“To the Electors of the South Riding of Oxford” The Globe (5 July 1864)
By: The Globe
Citation: “To the Electors of the South Riding of Oxford”, The Globe [Toronto] (5 July 1864).
TO THE ELECTORS
SOUTH RIDING OF OXFORD
GENTLEMEN, — Having accepted the office of President of the Executive Council, my seat in Parliament as your representative has become vacant; and it is now your constitutional prerogative to declare by your vote at the polls, whether or not you approve of the step I have taken.
The Government having been defeated on the 14th June, on a vote of want of confidence in the House of Assembly, a grave crisis arose in public affairs. The Opposition had already tried to obtain a majority in the present Parliament, without success; and repeated efforts, first by the Liberal side of the House and afterwards by the Conservative side, to form a Coalition for conducting the ordinary public business, had all failed through disagreement as to the division of the offices of State. To complete the embarrassment, an appeal to the people, by means of a general election, did not present much hope of a greatly altered result. In three years, four different Administrations had been condemned—two general elections had been tried without restoring harmony—and a third appeal to the electors was only likely to deepen the existing sectional hostility and to arouse feelings that would not be easily allayed.
The moment appeared to me most favourable for urging a redress of the injustice under which Upper Canada has so long labored from the operation of our constitutional system. Confessedly a dead-lock in working the political machinery was all but inevitable; an Upper Canada majority stood arrayed against a Lower Canada majority—one claiming redress of a grievous wrong, and the other clinging tenaciously to the advantage it possessed; and every temporary expedient to overcome the antagonism had been tried, but tried in vain. The hour seemed at last to have arrived when those who for years, in season and out of season, have pressed for a full and fair settlement of sectional difficulties might no longer plead in vain. I seized the opportunity of communicating with a number of the supporters of Government, and earnestly urged on them the duty of utilizing the crisis for the permanent settlement of our constitutional troubles;– and well knowing the integrity and earnestness of the great Liberal party of Upper Canada on this question, I did not hesitate to express my strong conviction that if the Government would honestly and openly take it up, with a view to its immediate settlement—much as we differed from its general policy, strongly as we condemned many of its acts—the great mass of that party would firmly, loyally maintain the Ministry in power until the measure was accomplished.
The Government took me at my word. They opened negotiations avowedly for “strengthening the Administration with “a view to the settlement of the sectional “difficulties between Upper and Lower Canada;” and it is only justice to say that the negotiations were conducted throughout, in such a spirit of candour and good faith, as to forbid doubt of the sincerity of the parties. In cordially responding o the overtures of the Government I but fulfilled the pledge I had offered to every Administration … had existed for the last fifteen years. … declined to entertain the proposition of accepting a seat in the Cabinet, but offered heartily to support the Ministry outside, and to use all the influence I could bring to bear in aiding them to mature and carry through their measure.
We went earnestly into the consideration of the several remedies for existing constitutional evils that have been suggested, with the view to discover some scheme which would be acceptable to both sections of the Provinces. The first question to decide was whether to sweep away the line of separation between Upper and Lower Canada and make the whole Province in reality one; or to recognize distinctly a variance of local feelings and local interests, and frame a constitution giving direct protection to such local interests. After much discussion we came to the conclusion that a remedy acceptable to both sections might be found by committing local matters to local control, and general matters to a general Legislature—the Lower House constituted on the basis of Representation by Population, and the Upper House on the present basis of equality. We further agreed to consider earnestly the conditions on which the Maritime Provinces and the great North-Western Territories should be admitted into the Union.
To work out all the details of the scheme so that these ends might be accomplished by the most simple and economical machinery was not possible within the brief hours at our disposal. But we agreed that immediately after Parliament was prorogued, the whole question should be earnestly and energetically taken up and a measure prepared for submission to Parliament at its next session.
To secure the co-operation of the Liberal party in maturing the proposed scheme, and to give to the country security of earnestness in its prosecution—the Government urged that three members of the Upper Canada Opposition (of which your member should be one) should accept seats in the Cabinet. I strongly deprecated this arrangement. I conceived it would be much more worthy of the great movement we proposed to initiate, were we to approach it free from even the appearance of being actuated by mercenary motives. In this, however, I was overruled by my political friends. A meeting of the Upper Canada Opposition in the Assembly was duly summoned—the basis of the proposed compact was explained and all but unanimously accepted— but by a vote of 26 to 11 it was decided that three seats in the Cabinet should be accepted as a material guarantee for the earnestness of the movement; and in the opinion of the meeting it was declared to be desirable that one of the seats should be occupied by me. In the negotiations that followed, the same view thus taken by the Opposition was earnestly urged by the Ministry and their friends; and, finally, not daring to assume the responsibility of jeopardizing a movement apparently so fraught with advantage to our country— Mr. Mowat, Mr. McDougall and I consented to take office.
I shall not affect to conceal from you that it was with the most extreme reluctance I consented to become a member of the present Administration. From considerations purely personal to myself, I was on the point of retiring from Parliamentary life, at least for a season, and it was with great reluctance I could entertain any proposal to forego that determination. But a much graver difficulty presented itself in the political and personal relations I have occupied towards some of the gentlemen with whom I was invited to take office. For many years I have stood firmly opposed to those gentlemen on the most important public questions of the day. I have felt compelled to condemn their policy and proceedings in the strongest possible terms; and they in like manner have as strongly condemned my policy and proceedings. It would be difficult to imagine public men in any country more antagonistic to each other. In all its breadth I felt the barrier that stood in the way of men holding such relations towards each other entering the same Cabinet. I have always regarded Ministerial coalitions as visions in principle—and I shrank from doing that which might have the effect of weakening public faith in the integrity and sincerity of the public men of Canada. And I am free to acknowledge that had this been an ordinary Coalition for the mere purpose of holding office— no justification could have been offered for the step we have taken.
But the union that has been formed, is very far from an ordinary Coalition. It has been formed specially and solely to deal with a question that if not speedily settled threatens to destroy the peace and prosperity of our country; and the justification for the position we now occupy is to be found in the fact that by no other means than the combined exertions of men of opposing parties could so exciting a question be effectively and permanently disposed of. On the ground, then, of the absolute necessity of the ease, and the unspeakable importance of the object to be attained, rests our justification.
The work which the Coalition has been formed to accomplish is surrounded with difficulties; and I submit that those who have undertaken it are entitled to the generous forbearance, if not to the cordial countenance of men of all parties, in their efforts to find a solution for the great grievance of our country. We may not succeed in devising a scheme which will commend itself to universal approval— but assuredly we enter upon the task with a full perception of the serious responsibility resting upon us, and with the sincere and earnest resolution to place the future of these Provinces on a sound and healthful basis. This is no party question. All are alike affected by it— all are alike interested in its wise solution. The just representation of the people in Parliament under a free system of government underlies all questions of reform and progress— and surely it is not a large demand on public forbearance when we ask that the shafts of partizanship may be stayed for the few months necessary to mature our plans and prepare our measure.
Trusting to have an early opportunity of addressing you fully on these and other public matters, I am—
Toronto, 5th July, 1864.