“The Constitutional Movement: Further Opinions from the British Press” The Globe (12 August 1864)

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Date: 1864-08-12
By: The Globe
Citation: “The Constitutional Movement: Further Opinions from the British Press”, The Globe [Toronto] (12 August 1864).
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The Constitutional Movement.




(From the Dundee Advertiser, July 18.)

A territory so extensive and so rich in natural resources as British America must yet play an important role in the future, not only of the western continent, but of the world itself. Already the population of the two Canadas, together with that of the other British North American Provinces, is greater than the population of the United States was when they issued their famous Declaration of Independence, and set out on their path of self-government. It is scarcely to be expected that ninety years hence these Provinces will have attained to the same degree of material development as the United States have done during the ninety years that have elapsed since they abandoned the maternal [Illegible]-strings, but it cannot be doubted [Illegible] them to be wisely and paternally [Illegible] they are destined yet to wield, either individually or collectively, either as dependencies of Great Britain or as separate independent Statesmen, a power [Illegible] in shaping the future destinies of a  [Illegible] of the human race. Provinces [Illegible] for the fu[Illegible] the statistician, the [Illegible]. In the forces contributing to their [Illegible] -ment may be traced influences akin [Illegible] which long ages ago gave form and [Illegible] to the commonwealths of the old world. We see in their progress the steps by which barren wildernesses have erewhile been converted into populous and fertile States. There is a movement just now in progress among the politicians of Upper and Lower Canada, which may eventually lead to results whose influence will be felt over the whole North American continent for many ages to come.

Lower Canada, it is necessary to remind the reader, was originally a French colony, and the bulk of its population are consequently French in language, and more or less French also in their political sympathies. In Western Canada again the colonists are mostly of Scotch or English origin. A rivalry, fostered by differences of race and religion, has thus arisen between the two provinces. At the period of their union, subsequent to the rebellion of 1837, the population of Lower Canada exceeded that of the western province by some 800 000, but since that period the population of the west has increased so rapidly that it now exceeds that of the east by fully the same amount. The Upper Canadians now think that they are entitled to have a larger share of representation in the Provincial Parliament than they possessed when they held a position subordinate to that of their brethren in the east. They claim that the representation shall be proportioned to the population, a claim which the Lower Canadians are naturally reluctant to concede. Hence have arisen bickerings in the Provincial Legislature which have recently culminated in the resignation of the Ministry. With the view of putting an end to this “irrepressible conflict” it has been proposed to unite the whole of the British North American Provinces under a Federal compact, with a General Congress for the arrangement of Imperial questions, and Provincial Congresses to take cognizance of local affairs. The model proposed to be adopted, in fact, is that of the United States, the only difference being that the Congress of the new Federation will have at its head a Governor-General appointed by the Queen, in place of a President elected by the people. This scheme has been so far matured that a coalition Ministry has been appointed, including the leaders of the Eastern and Western factions in the Canadian Parliament. A commission will shortly be nominated to negotiate with the Imperial Government touching the formation of a Federative Union of all the British American Provinces and it is not anticipated that the Home Government will raise any serious obstacles to the full realisation of the scheme, provided the colonists are agreed among themselves. Should the plan be carried out to its full extent, the British Federal states will form a most extensive and powerful combination. It will extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the fertile shores of the Great Likes to the barren icebound coasts of the Arctic Ocean.


(From the Peterhead Observer, July 22.)

