Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, Scrapbook Debates [Resignation of the Ministry], 8th Parl, 2nd Sess, (21 March 1864)

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Date: 1864-03-21
By: Province of Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Province of Canada, Parliament, Scrapbook Debates, 8th Parl, 2nd Sess, 1864 at 108-109.
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Monday, March 21, 1864.

Resignation of the Ministry

When the Orders of the Day were reached,—

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall, Premier, Attorney-General West, and Minister of Militia] said, Mr. Speaker, before the Orders of the Day are called, I crave the attention of the House for some little time, to refer to matters which probably are necessary to mention preliminary to a motion which I shall make before I sit down. It is in the remembrance of the members of this House, as well as those composing the House at the time th[?at?] I had the honor of being called upon by His Excellency [Viscount Monck] to form an Administration, for the purpose of carrying on the affairs of this country, after the resignation of the honorable gentlemen opposite, that I then found myself very considerably embarrassed by the fact that I had to deal in the construction of that Government with a House elected under the auspices of gentlemen now sitting on the Opposition benches. The task was one of no ordinary magnitude.

Still, sir, I took upon myself the duty that was assigned to me, as I considered that the time had arrived, after a lengthened period of power in the hands of so-called Conservative party, to endeavor to prove to the country that an Administration formed from then Opposition was feasible, and would be equal to the task of conducting the affairs of this country in a satisfactory manner. With that view, I addressed myself directly to the members of the Opposition, though not at that time agreeing with them on all points, I felt it my duty to approach them, and I must here say that they responded as cordially and earnestly as any party could have done under the circumstances.

An Administration was formed from the Opposition with one exception. A resolution for the adjournment of the House, shortly afterwards followed, and we proceeded to carry out the arduous administrative duties that always devolve on any Government immediately succeeding in another. We had legacies left on our hands that would embarrass even the strongest Government that might be formed. We had the Grand Trunk Railway complications; the Intercolonial negotiations, the preliminaries of which had been before agreed upon; the Ottawa Buildings; the postal arrangements, and other important questions, and we proceeded to the settlement of those matters agreeably to what we considered the desire of the majority of the people of this Province. We were promised “fair play” and on the re-assembling of the House we proceeded with the measures which we had promised until the session ended in the vote of want of confidence., which was carried on the motion of my hon. friend from Kingston [John A. Macdonald]. The difficulties we had encountered were not lessened by that vote.

It is not necessary that I should now allude more particularly to the events of that session, than to say that the embarrassments which had overtaken us were of a very serious nature. About two-thirds of the Administration which had been formed in 1862 resigned. I then felt that I had a very serious task before me, but one which I could accomplish. I invited gentlemen to fill up the situations which were rendered vacant by the resignation of my former colleagues.

Referring to my own conduct, and certainly not in reference to the choice that I made on that occasion. I had confidence in the gentlemen who honored me with their co-operation by joining the Government, and with them I went to the country. I might say that from the formation of the Macdonald-Dorion Government, a more cordial co-operation could not have existed between eleven or twelve men than did between myself and colleagues from that day to this, whatever might have been said to the contrary and circulated for obvious purposes. I would not call attention to the circumstances connected with going to the country in 1863.

We found, as might have been expected, a vast amount of opposition from members of the old Government. We found many members who went to the country without objecting to the Government, or to the principals on which it had been formed – who had not questioned the propriety of appealing to the country under the organization that had been previously made – who had declared that they were prepared to give us “fair play”, and we had every reason to believe that in the contest as well as in the result, we sh[?ould?] have a majority sufficient to enable us to carry on the affairs of the country to the satisfaction of the people at large.

  • (p. 109)

We met as early as it was convenient to do so after the general election. We felt we owed it as a duty to the country to ask the House to affirm, with all possible speed, the disbursements of moneys that were made for public purposes. We thought it was due to the people at large that we should not continue to make appropriations, without that sanction with constitutional usage had pointed out as the best safeguard of the rights of the people. We felt, also, that we had another duty to perform, which called for immediate attention, and that was to render more perfect the Militia and Volunteer organizations.

Having these things in view, we called the session at an inconvenient season, and entered upon our duties. We found upon the question of your election, Sir, as Speaker, opposition from parties from whom certainly we had no right to expect it. I mention no names, neither do I refer to this by way of recrimination; but only claim privileges usually accorded to gentlemen in a similar position to that which I now occupy – to refer to [text illegible] bearing upon the position of parties. But hon. gentlemen had gone to their constituents and received support from the friends of the Government, otherwise they could not have made their appearance on the floor of this House. I say that when they case to this House under such circumstances, we had a right to expect fair play from them, at any rate on all matters which were not of a political character – such as elections of speaker. We found that we carried the Speaker by a small majority. That was a matter upon which parties undoubtedly had a right to express their opinions freely, as to who should preside over the deliberations of this House.

