Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, Double Majority (19 May 1858)

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Date: 1858-05-19
By: Province of Canada (Parliament), The Montreal Herald
Citation: “Provincial Parliament”, The Montreal Herald (22 May 1858).
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On the motion of hon. Attorney General MACDONALD, the orders of the day were called. The first was the further consideration of Mr. Thibaudeau’s motion—“That in the opinion of this House any attempt at legislation which would affect one section of the Province [illegible] of the majority of the representatives of that section, [illegible] consequences which would be detrimental to the welfare of the Province, and give rise to great injustice;”—and of Mr. Cauchon’s Amendment, “That the Imperial Parliament, by acting in the 12th section of the Act 3 and 4 Vic., cap. 35, that the parts of the Province of Canada then constituting Upper and Lower Canada should be represented in the Legislative Assembly by an equal number of representatives, whatever might be the respective populations of these two Provinces, asserting the principle of the Union: that the parliament of Canada admitted and sanctioned the same principle, when, increasing the number of representatives, by the Act 16 Vic., cap. 152, after the census of 1851, it maintained a numerical equality between the two former Provinces; that the Canadian parliament gave it a yet more decided and expressive sanction by extending it to the Legislative Council, by the provisions in the Act 19 and 20 Vic., cap 14, viz: that members elected should be 48 in number, 24 for Upper Canada and 24 for Lower Canada; that Her Majesty’s representatives in selecting their executive counselors, as a rule, in in equal numbers from Upper and Lower Canada, have also acknowledged this principle of the Union, and sanctioned it in the Administration the federal character of the Constitutional Act of 1840; but that the acknowledgement of this principle in the Administration can only be substantial so long as the executive councillors taken from either section of the Province possess the confidence of that section expressed by the majority of its representatives.”

Mr. LANGEVIN remarked that there were several ways of considering the double majority. It was not a new question, but a principle which had long been contended for, especially by Lower Canada. It was the basis of our political system, and ought not to be abandoned without consideration. It was true that at present, if the Lower Canadian majority affirmed the justice of the principle, they would be the means of admitting to power those whose opinions were hostile to them; and this complicated the question. Yet the discussion of the subject ought not be prohibited. [Hear.] His amendment would be to the effect that the House recognized the fact that the double majority had prevailed during the last ten years Ministers had descended from power to affirm the principle. But it ought not to be said that an accidental vote on any subject from either section should cause the resignation of a Government period from 1844 to 1848, Upper Canadian majorities had governed the Province, and it was the affirming at length of the double majority which brought Mr. Lafontaine and his colleagues into power. He read an extract to prove that Mr. Lafontaine held the principle in question. The application of the principle was very [illegible] Would vote adversely to them. He argued that even when [illegible] introduced, they ought to be supported by the majority of both sections, and if a Government did not concede this principle, it would lead to such a factious Opposition, as had been lately exhibited. He moved, therefore, in amendment, that the double majority principle which has been recognized since 1848, should continue to be acted upon.

Mr. ROSS asked if it were in order.

Mr. SPEAKER ruled that it was.

