Province of Canada, Legislative Council [Elective Legislative Council] (18 June 1850)
By: Province of Canada (Parliament), The Globe
Citation: “Parliamentary Proceedings,” The Globe (20 June 1850).
[REPORTED FOR THE “GLOBE.”]
TUESDAY, 18th JUNE.
Hon. J. MORRIS laid on the table an immense number of petitions.
Hon. Æ. IRVING introduced a Bill respecting a survey of the township of East Gwilliambury.
The Bill to amend the act of incorporation of the St. Jean Baptiste Society was read a third time.
Hon. W. MORRIS said he would not oppose the Bill at this stage as it was merely carrying out the legislative enactments of last Session; but he must express his determination to oppose any new application of this nature, as it appeared to him that the sanctioning of these corporations was being carried to an extent that would prove injurious to the interests of the country.
The Bill to amend the Law of Libel was brought up from the Lower House and read a first time.
CALL OF THE HOUSE.
The roll was called. Messrs. Joliette, Fraser, Hamilton, Bruneau, Knowlton, McKay, Moore, Amable Dionne, J. Dionne, Walker, Massue, Ferrier, Viger, Quesnel, Ross, Methot, Fergusson, Crane and Wylie sent excuses for non-attendance, on account of sickness or pressing business. Twenty-two members answered to their names.
The resolution was then read, and the Hon. Mr. DeBLAQUIERE said, that he would not apologise for moving for a call of the House, in order to consider the means by which the confidence of the public in that House might be restored. It was a humiliating confession for him as a member of that House to be obliged to make, but he felt the necessity of speaking plainly, and he must say that the regard of the public for that House was not merely shaken, but was entirely at an end. At the same time, he was here to set himself right, in order that it might not be supposed that he was actuated by party spirit or a desire to embarrass the administration. As a satisfactory proof of that, he would call their attention to the fact that he had made this motion at a time when the government had infused into it a more liberal spirit than it had ever seen before. It had been said that that House was of no use. Now, he was not one of those who thought it was of no use, and he would appeal to those hon. gentlemen whom he saw around him and who had taken part in its deliberations, to look back on what an effect it had on the jurisprudence of Canada, to the part taken by it with regard to the Currency and Municipal Bill; and he thought they would agree with him that it had been an essential element in the existence of this country. But even admitting that its deliberations had not the weight and influence that ought to have to been attached to then, that could be no reason for saying that it was of no use. On the contrary, he conceived it to be absolutely necessary in every country where liberal institutions were established, to have a deliberative body that was removed from the influence of political agitation, and therefore better fitted to legislate with calmness and gravity that mere political bodies which were too frequently agitated in any direction on the impulse of the moment. Their utility, and their dignity however, had both been destroyed by the manner in which the business of that House had been carried on lately. It had been stated that with a view to rectify the evils of their position, it would be necessary to make the Council elective. Now, with respect to that, it appeared to him that those were not reasonable men who could hail with pleasure the frequent recurrence of popular elections in this Province. He did not mean to say that popular elections were not necessary, but he was very sure that the attention of the people was called off from their ordinary business very frequently to their damage, from the agitation that was inseparable from popular elections, besides an elective Council would be peculiarly open to this objection, that instead of its deliberations being conducted with that gravity so necessary to it, they would always be more or less influenced by the desire which would affect the mind of every one of its members, to act in such a manner as to secure his re-election. In other words, they would be dependent altogether on popular opinion. He did not mean to say that they should run counter to popular opinion now, but that there was extreme danger in bringing it to bear too forcibly on that branch of the Legislature. He was besides opposed to this proposition, because all great organic changes had failed of the very objects they were intended to carry out. He therefore proposed, as the most effectual means of restoring the House to its former dignity, to limit the number of the members to what they are at this moment, and thus prevent the Government on any future occasion from yielding to the pressure from without, and taking such a course as to injure the character and dignity of the House. He was of opinion that the numbers at present are sufficiently large for all business purposes; and if he were to fix on the number fifty, as one hon. gentleman had suggested to him, it would defeat the very object he had in view, as it would enable the Government, on any pressure from without, to make another attack on their independence, as their number now are was forty-three. The hon. gentlemen then alluded to the manner in which bills of the utmost importance had been hurried through the House, with an alacrity that showed the public the slight degree of importance attached to their decision. He knew he might be told that the same thing had occurred in the English House of Lords. But he would say that there was none of the systematical dispensing with the rules of the House so common in legislation here, visible in the English House of Lords, and it would not be seen in that House, either, if it were properly constituted. Such a dispensation with all rule, it was clear, was one great cause of the low estimation in which the House was held by the public. After alluding to the present enormous expense of the legislature, and suggesting, as a mode of checking it in some degree, that the members of the Legislature, should only be paid for a limited number of days, and also that the remuneration should not be taken out of the public chest, but should be raised in the locality which sent them to Parliament; he then said the House could not be considered an independent body, as long as it was presided over by a Speaker necessarily possessing great influence over the House, who was a member of the Executive Council; and he thought that the chair might be filled with the first men in the country even if the salary were cut off altogether. The cry of retrenchment had been raised on all sides, and if it were proposed to cut down the salaries of the members of the Executive, who were not by any means too well paid for the duties they had to perform, how much more objectionable would the payment of the Speaker’s salary appear to the public, for the performance of services that could not be compared with those of a member of the Executive Council, and he thought it would be well for them to show the country that they were required to take the lead in retrenching all such expenses as were not absolutely required for the public service. The hon. Gentleman then concluded by returning his thanks to the House for the patience with which they had listened to him.
