Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, Scrapbook Debates [Ministerial Explanations], 8th Parl, 2nd Sess, (17 June 1864)

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Date: 1864-06-17
By: Province of Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Province of Canada, Parliament, Scrapbook Debates, 8th Parl, 2nd Sess, 1864 at 201.
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FRIDAY, 17th June. 1864.

The SPEAKER took the Chair at three o’clock. After the presentation and reading of petitions and other routine business,


Mr. HUOT, from the Committee appointed to report upon the culture of the vine in Canada, reported that it might become a very valuable branch of industry in Upper and Lower Canada; recommended the Government to encourage it as much as possible, and suggested the publication of the evidence taken before the Committee.

Ministerial Explanations

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West] said—I have the consent of His Excellency the Governor General [Viscount Monck] to state to the House the nature of the communication which, as I have already stated, I made after the vote of Tuesday night. In consequence of the hostile vote of that night—which the Government considered to be, in fact, one of want of confidence—they thought in their duty to proffer their advice to His Excellency [Viscount Monck] that they considered it as such. And, considering the state of parties in this House, the equality in numbers of this who support and those who are opposed to the Government, and the great improbability of our being able to form out of the present House a Government that would command a majority, they thought it their duty to advise that there should be an appeal to the people; and that after the necessary business was gone through, there should be a dissolution. His Excellency [Viscount Monck] gave his assent, this morning, to this, stating that he has accepted the advice; and has authorized us to dissolve—has given us the carte blanche in that respect. The Government has had, from the time of that vote, till this moment, before them the consideration of the very grave questions that divide parties in this country, and the expediency, if possible, of avoiding the extreme measure of proceeding to a dissolution.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—And with that view, for the purpose of seeing whether there is any means of solving the difficulties which have arisen in the country, especially those between Upper and Lower Canada, we considered it our duty to confer with leading members of the Opposition, to day, to see if we could not agree on some plan by which a Government could be formed, possessing a majority from both sections of the Province. We were not in a position to do so before to-day. We have had that conference with hon. gentlemen on the opposite side, and have made such progress that I see the way to a solution of the difficulties without the necessity of a dissolution of Parliament.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear, and cheers.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—This, of course, is a very grave step. The considerations are very grave in themselves, and require careful deliberation and the House will therefore not be surprised that I should ask them to adjourn till Monday, in order that there may be a full conference between leading parties on both sides. I may say that the hon. gentleman with whom I conferred is the hon member for South Oxford [George Brown].

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear, and prolonged cheering.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—I shall therefore move that this House do now adjourn, and that it stand adjourned until Monday.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga]—I have nothing to say whatever as to the latter part of the hon. Attorney General West’s [John A. Macdonald] remarks, believing that a strong Government can be formed in this House, as I think is the opinion of a large number of the members of this House. I think it was the most correct course for the hon. Attorney General [John A. Macdonald] to see if he could strengthen his position; but I cannot let this occasion pass without recording my very distinct protest against the Administration going to His Excellency and obtaining his permission to dissolve, and, under that threat, coming here to coerce the House into submission.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear, and “oh! oh!”

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga]—It could be called nothing else. If hon. gentlemen had taken the proper course to strengthen their Government, [Illegible] as to be able to carry on the business of the country with a majority, nothing could be better, and not a word could be said against it. But. Instead, they tendered the advice that they [Illegible] have liberty to dissolve, and after that [Illegible] to the House and said, “We have a right to dissolve [Illegible] you do not [Illegible] to what we direct, we shall [Illegible] you out.” I say that us an unprecedented, unconstitutional doctrine, as involving a [Illegible] which every member should [Illegible], and for which there is no precedent in the constitutional history of England.

Some Hon. Members— Hear, hear, and ironical cheers.

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga]—I have no objection to the adjournment; but must say that the Government should first have gone and sought to strengthen themselves as was now proposed, and failing to this, they could then have tendered advice to His Excellency to dissolve. But if they have obtained His Excellency’s assent to a dissolution, they should not use it as a threat to this House.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—I disavow the intention insinuated by the hon. member for Hochelaga [Antoine-Aimé Dorion], that this announcement of the authority for a dissolution has been used as a threat against the House. I protect against the assertion that it is announced as a threat. Had we come to this House and said, “Unless you rescind that [Illegible]e carried against the Government the other night, we will exercise the right to dissolve,” we would have been threatening hon. members. Had we asked this House to go on with the business before it, or we would dissolve, then also there would have been a threat.

We have stated—unless on broad principles, where hon gentlemen on both sides could meet—that unless they would agree to some solution of the questions that divide parties, cast aside for the moment party prejudices, rise superior to all part consideration, and unite upon some well understood principle of action, to form a new Government capable of administering the affairs of the country—the advice tendered to His Excellency [Viscount Monck] would be carried out. We do not seek any reversal of the decision of the House at their hands, or ask hon. gentlemen opposite to change their vote in any way; but we say that we consider a dissolution a fixed fact, unless something be done to reconcile opposing parties, and form a strong Government.

Considering the fact that there is a large majority in Lower Canada in favor of the present Government, and a large majority in Upper Canada against it, and the great fear that a sectional question may arise that will cause an interruption of the prosperity of the country, unless hon. gentlemen on both sides will rise superior to part connexions and prejudices, and will help to strengthen the Government, as I said before, there must be an appeal to the country.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga]—Do I understand correctly that negotiations are going on with the hon. member for South Oxford [George Brown], with a view to strengthen the Government?