Mr. SICOTTE said the whole question lay in the definition of the parliamentary majority which was the basis of all our legislation. The double majority seemed to be an anomaly even in name, and if it were carried out, parliamentary majority would depend not on unity, but sometimes on the absence of unity. It was an impossibility, however regarded. The single majority was the basis of a national system. To deny its application would be to deny that the Provinces were united. There could be, in one country, but one legality, and to carry out the double majority would be to create two. Such a course would destroy your national system, and destroy the hope of those who wish to see Canada augratin united country. The double majority system ought properly to be called the minority system. [Hear.] It would introduce an unnecessary quality into the country, the two sections would be in constant antagonism, and progress would become impossible. [Hear.] The moment it was adopted, the total majority would have to be ignored. And if it were conceded as a correct principle, why, then, each district of the country would object to legislation which it might think injurious to it. The federal character of the Union had been shown in choosing half the ministry from each section. And of course the Administration would ever be glad to have a majority from both sections, but he expressed his own opinion and that of the present Government when he said that to consecrate the double majority principal as a constitutional one would be to destroy that unity of action and thought which ought to animate every Government. He would call the attention of the House to the general idea of the Upper Canadian representatives, that representation based on population should be granted. If the double majority were carried out, Upper Canada would have to base her representation on population, and two electoral systems would have to be inaugurated, in the two parts of the Province. Whatever might be the vote which the House might come to, and whatever might be the thought of it now, he could say with confidence, that the country, when prejudices wore away, would approve of the vote of himself. (Hear.) Everybody found fault with coalitions. No one more than himself detested them. [Illegible] careful [illegible] session to declare that this was not a coalition [illegible]nt—no one member of it had to suppress or alter any of his opinions. But to affirm the double majority principel [sic] would be to decree that all future Governments would all be coalitions. [Hear,] Was it said that the double majority was necessary to preserve the French Canadian nationality. He denied it. He was not afraid of men, so much as of ideas, and by the vote of to day, if that vote were for the adoption of the double majority system, an idea might be made to acquire influence which would lead to deadlocks, constantly recurring. Power would be then at the mercy of intriguing minorities of the whole House. If the double majority were now affirmed, the Government would have to resign, and possibly another would be formed, whose policy might be representation based on population. Was this what Lower Canadians desired? He thought not, and therefore he opposed the system. Each part of Canada would now declare non-confidence in the other, and, if this were to be the signal for the retirement of the Government, the Administration would be a football between the two parts of the Province. Suppose the present Government to resign on the double majority system, and the members for Toronto in Haldimand to be called in to be advisors of the crown,—the Lower Canadians would vote non-confidence in them, and they would have to resign. No Government could therefore stand. Intrigue would run riot and the interests of the country would suffer. History had been quoted in support of the principle under discussion, but he, Mr. Sicotte, would say that each successive Administration had found itself in sectional minorities at different times, and this without thinking of resignation Mr. Lafontaine’s and Mr. Baldwin’s practice had been in constant Opposition to the principle which it was now argued they had held. Had these men sought support in Lower Canada among the majority who were adverse to representative Government? Certainly not, they had associated with themselves men of like opinion to themselves, but not belonging to the majority of Lower Canada, then conservative, who thought the representation system a sham. The desire of every Administration to have a majority from both sections and of the whole House was a safeguard as to the character of their measures, and the history of the present Administration shewed this for the measures offered by the Upper Canadian section had been based on principles so just that they had been adopted almost unanimously, even by Upper Canadians. The single majority system the only real representative system, had been productive of admirable results, it had worked well, and he would not like to abandon it for one of which the consequences could not be good, while they might be disastrous.

Mr. DUFRESNE shewed that when Government had been defeated by a vote of the whole House, even although a majority from one section might have supported them, the whole of the Administration had resigned, including of course, that portion which had been so supported. What would be the consequence of adopting now the double majority principle? It would be to give power to those who said they would none of it, to those who had gained their popularity in Upper Canada by appealing to the prejudices of the masses against the religion and race of Lower Canadians. Coalitions were sometimes necessary, as when they had been instrumental in passing free trade measures in England, or reciprocity here; but he was opposed to them in almost all cases, and would not like to see a system inaugurated which would render them necessary. Especially would coalitions be distasteful like the one which would become necessary were the double majority now adopted; viz. that between the Grits of Upper Canada and the majority of Lower Canadians The member for Montmorenci might perhaps be willing, for the sake of [illegible] he [Mr. Dufresne] would be sorry to see this, and could not support it. He thought it would be absolutely impossible to form an Administration which should command the confidence of the whole House, for the opinions of the eastern and western majorities were very different. Mr. Hincks had resigned on a vote of 63 to 61, on the election of Speaker.

Mr. WHITE and Mr. FOLEY. That was not a Government question.

Mr. DUFRESNE—Surely it was, and because it was, Mr. Hincks had resigned on an adverse vote. He [Mr. Dufresne] Was in favor of giving to each Province it’s legitimate chair of power. But the double majority principle was unconstitutional, and it ought to be left to each ministry whether they chose to carry it out—no resolution affirming it ought to be put to the journals. He would not be one of those to vote into office those who now had the majority and Upper Canada, but he would support those gentlemen if they would abandon their cries of “No Popery,” “No Lower Canadian to rule us,” &c. [Hear.]

Mr. CARTIER—They would be nothing without those cries.

Mr. DUFRESNE—Certainly not; but he would not support them until they gave them up period until then he would support those now in power, who, while they claim justice for Upper Canada, did not deny it to the Lower Providence. He believed that if the western agitator continue to use their cries, the two sections would become more and more divided, until, finally, we should have to seek some other form of constitutional Government than the present period [Hear.] He however considered the present motions uncalled for, and as he thought them brought forward for bunkum purposes, he would vote against the whole of them.