Hon. Æ. IRVING denied altogether the assertion of the hon. gentleman that the House had lost the esteem of the country—it was true that a great deal of clamour had been made about the introduction of twelve hon. gentlemen into the House, but he would take the honour, the ability, the integrity of those twelve gentlemen and compare them with any other twelve in the House, and he was convinced that they would stand on as high a footing as any. If that were the case, what reason was there for this clamour? But had not the house always been packed by Government? What was the case when he first entered that House? Why, that there were only four honourable members who would stand by him on political questions. It had also been the custom in England since the time of the revolution, to preserve the Lords in harmony with the other branch of the legislature.—Pitt created one hundred peers in order to resist the coalition of Fox and North. With regard to an Elective Council be entertained the same opinions that he did when it was proposed to pay hon. members, that the moment the people paid them they would have the right of electing them, and another of the links to monarchy would be swept off.—But it was made a subject of complaint that there was a great dearth of talent in the House. Well then, he would say, merge the House in the other, and then they would have an accession of talent, and they should remember that was not a democratic idea. For it had been adopted in the Colony of Jamaica, who were far in advance of us, as they had a representative Government long before we could wrest it from the British Government. It was necessary for them either to resist or yield.—For his own part he preferred the former. He did not know the reason why, except that it was because he had a dash of Scotch blood in his veins which would almost induce him to adopt as his motto the famous nemo me impune lacessit. True, a good many of these charges had been brought against them by a gentleman, who, if he had not been disappointed of a judgeship, would never have troubled Parliament with his presence; and another Hon. Gentleman had been found to say, that they were appointed as tools and died as tools, or something else equally dignified. The Hon. Gentleman should have remembered, that his respected father, who earned the love of all that were acquainted with him, did not like Scipio leave his virtues to his children.
Hon. Mr. LESLIE said, that the Legislative Council could not be charged now with being an obstruction to the legislation, and he could not consent to cut short the prerogative of the Crown, by refusing it the power of summoning such gentlemen as was thought necessary to summon to the House. With regard to the Speaker’s pay, that was a matter of minor importance, and could be settled by the House without a reference to the Crown; but he must say, that he thought the Speaker’s chair would be frequently empty if no pay were attached to the office.
