Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, 8th Parl, 3rd Sess (2 February 1865)

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Date: 1865-02-03
By: Province of Canada (Parliament), Morning Chronicle
Citation: “Provincial Parliament. Legislative Assembly. Thursday, Feb. 2nd” [Quebec] Morning Chronicle (3 February 1865).
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Provincial Parliament.

Legislative Assembly.

Thursday, Feby. 2nd.


Thomas Wallbridge [Hastings North] moved

 For an Address to His Excellency the Governor General, praying that he will be pleased to cause to be laid before this House, copies of all letters or circulars addressed, since 17th June, 1864, by the Provincial Secretary or any head of a Department, to Sheriffs, Clerks, Clerks of the Peace, County Attorneys, Registrars, Postmasters, or other public officers in both sections of the Province, relative to the distribution to local newspapers of any printing or advertising in the gift, or under the control or patronage of such public officers; also the number of such letters, circulars and correspondence, and to whom the same were respectively addressed.

Thomas Wallbridge [Hastings North]—The hon. mover, in introducing his motion, went on to state that if rumor was correct the granting of this motion would produce information that, before we entered upon the great question of Confederation, would be of importance. He thought that if we looked at the proceedings of the Charlottetown Convention—their private sittings—the subsequent retirement of the delegates to Halifax—their meetings at St. John, and afterwards at Quebec, with the secret meetings, from which the press were excluded—if we looked at the publication of the report by the delegates, and the repetition in one city after another of the platitudes spoken by those delegates—the necessity of procuring the information asked for by the motion would be admitted.

He wished to know the position of the press with regard to the proceedings connected with the Confederation movement. But though the press, with a very few honorable exceptions, had maintained a silence upon the subject, he would not impute it was from corrupt motives, but merely from lack of information. He did not wish to enquire into anything that might be considered legitimate secrets of the Government in this respect, if they assured him that no correspondence, such as referred to in his motion, had been sent abroad. If such correspondence had taken place, he wished it put on record, that this House might have the benefit of it, and that the future historian of Canada might know what were some of the secret springs of this Confederation movement.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary] thought the House must have been somewhat surprised at the line of argument or statement the hon. gentleman had made use of to induce the House to grant this motion. He did not readily apprehend the connection between Confederation and the motion in reference to the circulars or papers sent to the newspapers. He must say, as an old member of the press, that the remarks made by the proposer of this motion conveyed a suspicion of want of integrity and honesty on the part of the press of this country, which he entirely repudiated.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—With regard to the matter referred to in the motion, he (Mr. McDougall) would state what had taken place. This Government, as all knew, was formed for the purpose of carrying out a great public object announced to the House and the country, and which had been duly discussed in the press and elsewhere. It was thought proper, then, that the Government in the distribution of that patronage which belonged to it—which all Governments had exercised—that regard should be had to the just claims of all those journals in the country friendly to the object this Government was formed to carry out; and, in accordance with that view, after a consultation by the members of the Cabinet, a circular was addressed to newspaper proprietors of Upper Canada—in regard to Lower Canada he knew nothing—without references to the antecedents of their journals, but which were at the time friendly to the Government and Confederation, stating those papers had been placed on the official list and were entitled to such patronage as the Government had to distribute in their localities. The list of the journals in question shewed they embraced those of every stripe of the politics known to the country.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear, and Opposition laughter.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—There were among them some journals friendly to himself and to the Hon. Attorney General West [John A. Macdonald]. But, on the other hand, some of the papers friendly to that hon. gentleman were not on the list, because not friendly to the policy upon which this Government was principally formed. This was the principle adopted, and its operation embraced, he was happy to say, a very large majority of the newspapers of Upper Canada.

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

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—With respect to the insinuations as to the amount of influence which might have been exercised over those journals by the patronage of the Government, he would say that there had been less public patronage exercised, and less advertising and public printing given out by this Government than by any preceding one.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—For his own part he was sorry that the public business had not afforded a greater amount of patronage for the public journals.

Some Hon. MembersApplause.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—For he knew, form experience, as a journalist, that newspapers had not at all times the fullest exchequers, and that those little advantages, in the way of patronage, were of some importance to them. There was no mystery or secrecy in regard to the matter, and he would let the House see what was in the circular.