Mr. J. S. MACDONALD had seen the principle now under discussion, actually enforce, for several years, and it was not until the Administration had lost the confidence of 1 section of the Province that it had been ignored. He considered the system the only safeguard of Lower Canada, notwithstanding what the last speaker had said. He could well understand the position of the present Administration. With all their embarrassment, with all their difficulties, with the steadily increasing majority from Upper Canada staring them in the face, with an adverse public opinion out of doors, he did not wonder that the clung to the single majority principle. But the very same men had attacked Sir Allan Macnab, while stretched upon his couch, by means of the very double majority principle which they now attempted to ward off. The moment Sir Allan retired, the other members of the cabinet went back, and carried on the Government under the single majority principle. The only difference [illegible] the double majority principle [illegible] it did not suit them. He reminded the Lower Canadians that they were not in the ascendant in the Province. They had been called the inferior race—they had once been driven in rebellion, and the same things might again occur, although now the Lower Canadians were fraternizing with their former oppressors. Mr. Hincks’ Government had commanded a double majority from 1848 to 1852, on all occasions except one, when there had been a defeat on Mr. Mackenzie’s motion to change the court of Chancery. And then Mr. Baldwin, the author of the bill to establish the Court, retired Mr. Hincks found he did not command the majority of Upper Canada, and in order to secure it he (Mr. J. S. MacDonald) had been voted into the chair. Without him (Mr. J. S. MacDonald), Mr. Hincks would not have been able to carry on the Government, nor did he intend to do so And when Mr. Hincks did retire, he did so, although he had a parliamentary majority from Lower Canada. Sir Allan Macnab, in his resignation, said Mr. J. A. MacDonald had told him he could not occupy the Premiership any longer with credit to himself or advantage to the country after an adverse vote from Upper Canada. But Mr. MacDonald at the same time repudiated the double majority principle, because, no doubt, he foresaw he could not act under it. Mr. Spence, too, said resignation was necessary, because the cabinet had lost the confidence of Upper Canada. Mr. Cayley had been stated that he repudiated the double majority principle. He resigned therefore, as it were, under protest. The Governor General, on that occasion, expressed his opinion that the mere fact of an adverse vote of one section of the Province was no constitutional reason for resigning office; yet three members of the ministry then resigned inconsequence of an adverse Upper Canada vote. Notwithstanding this expression of opinion from His Excellency the Governor General, Colonel Tache declared that the double majority was a necessity of our system. No doubt it was. It was impossible to allow one section of the Province to be governed by a majority of the other period but the members of the cabinet who then spoke so warmly in favor of the double majority principle, repudiated it immediately on Sir Allan Macnab’s resignation, and return to office. Was it to be said that, because he objected to the Government legislating for Upper Canada while they were in a minority in that section, that he was factious? Certainly not comment in view of the fact that the double majority had always been acted upon in this country, and also in England. He warned the Lower Canadians of the danger which, in his judgment, would result from supporting a ministry in the position of the present one. They had [illegible] He apprehend that if Upper Canada, by the vote of the Lower Canadians, was to continue in the degraded position in which she stood at the present moment, nothing short of a rebellion must result. If he were a member of the Administration, he would scorn to retain his seat for a single day if the Government was in a minority in one section of the Province.

Mr. SMITH explained his conduct in reference to the Government of Sir Allan Macnab. He did take an active part in the construction of that cabinet, and he could look back with satisfaction to the measures which had been passed by that Administration. The Clergy Reserves had been secularized; the Seignorial Tenures in Lower Canada had been abolished; the elective principle had been introduced into the legislative council; and all the other measures introduced by that in several of the former Administrations had been satisfactorily settled. With reference to the statement of Mr. J. S. MacDonald that the premier of the Government, the Attorney General West, took him in to introduce his followers to go into Opposition, so as to turn out the Government of Sir Allan Macnab, he had only to say that the accusation was without the slightest foundation in fact. So far from the Attorney General having had the slightest influence in inducing him to go into Opposition, he (Mr. Smith) had done so contrary to the wishes of the Attorney General; and it was for a considerable time the cause of coolness between them. He did not see that the member for Cornwall had adduced any additional arguments or facts in regard to the question of the double majority. No doubt it was desirable that the Government should have a majority in both sections of the Province, but if the Government had a majority of 36 and the whole House, as it was admitted the present Government had, it was to be assumed that the Opposition would not be able to form a Government, should the present Government resign. The member for Montmorenci was not always in favor of the double majority principle. It was a different thing being in office and out of it. [A Laugh.] When in the cabinet that gentleman repudiated the principle, but now that he was not there, it suited his purpose to advocate it. Again Mr. J. S. MacDonald did not always feel so strongly the importance of maintaining the principle which he now contended for. He was elected to the chair by a Lower Canadian majority, yet he did not scruple to accept the position.

Mr. J. S. MACDONALD observed that there were two or three Upper Canada members absent.

Mr. CARTIER and Mr. SICOTTE Rose, and the latter preceded to remark, in reply to the observations of the member for Cornwall, that Mr. Hincks had continued in office although in a minority in several instances the hon. member to Toronto did not hold the same views on the question as the hon. member for Cornwall.

Mr. FOLEY—You don’t know that.

Mr. SMITH would not be surprised if the hon. gentlemen did not vote together on this question, although their views were directly opposite on it. That was their usual habit.

