UK, House of Commons, “Government of Canada”, vol 54, cols 1263-1268 (18 June 1840)

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Date: 1840-06-18
By: UK (House of Commons)
Citation: UK, HC, “Government of Canada“, vol 54 (1840), cols 1263-1268.
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Lord J. Russell , in rising to move the third reading of the Canada Government Bill, said that he had promised the last time that the bill was before the House, when the order for the third reading was agreed to by a great majority, to take into consideration certain amendments which had been proposed by different Members. The first of these was the proposal of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, to the effect that debts in future contracted by the provinces of Canada should not form a charge upon the consolidated revenue fund of the provinces before the civil list charge. It appeared to him, upon consideration, that it was desirable to make this alteration; and he accordingly proposed it. There was another suggestion of the right hon. Baronet’s with respect to the representation.

The right hon. Baronet suggested that certain commercial bodies should be created, in whom the representation should rest. He thought there would be so much difficulty in carrying this suggestion into effect in such a manner as that these bodies should not become too exclusive, that he was not able to adopt this suggestion. Another suggestion had been made by his right hon. Friend (Mr. E. Ellice), namely, that all the clauses regarding district councils should be omitted. He had endeavoured to limit the power of these bodies, as they certainly had not experience, and they were likely, as his right hon. Friend supposed, to propose persons in whom no great confidence was placed, but who, by means of their influence over a very ignorant portion of the population, might acquire a temporary ascendancy injurious to property, and mischievous as regarded the

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general welfare. There was great difficulty at present in limiting the power that ought to be given to these bodies, and, upon consideration, he thought it better to leave out all those clauses which gave an extensive power, than endeavour to limit it. The 63d clause which allowed the Governor-general to constitute townships in those parts in which they were not already constituted he proposed to retain. He was anxious upon a question of so much importance that there should be as much agreement as possible among all parties respecting the clauses that should be sent to the other House of Parliament, and he must say that if any thing would be lost by the province by the omission of the clauses to which he had adverted, infinitely more would he gain by the general agreement of the House upon the bill in its present shape. The noble Lord concluded by moving that the bill be read a third time.

Mr. Hume was sorry to have heard the speech of the noble Lord, because much that was good in the bill was now, it appeared, to be taken out, and the people were to be altogether deprived of self-government and of the control of their own resources. The noble Lord would not carry, he was afraid, the opinions of the people of Canada with him. He knew how useless it was to offer any opposition to a proposition from the Government connected with the colonies whatever it might be; but he must enter his protest against the course pursued by the noble Lord, because it would leave the Canadas without those district and local courts to manage their affairs until the Assembly should have time to make some arrangement. He begged to enter his protest against the partial destruction of the little that was useful in the bill. He thought a general amnesty should be passed before the bill of the noble Lord was adopted by the House. He wished to ask the noble Lord whether the habeas corpus Act were still suspended in Canada, and whether those persons who were imprisoned had been set free?

Lord J. Russell believed, according to the last accounts, the suspension continued. The Governor-general, however, would not renew the bill for suspending the Act which would of course be restored. With regard to the individuals who had been imprisoned, he believed they had been discharged.

Sir C. Grey did not approve of the omission of the clauses relating to district councils,

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but he hoped, for the sake of unanimity, that the hon. Member for Kilkenny would not oppose the omission. He thought the effect of the bill would he to create a majority in the legislature with thoroughly British feelings, a matter much to be desired. He would support the third reading of the bill.

Sir R. Peel meant to vote for the passing of this bill. He approved of the amendment of the noble Lord, with respect to Civil List, but he was sorry that the noble Lord could not agree that the mercantile interest should be represented in the united assembly by a superintending body, a chamber of commerce, composed, quite irrespectively of differences in political and religious opinions, of commercial individuals. Such a body should have a duly adjusted weight in the assembly. It would be a decided improvement in the constitution of the assembly, because it would give a larger preponderance to those who were in favour of British interests. With regard to the district councils, he thought it would be advantageous to the public to establish, under certain regulations, local authorities, let them be called by what name they might, with well defined powers of taxation for local objects; but it would be proper to leave the constitution of those local authorities to the local legislature.