We are all deeply and naturally interested in Canada—an attached colony, in which ten out of every twelve have relatives more or less prosperously settled. Suddenly and—even to those who have been watching the course of events, and looking for some vital change—with somewhat startling effect, the leading statesmen have taken a decisive step towards independence. They have proposed nothing less than that the six great American colonies, Upper Canada, Lower Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward’s Island, and Newfoundland be formed into a grand federation with one Parliament, and one system of laws. The basis on which the union should take place has not been indicated, nor has the mode of representation been defined. The proposal has only been made, but it has been made in circumstances which insure its partial, if not ultimately its complete success. Though the population of Upper Canada was between 200,000 and 800,000 less than the population of Lower Canada at the time the provinces were united, their relative proportions have been changed at least to the extent of 800,000. Upper Canada has a population of 1,400,000, while that of Lower Canada is only 1,100,000, and the grievance is this—Hitherto each province has sent to the Colonial Legislature, or Supreme Parliament, the same number of representatives—a manifest injustice when we take their peculiar circumstances into account, and a perpetual source of discord. Differing essentially in nationality, in religion, in political views, in educational requirements, and even social position—the one French, and the other English, the one Catholic, and the other Protestant, the one Conservative, and the other Radical—it is impossible they can work harmoniously under the present form of representation. Upper Canada, with its extra 300 000, will not be dictated to in all that vitally concerns it, nor will Lower Canada agree to a change which would place it in a helpless minority. So equally balanced are parties that it has been impossible to get a working majority, and the consequence is that for a length of time there have been incessant defeats and changes of ministers, thwarting public business, and producing a social strife which has almost become chronic. For some time a federation has been talked of as the only means of balancing the “powers,” and effecting a permanent settlement. The Coalition Cabinet has started with this as its avowed aim, and by its accomplishment will it stand or fall. There is little doubt that, as far as the Canadas are concerned, the scheme will be accepted with general and emphatic approval. Whether the other colonies will agree, has, of course, to be seen, and must be fully and fairly tested. One thing is clear—that such a combination would undoubtedly add to their strength and dignity. What will Great Britain say to this daring and audacious step on the part of its foster child? There will no doubt be grumbles, there may even be indignant protests; most assuredly all who are actuated by a spirit of progress will welcome this fresh proof of growing strength, and at once give their countenance and aid. There is no mutual good arising from the present form of alliance that would not be increased by a more independent and yet friendly alliance. “Clearly, the union of the colonies,” says the Spectator, with admirable point and discernment, “is not a loss but a benefit to Great Britain. It will not make them more expensive but less so, for the federation will have less interest in retaining British troops, and a broader basis for its internal taxation. It will not make them more troublesome, for we shall at once be rid of sectional jealousies, and be face to face with a colony better prepared to walk alone. It will not make them more hostile, for the tendency of a Federation will be to stand alone, instead of annexing itself or suffering itself to be annexed to the United States, or such divisions of the United States as may survive the war. And the effect of a Federation, if arranged on any reasonable principles, and especially if arranged on the principle of parliamentary government such as is likely to prevail in Canada, will throw to the top abler men than the individual colonies can produce, and the abler the rulers the more consistent their policy, the more easy to frame and to maintain the alliances into which the colonial system of Great Britain must ultimately merge.” It is a noble conception. If carried out in the right spirit we may predict a glorious future for Canada and her associates. Young, strong, and with vast powers of development, the Federation would take a position of commanding independence, and afford a new and inviting field for intellectual and industrial enterprise. Difficulties there are in the way, and to carry it to a successful issue will require men of wisdom, virtue, and heroic endurance. All have confidence in the man who has devised this scheme, and in not a few of those with whom he is associated. Surely this country will throw no unwise or selfish barrier in the way. If a great and growing colony seek to rise in the national scale, far be it from us who have planted and nourished that colony, and peopled it with our kinsfolk, to discourage its aspirations. Rather let us give our aid and direction, so that a noble purpose may be the more nobly attained.


(From the London Daily News, July 27.)