Hon. W. MORRIS commenced by alluding to the School Bill of last Session, against which the Superintendent of Schools had remonstrated; but the Government paid no attention to his recommendations; and referred to the number of laws passed during the last Session. At one time, he said, the table of the House was covered with rolls of parchment—among which were Bills for the reorganization of different Courts, about which he was desirous of knowing something, and which he thought, would lead to an immense number of new appointments; but he could get no information from the Secretary of the Province himself. The members of the Executive Government, he said, come down to the House, and ask for the passage of a Bill, which they assert is most perfect, when it afterwards turns out to be the most imperfect measure possible; and against which a general outcry is raised throughout the country. He need only refer to the Bills of last Session, as tending to reduce the Legislative Council in public estimation. He would admit, however, that much of this was referable to the hurried manner in which Bills were passed thro’ the House towards the close of the Session; and which does not afford members an opportunity of properly considering their import. The hon. mover of the resolutions was of opinion that the Speaker should not be a member of the Executive Government, and that he should receive the same remuneration as other hon. members—which was nothing at all. He (Mr. M.) was in favor of giving a small salary to the Speaker of that House, Before the union it was £400, which it was found afterwards desirable to reduce to £200. That officer in another House, he said, should receive sufficient to meet the expenses incidental to his position, and he considered £250 or £300 as ample. There were enough who would willingly fill the Speaker’s chair, who would be contended with a small salary, and who would deem themselves amply remunerated if they received sufficient to meet their expenses. The duties there, were more arduous than in the Upper House; and he had no objection to the Speaker receiving twice the salary of the Speaker of the Legislative Council. Before the union, he said, the gentleman usher of the black rod did the duty of the sergeant-at-arms; and there was no salary paid to an officer merely to lift on his shoulder and exhibit an emblem, which, as far as the dignity of the House is concerned might as well be locked up. He considered the payment of an officer for such a purpose, as an unnecessary waste of public money. He (Mr. M.) hoped, before the close of the Session, that a resolution would be passed to reduce the salaries of the Speakers from £1000 each, to £200 for the Speaker of the Upper House, and £400 for the Speaker of the Lower House. He thought neither body could do so much good as by setting an example of economy themselves; and he should be glad to see the Legislature returning to those moderate habits, by which they were formerly characterized. He had never felt satisfied since the present extravagant system was introduced; and when owing to difference of language, or from whatever cause, officers have been doubled. There should be no officer in that House, he said, who did not devote his entire time to the discharge of his duties. He did not wish to trespass too long on the time of the House, but the question had taken so wide a range, that it was impossible otherwise to do it justice. They had been told that great abuses had formerly been practiced by Tory Administrations, with reference to the construction of the Legislative Council. It appeared there were fourteen members of French origin in the House, the rest were Anglo-Saxons. The population of the Province, he said, was estimated at £1,500,000 males, of which one third are considered as being of French origin. In a body consisting of forty-four members, fourteen of French origin was about a fair proportion. Where was the grievance therefore as to the origin of members? In conclusion, the hon. gentleman said, he was opposed to the Speaker continuing to receive the same remuneration he now obtained; and as to his being selected as an Executive Councillor he saw no objections. The course which was proposed, he said, went to effect a complete organic change, but he was for not abandoning the old constitution, which however was not carried out in its true spirit. If vacancies were not filled up as they occurred in that House, neither ought it to be swamped again by a sudden increase of its members. With regard to the Speakership not being associated with a seat in the Executive Council, if the Speaker discharged his duties as they ought to be discharged, there could be no objection to his being called to take a seat at the Council board. As to the last branch of the Resolutions, he would not only vote to reduce the Speaker’s salary, but also to effect other reductions.
Hon. Mr. LESLIE here stated that any appointment that had been made to the Legislative Council, was by mandamus from Her Majesty.
Hon. W. MORRIS enquired if they did not come out blank?
Hon. Mr. LESLIE replied in the negative.
Hon. Mr. FERGUSSON said he was totally ignorant of the manner in which he was appointed to a seat in that House; and had been told on enquiry, that it was in pursuance of a despatch that came from home. The concluding part of the hon. gentleman’s speech, where he expressed his continued attachment to the constitution, had greatly relieved his (Mr. F’s) mind; as he thought at one time his hon. friend had got into bad company, and like Cromwell, considered the mace as a mere bauble. He had not yet come to any satisfactory conclusion as to the necessity of the proposed alteration in the construction of the Legislative Council, and trusted that as long as the government of the country continues to be monarchical it will remain as it is. He (Mr. F.) had expected to see the table covered with petitions in favour of a change; but not the least shadow of proof had been afforded that the body did not possess the confidence of the country. The hon. gentleman said he must take the liberty of going back to former times, and showing from the Journals how matter were managed when the other party was in power; and quoted one instance of management from the Journals of 1839, to prove that it was the corrupt course pursued by the majority of that day, which had brought the Legislative Council into discredit, instead of the responsible system at present in operation, the opponents to which had been brought down to Montreal to oppose the Governor General, on the first opportunity he had of testing the wishes of the people; and which was not giving fair play to the members from the eastern part of the Province. Those members, the hon. gentleman concluded by saving, must entertain a strange idea of the British Constitution, and that of this Province, who did not see in the position of the Legislative Council any approximation to the House of Lords. Could hon. members say that illustrious body is not swamped; and was it not notorious that the gallant Duke of whose great achievement that day (the battle of Waterloo) was the anniversary, carries one half of the votes in his pocket. He regretted exceedingly that the hon. member had brought forward such importance resolutions, on such shallow grounds; and therefore should express his dissent.
