“The Peterborough Question”, The Globe (29 August 1864)
By: The Globe
Citation: “The Peterborough Question”, The Globe [Toronto] (29 August 1864).
THE PETERBOROUGH QUESTION.
An ordinary party Government always finds it impossible to distribute the patronage at its disposal in such a manner as to satisfy all its supporters. For every office that falls vacant there are several applicants; and no matter how proper a man may be chosen, or how legitimately he may be entitled to the office upon political grounds, the decision of ministers in his favour is pretty certain to make them enemies. When, as in the case of the existing Government, there are two parties to please instead of one, it is manifest that the difficulty of giving satisfaction becomes far greater. There are then partizan, as well as personal, considerations to produce discontent. In the one case there are individuals to displease, while in the other a whole party in a given locality may be mortally offended. A couple of illustrations of this difficulty have recently occurred. The present Government has been called upon to appoint a judge for the county of Perth. The office has been conferred upon Mr. Lizars, a gentleman in every way qualified to fill it creditably. He happens, however, to have been of the Liberal school of politics, and is not unreasonably believed to have been appointed on the recommendation of the Liberal member for the county. There was, moreover, a Conservative applicant for the office. His failure, and the appointment of his rival, have very much exasperated some of his political friends, and have called down upon the head of the Attorney-General West the most violent denunciations, and the most unqualified charges of treason to the Conservative party. A couple of local Conservative papers seem, indeed, nearly crazed regarding the appointment of Mr. Lizars, though, to their credit be it said, influential Conservative journals outside of the county entirely repudiate the wild diatribes of their Perth brethren. Going to the East, we find a very good offset to the outcry in Perth. The Registrar of Leeds county recently resigned, and the office was given to Mr. Ormond Jones, a Conservative. Thereupon, the Brockville Recorder calls out that such a Tory appointment is proof positive that the Reform section of the Cabinet is utterly devoid of influence. These attacks from opposite directions come opportunely at the same time, and effectually neutralise each other. It cannot very well be true that each section of the Government has allowed the other to monopolise all the power, and to have everything to say in regard to the disposal of official patronage. The complainant at Brockville may therefore be very safely left to find an answer to his remarks in the violent outcry which comes from the county of Perth.
It is very easy to understand upon what general rule it is likely that the existing Government will find it advisable to distribute the patronage which falls to its disposal. It has been the custom, both here and in England, that the Government in filling vacant offices should take the advice of its supporters. In practice this rule may not always be literally carried out, but it is undoubtedly the general rule by which all Governments profess to be guided. It is, moreover, the best practicable under our system of government. The Parliamentary supporters of our Administration have a certain sense of responsibility to their constituents which will tend to restrain them from advising bad or unpopular appointments, while their local knowledge must make them more competent judges of the fitness of aspirants for office than ministers entirely unacquainted in the locality concerned. There seems no good reason why the present Government should not be guided by the rule which the experience of all other Governments proves to be practically the best. The fact that it derives its support from two parties, makes it all the more necessary that a rule which would allow each party to administer the patronage of its own constituencies should be adopted. If no well-understood general principle were laid down respecting this matter, the jealousies created by the administration of the patronage would be much worse than they can be where the principle adopted is such that reasonable men of both parties will recognise its justice. The appointments in Leeds and Perth are quite consistent with the rule that Ministers should dispense their patronage in accordance with the views of their supporters. Perth is represented by a Liberal supporter of the Government, and the Perth judgeship was given on his recommendation undoubtedly to a legal gentleman of Liberal politics. Leeds, or the greater portion of it, is represented by a Conservative supporter of the Government, and the Leeds registrarship goes to a gentleman of Conservative politics. Unless they wished to do an act destructive of the existing compact, and calculated to defeat the purpose for which it was formed, Ministers could not, in either case, have taken any other course. We do not say that it will be possible to have this eminently just general rule always acted upon. There may be cases in which special circumstances will necessitate a departure from it. There may be instances in which the representation of a locality affected by a particular appointment is divided between the two parties. There may be difficulty in deciding what to do with the patronage of constituencies where the member is not a supporter of the Government. There may be other cases in which members will get the patronage of their constituencies in the meantime, and yet when the matter comes to be tested will discover that they are not prepared to support the policy of the Administration. But exceptional difficulties, similar to these, are unavoidable, even under ordinary circumstances, and we must only trust that when they do occur, they will not be magnified into mischievous importance by any friend of the great purpose which has brought the members of the present Administration together.
The important point touching the patronage, so far as the public is concerned, is, after all, the appointment of competent and worthy men. So long as that is done, the partisan question is entirely a subordinate one. The present Government being strong in the confidence of Parliament and of the country, is in a far better position to resist the temptation to make unworthy appointments at the dictation of its supporters than any Government has been for many years. The people have that fact as a guarantee that the official patronage will be administered with a due regard to the public interest. The politicians who support the Coalition have always to recollect that it was not formed for the purpose of distributing judgeships and registrarships. If it had been, it would have been utterly indefensible. Its mission is the vastly more important one of permanently settling the constitutional difficulties of the country. If we deem that mission of sufficient importance to justify the existence of the present Government, we must concede that it altogether overshadows any mere question of the partition of the offices which from time to time fall vacant throughout the country. If we admit that, we are bound to rest fully satisfied in seeing the official patronage of the country distributed upon a principle which, as between the two parties to the compact, is certainly one of equity. We do not think that either party can feel assured that by breaking up the existing arrangement it would secure to itself all the patronage of the country. Even were it otherwise—even were it plain that the defeat of the Government would place a party Government firmly in power—no man who is honest in supporting the Ministerial policy of constitutional reform, could possibly be guilty of wishing to sacrifice the opportunity of obtaining that reform, from the miserable motive of wishing his party to monopolise the official patronage of the country.