(Here the hon. gentleman searched his desk for the circular, which he thought he had placed there, but was unable to find)

However, he would let any member have a copy at any time. The circular, in substance, informed journalists, in the first place, that they were not—as had been the practice to some extent before—to copy Government advertisements without previous instructions. Considerable abuse had arisen from the contrary practice as he had observed when in the Macdonald-Dorion Administration.

Some Hon. Members— “Oh, no,” and ironical cheers from the Opposition.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—Newspaper proprietors used to copy public advertisements, without instructions, and afterwards send in their claims for payment. He believed that this was the course followed in the time of previous Governments.

Some Hon. MembersLaughter and cries of “Oh, no,” from the Ministerial side.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—Knowing that some newspaper proprietors were in the habit of pursuing this course, he felt it his duty to warn them expressly that if they published advertisements without authority their accounts would not be recognized by the Government.

The circular also went on to inform journalists that not more than six insertions would be paid for unless a larger publication were ordered. This, too, was done to prevent abuse. He had not, in sending this circular, discriminated against any journals in consequence of their antecedents, believing that whatever their previous politics might have been, those papers which supported the Government upon the great project to carry out which it was formed, were entitled to whatever patronage it possessed as well as any others. Members, in moving for papers, were unaware of the great expense of printing them, and that when printed perhaps not more than three or four ever read them. In this case he did not think it was necessary to bring down the correspondence asked for, which only consisted of a few papers, which any hon. member who wished it could see at any time.

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga] said that after the remarks of the Provincial Secretary [William McDougall], which the House had heard, this was indeed a very proper motion, and the information intended to be obtained by it would be most useful. He had to thank the Hon. Provincial Secretary [William McDougall] for the candor with which he had treated this matter. It appeared that the newspapers had been, in point of fact, told that if they supported Confederation, they would receive the advertising patronage at the disposal of the Government.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga]—This might be held to account to some extent for the support given to the Confederation scheme by a portion of the press, and for the manner in which Ministers and their supporters were treated by a number of newspapers, as contrasted with their conduct towards Opposition members. He (Mr. Dorion) was not aware, when he was in the administration, that the unauthorized insertions of advertisements in newspapers were paid for by the Government.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga]—He repeated—the information asked for by this address would be most valuable as it would afford us an opportunity of knowing how public opinion was formed.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Joseph Cauchon [Montmorency] said that the hon. member complained that newspapers had spoke about Confederation before they knew anything about it, just for the sake of patronage. Now, so far as want of knowledge was concerned, this was precisely the hon. gentleman’s own case. He spoke about Confederation—he had delivered himself of a long rigmarole on the subject, when he actually knew nothing at all about it.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear and laughter.

Joseph Cauchon [Montmorency]—The hon. gentleman should have had more consideration for the position he affected to occupy than to deliver an opinion without knowing anything concerning the matter on which he spoke.

Hon. Mr. Dorion—I gave my authority.

Joseph Cauchon [Montmorency]—Your authorities were all wrong. The hon. gentleman had picked up a number of miscellaneous scraps from his own newspaper organs; but he was nevertheless totally ignorant of the subject. The honorable member affected to speak of improper dispensation of newspaper patronage. Why, there was a township paper published by a relative of the hon. gentleman’s, which had inserted government advertisements relating to the Welland Canal!

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

Joseph Cauchon [Montmorency]—What did the people of Arthabaska—what did the people of L’Avenir want to know about the western canals? Did the hon. member for Hochelaga or his party over encourage a hostile newspaper—an organ of public opinion inimical to himself or his political cause? There was one paper which supported his Government and received all its printing and advertising patronage while that Government was in existence; but the moment it fell the organ also fell back to its original course. Then, there was Mr. Aubin’s paper, which was solely supported and encouraged by the Government.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Joseph Cauchon [Montmorency]—If there was any special case of corruption, or if there was any particular charge let it be made known. This kind of discussion, however, was unworthy, and he trusted it would not continue.

François Evanturel [Quebec County] said he thought it right to say a few words in vindication of the press of Lower Canada. If any hon. member had fears for the independence of the press of Lower Canada, in connection with this circular which was so much talked about, they might calm their fears. Whatever course they might have taken, the Lower Canadian newspapers were not influenced by the circular.