Public opinion in Canada continues to be expressed with increasing confidence in favour of the only scheme that promises to deliver the colony from the greatest and most urgent of its political difficulties. The most eminent Canadian politicians of all parties have long recognised a federal union of the two Provinces and the only means of deliverance from their growing embarrassments; but the obstacles to the execution of this plan would probably  have delayed its proposal indefinitely had not the experiment of government by a parliament and ministers constitutionally responsible fairly broken down under the union of 1840. The scheme of federation was not recommended under the authority of the Colonial Ministers until it had become impossible to carry on the government of the country on any other system. The circumstances under which Canada received a constitution assigning an equal number of representatives in the House of Assembly to each of the two Provinces are well known. Two populations in many important respects differing from each other as much as any two nations as in Christendom had to be united under one government. The plan originally designed, with short-sighted wisdom, in order to favour Upper Canada, as the weaker but more English Province, has become a grievance to the very persons  it was framed to protect. Under it the population of the less numerous and wealthy Province have the same number of representatives as that of Upper Canada, and the unity of the French section enables it to become master of the whole, by the simple expedient of forming an alliance with a small number of the members from the Upper Province. This, to persons having the actual control of the executive power, is not difficult. The consequence has been not only that the Lower Canadians have had a larger share in the management of the affairs of the United Provinces than properly belonged to them, but that Upper Canada has been deprived of the right to self-government, being in fact governed by a minority of its own members, with all the recklessness of men who exercise a precarious authority under a title in which they themselves do not believe. It was in vain that the people of Upper Canada returned a body of representatives, the majority of whom were faithful exponents of their views. The French party had only to detach a small number of them, and gain them over to their side, in order to make the remainder powerless. The people of Upper Canada, who furnished 70 per cent. of the revenue of the Province, complained that they were made to witness the disbursement of their own money to their own members for betraying their interests, and compelled to find the means for public improvements in Lower Canada besides. It was out of this state of things that in Upper Canada the demand for constitu-[Illegible] on the basis of “representation [Illegible].” This was the rallying cry at [Illegible] Upper Canada in 1857-8 about that [Illegible] members of the present Government [Illegible] official letter, in which it was declared [Illegible] difficulties” even then “presented [Illegible] conducting the government of Canada in such manner as to show due regard to the wishes of its numerous population;” that in consequence of the differences between the two sections of the Province, “an agitation” was proceeding which was “fraught with great danger to the peaceful and harmonious working of our constitutional system, and, consequently, detrimental to the progress of the Province. The necessity of providing a remedy for a state of things that is yearly becoming worse, and of allaying feelings that are being daily aggravated by the contention of political parties, has impressed the advisers of Her Majesty’s representative in Canada with the importance of seeking such a mode of dealing with these difficulties as may for ever remove them.” Since that date all other questions have disappeared before the growing importance of this. Ministries have since been formed, and have attempted to govern the country while ignoring the inequalities of the present constitution; but they have found it impossible to work the machinery of government. Dissolutions and general elections have been resorted to again and again, but in every case failed, as under the circumstances they were sure to do, to give the Ministers of the day a working majority. The Administration of Sir Etienne Tache and Mr. J.A Macdonald, which was defeated last June, advised the Governor General to dissolve. In a [Illegible] reply, Lord Monck reminded his Ministers that the House of Assembly returned at the general election of 1861 had, by successive votes, declared its want of confidence in Ministers, representing respectively the two parties into which it was divided; that in the House elected in 1863 the Macdonald-Dorion Government found itself so weak that its members resigned their places, though without having incurred actual defeat; that the course of events since the succeeding Government came into power had further attested the evenly balanced condition of parties in the House, and that it was very doubtful whether a general election would alter the relative positions. Lord Monck said he was ready to act on the advice of his Ministers, but he expressed the opinion that an amalgamation of parties was the course calculated to confer the largest amount of benefit on the Province. This was sound and sensible advice, but it revived in every mind the obvious cause of the difficulties which had beset so many Governments. An ordinary Coalition, formed for the convenience of public men who could obtain place on no other conditions, would not have been possible in the state of public feeling in the colony. Reflection convinced persons of all parties that the cardinal question of Canadian politics must be dealt with without further delay. The scheme of a federation, in which each province should enjoy full control over its own affairs, and each participate in legislation for common interests according to the elements of its power, was therefore devised and accepted by the leading men of both parties. The Governor General has since expressed an opinion that “the time has arrived when the constitutional question which has for many years agitated this province is ripe for settlement.” And the Speaker of the Assembly, in presenting the Bill of Supply, referred to what had taken place in terms which are believed to express the general feelings in the colony—” The happy union of parties having for its object the settlement of the vexed and difficult questions which have arisen in the working of the Legislative Union between Upper and Lower Canada, is the most prominent and important event in our political history that has taken place for a number of years. The spirit of conciliation and good faith in which this great project has been undertaken by our leading statesmen of opposite nationalities and politics affords the highest assurance of the final success of their patriotic endeavours. The western section of the province will, I doubt not, hail this project with peculiar satisfaction as an earnest attempt on the part of their representatives to obtain their just rights, without compromising the peculiar claims, or jeopardising the institutions of their French Canadian brethren.”

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