Hon. Mr. CAMERON said he never heard the principle of the double majority spoken of or thought about until a few months ago. He had never heard that it should be recognized as the principle of the constitution. In 1845 there had been six members of the Government returned from Lower Canada, and but for from Upper Canada, and still there was no harsh feelings in the matter. The idea had never been entertained until a few months ago. If the present Government were to give way to the Opposition, where would be the difference? Would they be able to command a majority from both sections? A dead lock would result. He contended that when Mr. Hincks resigned, he had been in a minority of three in the whole House. He would not have arisen at all but to contradict the statement of the member for Cornwall, who said that the Government of that day had deserted the great principles of the Clergy Reserves and the Seignorial Tenure it was ungenerous and unfair to make such a statement, because there had been entire unanimity on these questions among the members of the Cabinet. Mr. Hincks and Mr. Morin had devoted a large portion of their time to the discussion in preparation of these bills They turned out satisfactory, bill they were opposed by some calling themselves reformers, and to desired to be called by that name to-day. Those who said the Union between Upper and Lower Canada could not be made to work harmoniously we’re not friends of the country. If the demon of religious fanaticism had not been aroused, and demagogueism had not been rampant, there would be little difficulty in carrying on a harmonious and happy Union of the Provinces. If there was to be a dissolution, then the resolution of Mr. Gault might be a statesmanlike way to get out of the difficulty, though he did not think the time for the adoption of the federation principle had arrived.

Mr. CAUCHON said the question had been discussed on constitutional grounds on a previous occasion, and it would only be tedious to reiterate the arguments than advanced. The principles laid down by the Commissioner of Crown Lands had astonished him, and it would astonish Lower Canada Lower Canada to a man were in favor of the double majority. (Cries of “no, no.”) All he could say was that if the members from that section of the country voted against the principle, they would not, under an [illegible] those who supported the principle of being actuated by factious motives. He (Mr. Cauchon) Denied this, contending they were justified in agitating the question. The member for Toronto was a great bug-bear of the members from Lower Canada. If some wizard could remove him from the face of the earth, he believed nine-tenths of the Lower Canadians would vote for the double majority.

Mr. BROWN—If you’ll give Upper Canada representation by population, I’ll engage to leave the House to-morrow, and never return. (Laughter)

Mr. CAUCHON believe the hon. gentleman was in earnest in that. The Government were against a double majority, because they had a large single majority; and the member for Toronto was also against it, because he knew if he ever accepted office he could only get a majority from Upper Canada. (Hear.)

Mr. BROWN—I know nothing of the kind (Laughter.)

Mr. CAUCHON—the member for Toronto must know that he could never governed by double majority. He (Mr. C.) preceded to argue, in Opposition to the Commissioner of Crown Lands, that the double majority ought to be adopted as a principle of our constitution, remarking that the speech of the hon. gentleman had been of a very philosophical character. The principle of the single majority was used in England to work injustice, and could not be cited here as an example worthy of imitation. The Union of Scotland and Ireland with England had been effected and was continued in Opposition to the wishes of the people of the two former countries. Those countries were not fairly represented in the Imperial Parliament, and they would be glad to have representation by population. He read now the letters of Mr. Lafontaine and Mr. Caron to show that they were in favor of the double majority; and that they had declared that it was injustice to one section of the Province to legislate for it while the Government was in a minority in that section. The difficulties arising from the Union we’re increasing everyday, and strenuous efforts were necessary to settle them. While the Protestant cry was sounded in Upper Canada, so would the Catholic cry in Lower Canada.

Mr. CARTIER—The fanatics are wearing out.

Mr. CAUCHON wished they were. He feared, however, they were not.

Mr. CARTIER—And would you like to be governed by such persons?

Mr. CAUCHON—far be it from him to desire such a thing period apart from the bad name of the member for Toronto, by which he meant that he was a great fanatic then the other members from Upper Canada, there was no desire to do anything to injure Lower Canada. He quoted from the speeches of Mr. Loranger, two years ago [illegible] change of sentiment, for he (Mr. C.) had already changed his opinion thrice on this very question since he had made his proposition. When he (Mr. Loranger) Had stated two years ago was that the Government of the day, having accepted an adverse Upper Canada vote as an expression of want of confidence, were not justified in remaining in power so long as there was a majority from Upper Canada against them, which, instead of diminishing, was increasing. He was not against the double majority principle; but the difficulty was to define the double majority.

Mr. CAUCHON said the Provincial Secretary could not ignore the fact that there were half a dozen of his speeches on record maintaining the justice of the principle, without qualification, and that it was the only principle which could obtain in this Province.

On the motion of M. PICHE, the House adjourned at half-past twelve o’clock.

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