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

François Evanturel [Quebec County]—It was a little too strong on the part of the hon. member for Hochelaga [Antoine-Aimé Dorion] to make a charge of corruption against the whole press.

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga] said he did not include the whole press. He excepted the leading press—that portion of the newspaper press which really represented public opinion, and which could not be corrupted.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

François Evanturel [Quebec County] said it was true the hon. gentleman did not define the attack, but that certainly was the general bearing of his charge. In any case, the circular referred to could not have had the corrupting influence which was affected to be attributed to it. On the contrary, it tended rather to prove useful. It remedied the abuse to which the hon. Provincial Secretary [William McDougall] had referred—namely, the promiscuous and unauthorized publication of advertisements, like the case of the paper published in the new forest settlements which inserted the western advertisement.

The fact, however, was that in many cases the public complained that official advertisements of an important nature did not obtain sufficient publicity—that the official Gazette was, to a great extent, useless as a vehicle of public information, and that those papers which had an extensive circulation did not always obtain the important notices. He would terminate by sating that as he had some relation with the press, he believed it right to protest against the sweeping charge of corruption which had been insinuated; and to say to those who entertained fears respecting such corruption that they might feel quite at ease with regard to the Lower Canadian press. To his knowledge the Lower Canadian newspapers had not received any such circular as that referred to.

William Powell [Carleton] said that notwithstanding the opinion expressed by the hon. member for Montmorency [Joseph Cauchon], about the desirability of not protracting the debate, he would have a few remarks to make. He could not compliment the hon. member for Hastings (Mr. Wallbridge) on the pertinency of his remarks to the motion now before the House. He might just as well have reserved them until the Border Outrages Bill came up, and delivered them then, inasmuch as they would apply quite as well.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear and laughter.

William Powell [Carleton]—The Provincial Secretary [William McDougall] had candidly stated the manner in which the patronage had been extended to those who support the policy of the Government.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary] was understood to deny that there was any conditional order given or promise given to them.

William Powell [Carleton]—Well, it was at any rate a gentle insinuation, and had a very beneficial effect.

Some Hon. MembersLaughter and cheers.

William Powell [Carleton]—But there was one point the hon. gentleman should not have omitted. He should have asked that the newspaper should not only forbear any attacks upon members of the Government, but that they should also extend the same consideration to their more humble friends and supporters. Let one of the former go into a constituency to seek for support, and the leader of the Government would bespeak the assistance of his friends on his behalf, and the hon. President of the Council would send forth his claims through the press. But let a modest follower or supporter came forward and forthwith he was dealt with on his former merits.

Some Hon. MembersLaughter.

Christopher Dunkin [Brome]—Or demerits.

Some Hon. MembersLaughter and cheers.

William Powell [Carleton]—Yes, demerits! Well, he wished at any rate, that the supporters of the Administration had been included in this arrangement.

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

William Powell [Carleton]—With regard, however, to newspaper patronage, he might state that the late administration did not leave it to the press to take sides. They had purchased a paper to represent their views—the Quebec Mercury—and when they went down it also ceased to represent the views of that party.

While on this subject of newspapers, he might direct attention to the fact that there were certain papers in the country that seemed to have access to the public departments. For instance, the Public Accounts had appeared in the columns of a leading newspaper before they were laid before the House. This was hardly respectful to the House, and he trusted such things would not continue. Under former Governments it would not have occurred and he hoped that fact of a member of the Government being connected with the press did not in any way influence the matter.

He doubted the Hon. Provincial Secretary’s [William McDougall] statement that the expenses of Government advertising were less than formerly. This doubtless was due to the fact that the number of newspaper supporters of the Government had increased but he thought regard should be had to publicity alone and not to support. Why, even in the Cornwall Freeholder, the other day, he observed an article in favor of Confederation which savored strongly of the spicy pen of the hon. member for Cornwall; but he did not know whether or not it was a bid for patronage. He thought, perhaps, in every respect it would be better that the distribution of all the printing and advertising patronage and the purchase of stationery should be confined to some official named for that purpose.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Lucius Huntington [Shefford] spoke at considerable length on the press question. What was required in order to sustain an independent press was a healthy and independent public opinion. The leading papers of Canada, the really independent portion of the press of Canada would, he believed, compare favorably with the press of any other country. It was, however, much to be regretted that the circumstances under which this circular was issued were of such a nature as to give rise to any imputation; and it would have been much better if the Government had reserved their bounty until they ordered the advertisements.