We were then met by a more firm party vote, although its party character was more properly disclaimed, arising from the Essex election return. We found that the majority of this House was lessened, rom that it was on the election of Speaker. We were then convinced that the expectations we had formed of getting fair play were not to be realized. But, before we had much time to consider our position, serious charges of a personal nature were made against several members of the Government, involving our personal honor and character. That attack upon us was of so determined and direct a nature, that respect to ourselves, demanded that we should not shrink from the ordeal of an appeal to this House, with reference to the charges brought against us. I shall allude to the subject no further, then merely to state that a majority of the House declared that the charge was not of a nature to brand us with the infamy which was attempted to be attached to it, and that we did not deserve the condemnation of the House upon it.

On another question my hon. friend from Sherbrooke brought up a vote of want of confidence, and on the discussion of that question, all the attacks of a personal as well as of a general nature came up, and we found our position was one not of a very encouraging nature. But still, as we had a duty to perform – having met Parliament for the purpose of carrying the measures alluded to – we were determined that we should not retire without making an effort to carry them. The failure of that motion soon resulted in the adjournment of the House, and since then we have been carrying on the administrative affairs of the Government in the same manner as a strong Government would have done, with a view to effect as much economy as it was possible for twelve men to do. We then met the House again this session, and had a debate of a fortnight on the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne. We felt all along that this great Province required an Administration carried on with more vigor, not as regards the persons composing it, but as regards the numerical strength of their supporters on the floor of the House.

The gentlemen on the Opposition benches have abstained from putting to test whether we have a majority or not. We do not admit that at this moment they could carry a majority of the House against us – (but on the contrary, we assert that we do possess the majority) – but we have come to the conclusion that it would not be just to the people of the country at large, to this House, or to ourselves, that we should longer maintain a position in which we find that we cannot promote that usefulness which the country expects of us, with so small a majority to sustain us; and that the time has come when we ourselves should make a fair acknowledgement of the difficulties, and place our resignation, as we have unanimously done to-day in the hands of His Excellency [Viscount Monck].

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West]—Hear, hear. It ought to have been done long ago.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall, Premier, Attorney-General West, and Minister of Militia]—The hon. gentleman will not provoke me to recrimination. I arose for the purpose of alluding, in a fair and impartial manner, to the position in which matters stand. Both the Macdonald-Sicotte and Macdonald-Dorion Governments were supported with as much cordiality and devotion by the part as ever existed between a party and a Government. To my friends and supporters behind me, I owe much more than I have words to express. They have never shown the least desire to swerve from a course of unwavering attachment, and to them, my colleagues myself owe the deepest gratitude. Not one of them who supported the Macdonald-Dorion Government at the commencement, had left. I do not blame those who, after appearing before their constituents, and promising to give the Government fair play, came to the House and voted against us. This they were at perfect liberty to do, but it was not what we expected of them, and I leave them in the hands of their constituents and the country.

With regard to ourselves, we have considered the position of matters fully and fairly, and have not shrank from the responsibility of stating to His Excellency [Viscount Monck] that we were prepared to resign, with a view of arrangements being made that will be more satisfactory to the country at large and to the members of this House. I cannot conceal that I myself in the position I occupied, and fighting the battle with many difficulties surrounding my from the commencement, must have created bitter political enmity, and perhaps enmity of a personal nature also. I must leave the course of conduct I have pursued, and that my colleagues who have entertained the same opinions as myself, to be judged by the country. It is quite clear, that the feeling which has been engendered against myself personally, and the necessity that there should be a strong Government, that will be able to deal with the important questions of this great Province, point to myself, at all events as one who should retire from the position I held, and on communicating with my colleagues they un-unanimously joined me in placing our resignations in the hands of His Excellency [Viscount Monck]. I have to repeat that in the course of our time I have had the honor to hold this responsible position, I may have said some things which I regret; but I am not the only person who has had occasion to ask for the forbearance of the House. If even I have said anything with the appearance of malice, I did not intend it in the sense in which it may have been understood.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall, Premier, Attorney-General West, and Minister of Militia]—I owe no grudge against any one of the other side of the House. I desire, as far as I am concerned, to give and take, and will be as ready to forget as to forgive injuries. I beg to more, Mr. Speaker, that the House do not adjourn.

George-Étienne Cartier [Montreal East] seconded the motion, and the House adjourned, accordingly, at four o’clock.

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