — the mode of selecting the local governors and other provincial officials — the number of chamber which the local parliament shall have — the manner in which it shall have control of the local government — are all questions of vastly less importance than that of the representation in the federal assembly. Having a right decision upon that main point, we can well afford to be generous and exhibit a spirit of compromise relative to the minor questions.
The settlement which is now reached is based upon the last census. It gives Upper Canada eighty-two members, Lower Canada sixty-five, Nova Scotia nineteen, New Brunswick fifteen, Newfoundland eight, and Prince Edward Island five — making, in all, a house of one hundred and ninety-four members. We esteem this a needlessly large house, but if it be necessary to make it so to […] […] of the great principle which underlies the scheme, no friend of parliamentary reform can hesitate to accept the necessity. The apportionment is upon the right basis, and that is a the great, the essential point This settlement of a popular basis for representation is a settlement for the future, as well as for the present. It involves a readjustment of the representation after each census–that is to say, every ten years. In a new country, where the population increases so rapidly, and where the proportions between different sections may change so materially in a few years, this provision is a very important one, and very essential if we are to have the different parts of the country fairly represented. In the last seventy years there have been many changes in the apportionment of the representation of these Provinces. The first Upper Canada Assembly, which met at Niagara, was composed of sixteen members; nine of these came from constituencies east of the line between the counties of Durham and Northumberland, and but seven from all the country west of that line. From time to time changes have since been made, all as concessions to the increasing population of the country, and especially of the Wes, until now there are east of the same dividing line twenty-four members, and west of it no less than forty-one. Thus the section that once had the greater part, has new little more than one-third of the electoral power of Upper Canada; and yet the section which seventy years ago was put off with less than half, is now most inadequately represented with about two-thirds. But though these conscious have from time to time been made, this has always been done with a […] and […] hard fighting. The concession has never been a full one, and never accompanied with any arrangement as to the future. All bills giving parliamentary reform have given it as a finality. The consequence has been that periodical struggles have been necessary to keep the representation even as near justice as it now is. Mr. Hinck’s Representation Bill was a difficult one to pass, and was only carried through by concessions utterly inconsistent with its fundamental properties. It left untouched the disparity between Upper and Lower Canada, as well as some other anomalies. It gave new representatives where they were not needed, in order that it might give others where they were needed. The very next census, as was foreseen, brought to view a much stronger case than that with which Mr. Hincks had dealt, while, had his bill not been passed, we should now probably have the anomaly of two or three members representing something like the quarter of the population of Upper Canada. With each new demand for parliamentary reform — complicates as the question necessarily became by jealousies of race — the difficult of obtaining it has become the greater, until at last the question brought our system to a dead lock. With a provision for a re-adjustment at every census embodied in our constitution, however, we shall be free from such struggles in the future. This settlement of the representation question is a settlement once for all. It is a settlement not only for ourselves, but for those who come after us — not only for Upper Canada, but all British America. When we shall have new provinces to the west of us claiming admission into our confederation, they will have no trouble in securing their proper influence in the federal parliament. We shall not have eighty thousand people at the Red River asked to contend with the same representation as one-tenth of their number in some older communities. Justice will be recorded to them as a matter of course.
We can congratulate the Reform party of Upper Canada upon this victory. The achievement is well worthy the labours of the past twelve years. For less important reforms some of the best men of any age have though much longer and more arduous struggles but a cheap price. The battel for the great principle now conceded has been a long one. At times the prospect has been gloomy, and success has seemed distant, but we have never despaired that sooner or later it must come We felt sure that so plain a matter of justice could not always be refused. The public mind may be cautious and conservative — it may be slower to change its convictions — but with an intelligent and upright people a good cause is sure sooner or later to be triumphant. The struggle is over now, and the victory, to all human appearance, secured. Once that legal effect is given to it there will be little danger that so just a settlement can ever be disturbed. […] the principle of Representation by Population be in operation but a few years, and, in place of our people wishing to disturb it in any way, it will come to be a matter of astonishment that its establishment cost so long and so sever a struggle.