The hon. gentleman then went on to attack, in very strong language, the conduct of newspapers supporting hon gentlemen opposite, and more particularly the press of this District, which he stated have but a one-sided version of the business of this House—giving in full the sayings of hon. gentlemen on the Treasury Benches and their supporters, but being silent as the grave with regard to those of the Opposition, however important the subject might be. His hon friend, the member for Hochelaga, (Mr. Dorion.) had suffered from this unfair conduct in a recent debate in which he had distinguished himself, and but a short time before he had been personally attacked as a man of no intellectual ability. He (Mr. Huntington) had also been similarly treated by those newspapers. This was the fairness and impartiality of the organs of the strong Government.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] regretted the hon. member for Shefford should have thrown away so much eloquence on so small a matter, and should have been so illogical. One would think, from his speech that something very extraordinary and wonderful had been concocted, as regards this subject. To show how entirely he had been “barking the wrong tree,” as regards the Government’s influencing the press in the Lower Province, by means of this circular, it was a fact that not one was sent to a paper in Lower Canada.

Lucius Huntington [Shefford]—How can he charge me with want of logic? How could I have known that?

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—The Hon. Provincial Secretary said so. The logic of the member for Shefford was not at fault, but his information was. He had stated that the country swarmed with newspapers loud in their adulation of the Government scheme, and that at the time when the Conference was in session in Quebec all the papers were, under the influence of the circular, puffing up the Confederation project, but what would the House say when he (Mr. Brown) informed it that the circular had not been issued for six weeks after the Conference broke up.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Lucius Huntington [Shefford] replied he did not intend to say that this newspaper adulation of the scheme was the result of the circular; but that the Government sent the circular to keep the scheme going.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] complained that it was flagrantly unjust, while the Government was striving to do right in the matter of public patronage, and make all necessary reform, that hon. gentlemen opposite should have charged it with abuse and corruption in this respect. Far from being deserving of attack, it was entitled to credit for what it had done. It had been the practice for Governments to give the patronage to their newspaper supporters. Apart altogether from personal considerations, he would avow that the Government was prepared to bestow its patronage upon those journals which supported the great scheme to carry out which it had been formed, and members of which had already submitted to many inconveniencies and sacrifices.

Some Hon. MembersCheers.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—He rejected with contempt the idea that any one of the journals of this country had been bought by the petty patronage extended by the Government—the whole of the patronage would not have amounted to the value of one good journal. Not one shilling’s worth of patronage had been given which the public service did not demand. If the opponents of the Government thought their newspapers were going to get a shilling of public patronage, they were entirely mistaken.

Some Hon. MembersLaughter and cheers.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay]—What do you say about the patronage extended by the Cartier-Macdonald Government to the Colonisateur?

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] thought it was extremely improper to give papers of a small circulation a large amount of patronage for political reasons. Such, he assured the House, would not be done by the present Government as long as he was a member. The object of the Hon. Provincial Secretary’s [William McDougall] circular was to ensure a fair distribution of the public patronage for the benefit of the public service. In answer to the member for Carleton, he would say that since he had become amber of the Government the Globe had never benefitted to the slightest extent from his official position. The Globe’s information was obtained solely by its own news collectors.

William Powell [Carleton]—I was under a different impression, and that statement makes it entirely satisfactory.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] said that in regard to this matter there had been no concealment, and it was more honorable to act in a manly, straightforward way. As far as he knew there was not one newspaper in the country which had changed its politics since the issue of the circular in question. This Government had more newspaper supporters than the last, and when there were two or three in one place, the circular was designed in such cases to ensure a fair distribution of the patronage among them, without any increase of expense to the country.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Thomas Wallbridge [Hastings North] said he was willing to withdraw his motion. He did not mean to accuse the press of corruption, but that some influence had been exercised over it.

Alexander Mackenzie [Lambton] spoke briefly of the independent course pursued by the newspapers in his own district, and of the manner in which a paper in his neighborhood had fully discussed Confederation.

Frederick Haultain [Peterborough] paid a similar tribute to the independence of the newspapers in his own locality.


The motion was then withdrawn.

[1] Source: “Provincial Parliament”, [Quebec] Morning Chronicle (3 February 1865).

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