Hon. W. MORRIS concurred with the hon. gentleman who had just sat down, as to the character of the transaction alluded to; and which he then regarded in the same light as he did now; and no person had ever opposed intolerance more ardently or resolutely than he had done. But he did not consider it fair to take an isolated case, because the very same principle might be applied to proceedings under the system of responsible government. He [Mr. M.] might refer his hon. friend to a case which occurred at a time when he was not so deeply infected with liberal opinions as he was at present, and when he [Mr. F.] was one of thirteen who marched out of the House, in consequence of a most wanton and unjustifiable violation of its rules.
Hon. JAMES MORRIS said when he first heard it stated, in the language of the Resolutions, that the Legislative Council had ceased to possess the confidence of the country, he was apprehensive that the hon. mover might be prepared with proofs. But from first to last he had not shown that there was any ground for the outcry that that body did not still retain the public confidence; and he believed there was no period when the Legislative Council of Canada stood higher in the estimation of the people than it did then. The hon. gentleman had referred, doubtless, in the last clause of his resolutions to the introduction of twelve members. But he did not inform the House under what circumstances it had happened. The Administration was the most liberal which the Province had ever possessed, and if they had not been sustained by the appointments that were made, it would have been impossible to carry on the government; and had his Excellency pursued a different course with reference to the nominations, and a dissolution had taken place, the Ministry, he believed would have been returned by a large majority. He [Mr. M.] regretted that allusion was so often made to the violation of the rules of the House. Mandamuses do not come out in blank, but have the names already filled in of gentlemen who had formerly been returned to the Assembly by large majorities, men of character and ability, and of ample pecuniary means. The hon. mover had not informed them how the limiting the number of members of the Legislative Council to forty-three would increase public confidence. He had spoken also of the hurried manner in which Bills were passed through the House. But that had always been a subject of complaint, as during the last week of the session a number of Bills are invariably brought up from the Lower House; and they had to dispense with the rules or they could not be passed. But did not the hon. gentleman know that this difficulty exists in England as well as here; and it was only lately that he [Mr. M.] saw the subject alluded to in one of the leading London papers. He would ask the hon. gentleman if he ever knew a period when the Upper House did not harmonise with the Lower; or whether he considered that as exhibiting any want of independence on the part of the Lords. There was one portion of the Resolutions in which he (Mr. M.) would concur, and that was the necessity for retrenchment. The members of that House could not defy public clamor, nor feel themselves independent of public opinion. He considered the vote of £1000 to the Speaker as a waste of money, and which nothing could justify.
Hon. Mr. PINHEY stated that the first object of a member should be to place himself in a proper position before the House; and then went on to refer to a speech in which some allusion had been made to him by an hon. member on a former day in connection with the Montreal riots—but which had nothing to do with the subject under debate. He said it was perfectly clear that the Legislative Council does not occupy that position in public estimation that is desirable; and which, to be in accordance with the well understood wishes of the people, should be elective. As to the Speaker holding a seat in the Executive Council, he thought the dignity of the House would be best consulted, if the views of the resolution were acted upon; which is opposed to such a union. He was for giving the Speaker an adequate salary, as among his other duties was that of hospitality; but he was for carrying out the principles of economy; and if officers held situations that were sinecures, they should be abolished.
Hon. Mr. CROOKS said, hon’ble gentlemen might talk as they pleased, but the Legislative Council did not possess the confidence of the country, and something should be done to revive it in the public estimation. He thought the remedy that had been proposed would defeat the object; as when another party came into power they would find it necessary to introduce members to support them. He said he was satisfied that occurrences that took place would not have happened had the House been differently constituted; and he entered into some explanations with reference to what had been quoted from the Journals of 1839, during which his name had been alluded to. There was one striking evil, he said, to which in conclusion he would allude, which was, that the rural districts of the Upper Province had only ten members to represent them, or who possessed sufficient local knowledge. He did not know how it was with Lower Canada. An Elective Council he said had been granted to the Cape of Good Hope, and was to be extended to Australia, if they chose to have it; and he was favourable to its adoption here.
Hon. Mr. DE BOUCHERVILLE read a speech to the House of considerable length, but so discursive and so latitudinarian, that it would be impossible to give a brief summary of his views. It was evident, however, that he condemned the removal of the seat of Government from Montreal, of which Lord Grey had been too cautious to express his approval; and he contended that the majority of the House of Assembly who voted for that removal could not be considered such, as they did not form the absolute majority of the entire House. He thought the members of the Legislative Council should be elected for life, and should vacate their seats when taking office under the Government, except the Speaker, who might be a member of the Executive Council. If the proposition he had suggested were not adopted, he said he should vote for the resolutions.