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—Precisely. The hon. gentleman is quite correct.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall] said the statement made by the Hon. Attorney General West [John A. Macdonald] and his colleague on his right was satisfactory, as far as it was frank and open; and, if it could be denuded of the suspicion that the hon. member for Hochelaga [Antoine-Aimé Dorion] had properly attached to it, as being of the nature of a menace on the part of the Government of this House, it was very proper to bring the question before the House and the country.

The hon. member for Hochelaga [Antoine-Aimé Dorion] had properly appreciated the danger of the threat involved in the speech of the Hon. Finance Minister [Alexander Galt]  on Tuesday night last, and now repeated by the Hon. Attorney-General West [John A. Macdonald]—namely, an appeal to the country. When the hon. member for Kingston [John A. Macdonald] rose in his place, he stated that it was not so intended—that the intention of the Government was not to use it as a lever to compel submission to their views; but honestly and fairly to form a Government that would grapple with the questions that have for years agitated the country; it was so far satisfactory.

It was satisfactory also for members to find, after all that had been said by the hon. member for Montreal East (Mr. Cartier) in condemnation of the hon. member for South Oxford [George Brown], that he approved of an approach being made to one whom he had long held up as a bug-bear—that he acknowledged now that all he had said, heretofore, was not founded on a correct basis—and that he admitted now the necessity of acting with the hon. gentleman whom he had so long opposed.

He hailed with great satisfaction the announcement that this matter was going to be approached in a friendly spirit; and as far as he was concerned, he would throw no obstacles in the way, particularly when it was stated that the proposals were entered upon in a spirit of fair-play. Let us see these negotiations followed up by such changes in the Cabinet as would assure the House that it was intended to set throughout in a spirit of fair-play to the party on this side of the House. So far from opposing the motion, he would cheerfully record the time that had been asked, because it required some time before the Government could come down here with a definite proposition.

The Government ought to have preceded the advice gives His Excellency respecting a dissolution by a proposition such as they now made to hon. gentlemen [Illegible]. That would have been the [Illegible]al course to take. It would not be denied that the House was unwilling to appeal to the country at this time of the year, when it would be difficult for any member really to declare to his constituents that it was in the interests of the country that such an appeal should have been made. This power of dissolution was a strong lever in the heads of the Government if they were disposed to use it, which they disavowed, to compel obedience to their demands.

He was glad to hear the announcement that had been made today, and he would tell hon. gentlemen on the Treasury benches that if they would frankly and fairly go to work in this matter, so as to bring late their Government proper men from both sides of the House, all would go well. But he would candidly say that if this announcement were a sham or a delusion attempted to be imposed upon the House, it would redound to their disgrace and occasion greater difficulties than ever, in settling political questions hereafter if, however, a new Government were formed on such a basis as had been stated by the hon. Attorney General West [John A. Macdonald], it would deserve and would no doubt receive the confidence of this country.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear, and cheers.

George Brown [Oxford South] said—I am sure the House will acquit me of all intention of aiding hon. gentlemen opposite in using a threat of dissolution to coerce members of this House.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

George Brown [Oxford South]—I am sure every member of this House will comprehend that hon. gentlemen opposite, to whom I have been opposed for so many years, so strongly, could not have approached me in any way to ask me to join with them in the construction of an Administration, unless under the force of very extreme circumstances. And hon. gentlemen will also feel that I could not, by any possibility, have met these gentlemen on the Treasury benches except under such circumstances; that nothing else except the positions in which this House stands and the consideration of the repeated endeavors made for years to form a strong Government, as also the consideration of the strong political feeling existing between Upper and Lower Canada; and that in case of a dissolution we are not likely to bring about a satisfactory change of that condition of affairs—could have induced me to enter into communication with those hon. gentlemen.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

George Brown [Oxford South]—I am bound to say that the hon. gentlemen opposite are approaching this question, as far as I can understand, with a condor and frankness worthy of any set of men.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear, and loud cheers.

George Brown [Oxford South]—Their approach has been made to me in a way that members on both sides of the House ought to be glad to find was the case. I do hope then that, instead of any unpleasant feeling arising with regard to it, or with respect to past political affairs, we shall feel that this is a matter that ought to be approached with the greatest possible gravity; that we have to consider the interests of both sections of the Province, and to endeavor to find that settlement of existing difficulties, which will be satisfactory to both; and that we shall reach a termination of those constant scenes of discord that have only been too frequent in past years.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear, and cheers.

George Brown [Oxford South]—As far as I had any intercourse with hon. gentlemen opposite, they approached the matter to the fullest extent in that spirit that we on this side of the House could have desired. And I hope that the House will comprehend that there is not the least intention that there should be any intrigue as far as these negotiations are concerned; but that the whole proceedings shall be as open as day.

Some Hon. MembersLoud cheers.

George-Étienne Cartier [Montreal East, Attorney-General East] (in French) repeated the explanations which had been made in English by the hon. Attorney General West [John A. Macdonald].

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga] (in French) repeated his observations in reply.

Arthur Rankin [Essex] said he was exceedingly glad to hear what had fallen from hon. members on both sides, and nobody could feel more delighted to hear of negotiations being carried on in that spirit of frankness and fairness which had been described. He believed it was practicable to form a Government out of this House that could carry on the affairs of this country in a manner satisfactory to this House, and calculated to promote the best interests of the country. If those approaching a settlement of this question would sink personal considerations and make permanent sacrifices in order to bring about a fair arrangement of existing difficulties, they would promote the welfare of the country; and he had no doubt but that the result would be satisfactory. He was quite willing, so far as he was able, to give his assistance to the establishment of a Government which would be founded on the patriotic principle of bringing together and inducing to work in harmony parties who had been hitherto separated.

Some Hon. MembersCheers.

The House then, at a quarter to four p.m., adjourned amid loud cheers from hon. members on both sides.

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