It would be more literally following out the principle of self-government if these councils were not appointed by the Imperial Legislature. A great experiment was to be tried, and he thought it would be better to wait for a time rather than to establish the councils simultaneously with the Legislative Assembly. He entirely concurred in the policy of omitting those clauses from the bill which had been repudiated by the noble Lord. It was somewhat strange, however, that the House should be about to pass that bill, without having been put in possession of the whole of the correspondence concerning Canada. It was only since he had come down to the House that he had seen the last of the series of documents printed under that title. He had given it as close a perusal as he could in that short space of time, and he could not help thinking that some of the papers might have been communicated to the House at an earlier period. For instance, there was a despatch of the noble Lord, dated the 28th of May, acknowledging the receipt of one from Mr. P. Thomson of the 4th of April, Transmitting, in order that it might be

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laid at the foot of the throne, a petition from the Roman Catholic clergy of Lower Canada, deprecating the union of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and praying for the re-establishment of the constitution of 1791. Nearly three weeks had elapsed since the receipt and reply to that despatch, and therefore there was no reason why the House, while called upon to assent to the third reading of this bill, should be kept in ignorance of communications of such importance. He did not see in the despatches, however, any reason whatever why he should withhold his assent to the bill. On the contrary, he found with some satisfaction that his views with regard to this bill were confirmed by them. From the inhabitants of the district of Gaspe the strongest remonstrance against the annexation of that district to the province of New Brunswick had been forwarded for presentation to the throne, in which they stated that they were

All strongly attached to the institutions and laws of Lower Canada, and would consider it as the greatest of misfortunes should the Imperial Parliament dismember the said district from the province of Lower Canada, in order to annex it to that of New Brunswick, the customs, manners, and laws of which essentially differ from those which prevail in the district of Gaspe.” He had before stated, and he now repeated, that he could not foresee any period when the union proposed by the bill could be more satisfactorily arranged than the present. Sir George Arthur, who appeared to be favourable to the bill, made the following observations in his concluding despatch:— There is a natural anxiety felt for the result of the Union and Clergy Reserve bills; but there is otherwise no particular excitement in the country, and the community, generally, seem more desirous of repose than of further agitation, and I do not know that a more auspicious moment could be expected to present itself for carrying the details of the union into practical effect, if that measure be decided upon by the Imperial Legislature. Upon these grounds he gave his assent without the slightest hesitation to the passing of this bill; and he could not conclude the part he had taken with respect to this discussion without expressing his most cordial prayer that the measure under the contemplation of the House might promote the interests of the inhabitants of those two provinces, which he believed to be as dear to the British Parliament as the interests

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of our own people at home; and that it might lay the foundation of a permanent, prosperous, and glorious connexion between the two Canadas and this country.

Sir T. Cochrane said, that having had much to do in the course of his professional career with colonial matters, he naturally felt a great interest in this question. No measure which had occupied the attention of the House for many years past could have been of such vital importance to this country and its dependencies: and if ever there was a great question with which party politics ought not to be mixed up, it was this one. Two important points were involved in this bill: one was its effect upon the internal economy of the colonies themselves, and the other its influence upon the interests of the empire at large. He thought that during the discussion of this question sufficient consideration had not been given to the extent of country with which they had to deal, and the consequent inconvenience and inefficiency of having a Government at a remote point, and of being left without local Governments equal to the wants of the inhabitants. It was impossible for a single legislature to attend to the civil necessities of so large a territory. He much feared that the passing of this bill would be a virtual declaration of the independence of the Canadas, and he believed that this was the last dictatorial act which the House could pass for those colonies. Daily experience proved that there was a large body of persons there who could not be depended on. Nova Scotia, which had always been considered a most loyal province, had petitioned for the removal of governor, and given other more unequivocal signs of discontent.

A great desire was expressed in all parts of the colonies for what were called “responsible governments.” Sir G. Arthur had described a large portion of the people in Upper Canada as being most disloyal, having the word “reform” on their lips, but “separation” cherished in their hearts. He should not dread separation were the colonies in a condition to maintain their own independence; but since they had not yet arrived to that maturity and strength, he must say that he looked forward with great dismay to that separation, which was urged on by a body of democrats there, before the people and the colony were in a state which could justify them in asserting their independence, and before they could indulge the slightest hope of deriving any advantage from such a proceeding. It had been said

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that the governors and authorities of Canada were in favour of this bill. But Sir J. Colborne, for one, had not given any opinion on the measure, and he had reason to believe that the gallant commander was opposed to it. He sincerely prayed that all his anticipations might be falsified, and he should be exceedingly delighted to find that, as the inhabitants of this country and the people of Canada had proceeded from one stock, so they would in all respects be fully and cordially united.

On the question that the bill do pass,

Mr. Hume said, that he objected to the omission of clauses which went to give local municipal councils. He thought such an omission exceedingly unwise, and that it must be attended with bad consequences. The bill once passed, he wished to know what authorities would exist to administer local affairs? If the noble Lord really intended to omit these clauses, he must record his vote against the bill. He therefore hoped that the noble Lord would state what he intended to do.

Lord J. Russell replied, that he should give his opinion upon this subject to the Canadian Government, and he thought, that that being done, the better course would be to leave the matter in the hands of the united Legislature.

Mr. Hume said, if he understood the noble Lord to intimate an intention of sending out the bill to Canada, accompanied by a recommendation to the effect that the councils which he referred to ought to be established, he (Mr. Hume) should not press his objection.

Bill passed.

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