Hon. Mr. FERRIE said he should have liked the motion better, if the hon. mover had proposed first of all that the present members should vacate their seats. The hurried manner in which Bills were passed, he said, was disgraceful; and if the Legislative Council would not pass laws till a sufficient time had been allowed for their discussion, it would be more to their credit. With these remarks, he said, he should vote for the Resolutions.
Hon. Mr. TACHE said the debate had taken a circuitous turn, and hon. member had been touching on almost every subject except that which was under discussion. With reference to the question before the House, it was one of propriety and expediency, and it was one with reference to which they must act with great prudence. Suppose, however, they were to act with unanimity and to vote in favour of the elective principle; did gentlemen suppose that the British Government which was so cautious, would acquiesce in the proposal. With reference to the Resolution immediately under discussion, the want of independence of members, and the swamping of the Legislative Council, as had been stated, on a recent occasion, he was satisfied no member could be pointed out, who had been required to vote contrary to the dictates of his conscience. Remarks had been made as to the hurried manner in which Bills were passed; but a similar remark would apply to other deliberative bodies; and he (Mr. T.) had seen a Bill pass in one of them thro’ all its stages in a quarter of an hour. If they passed Bills in a hurried manner it was their own fault; and if sufficient time were not allowed, letting them lie over for six months would cure the evil. It had been said that if the Executive has the power to nominate the members of the Legislative Council, it has the power to control their proceedings. But the former was a power which had always been exercised, by former Administrations as well as the present; and although twelve members had been added to the Council last year, yet to this moment the political feeling s of the majority were in favour of the opponents of the Administration. The hon. mover had also spoken in favour of retrenchment; it was to be regretted that when he was one of a former administration he did not set so good an example. With reference to the proposition of Lower Canada members in the House, he did not think they had been fairly treated, as there was not a due proposition; but was this owing to the conduct of the party which preceded those at present in power, by whom appointments were formerly made without reference to the wishes of the people. Year after year every thing from the popular branch was rejected and thwarted, until at length the people of Lower Canada were urged to despair. All the difficulties that had formerly arisen in Lower Canada, were owing to the baneful effect of the Legislative Council upon legislation, and which had obtained for them the title of “the mischievous old men.” He dared to say, that there were in that body, men who mourned over a past golden age, and that omnipotence of a Legislative Council of former days; which like the evil spirit, went about working mischief, and spreading ruin and desolation over the land; of the return of which they still entertain hopes, but who will have to resign themselves to despair. Since the union of the provinces, he said, and the introduction of the responsible system, the Legislative Council had been seen working harmoniously with the other branch of the Legislature. The only evil to be apprehended is, as majorities alternate in Upper Canada, by endeavouring to harmonise both branches, the number of members in the Legislative Council may ultimately equal that of the House of Assembly. A remedy for this, however, is not to be found in the Resolutions before the House; it could only be brought about by the elective principle, with certain qualifications. In making this declaration, however, he wished it to be understood, that he was not uttering the sentiments of the Government, but only expressing his own individual opinion.
Hon. Mr. DEBLAQUIERE, in conclusion, replied briefly to the arguments that had been brought forward against the Resolutions which he had introduced. He referred to the manner in which the Union of the Provinces had been carried, contrary to the pledges that had been given, and in violation of the constitution; by which the independence of the Legislative Council had been broken down. He contended that the Government, as it is now constituted, exercises the power of the three branches. They might not at present wish to exercise these powers; but he (Mr. DeB.) could name measures with reference to which the Government may yet find it necessary to yield to popular prejudices. And if the present course were persisted in, unless the Legislative Council refused to be coerced by the other branch and the Executive, the security of liberty and property would be at an end. He considered the position he had assumed, that the confidence of the public in the Legislative Council was destroyed, had been fully sustained; and before the session terminated, he trusted hon. members would do all in their power to remedy whatever is defective in the constitution of that body; and if the House was not supported by a full attendance of members who take an interest in the welfare of the country, he was satisfied the present would be one of the most disastrous years of legislation. With reference to the observation he had made relative to limiting the expenditures, he omitted at the time, what it was due to the Speaker to state, that he found no person more disposed to do what the public service of the country required, that the hon. gentleman himself.
The motion was then put and negatived only; four members voting in its favour.