UK, House of Commons, “Lower Canada—Government”, vol 48, cols 1195-1213 (4 July 1839)
By: UK (House of Commons)
Citation: UK, HC, “Lower Canada—Government“, vol 48 (1839), cols 1195-1213.
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Lord John Russell moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Lower Canada Government Bill.
Sir George Sinclair said, when her Majesty, on the 6th of February last, was pleased to express a wish that the state of her subjects in Upper Canada should form
the matter of prompt and early consideration, he little thought that a question thus earnestly pressed upon the attention of the House should have been allowed to cross and recross the ocean, and to have been three or four times brought forward and then withdrawn; so as at this period of the Session to have only now arrived at a second reading. He wished to take that opportunity of asking her Majesty’s Ministers if they thought they really were capable of acting as a government, and entitled, as such, to be intrusted with the conduct of the affairs of this great country? He asked that question, not only on account of his own distrust in their capacity and firmness, but because he believed they must be conscious that by their want of decision and firmness they had forfeited every thing like deference, cordiality, or respect, throughout Great Britain and throughout her colonies.
Considering also the small fluctuating majorities, varying from ten to two, which supported them in that House, and that they were all at sixes and sevens among themselves, that they were merely supported in another place where resistance by Conservatives was ineffectual, by a minority, a great portion of whom had been ennobled and promoted to that place by themselves—he did not think they were in any respect qualified to be intrusted with the guidance of public affairs. When, too, he considered the reckless infanticidal manner in which they deserted and abandoned so many of their youthful political measures, their own offspring, he must say that their organs of philoprogenitiveness must be extremely small; but when he looked, on the other hand, to the tenacious manner in which, in the face of all obstacles and degradations, they still stuck fondly to place, he was satisfied their bumps of adhesiveness must be supernaturally large. They had, however, of late made a great discovery. They had opened up a new theory, which, unlike the practice of opening up a country by railroads, had induced them to decide that to make any question on which they disagreed among themselves an “open question,” was the sure way of preventing its success. It was a pity they had not made that great discovery in the year 1834, because, in that case, his right hon. Friend might then have had recourse to the expedient of making the appropriation clause an open question as the best way of opposing it, and of securing its defeat.
The real reason which led her Majesty’s Government to adopt the principle of open questions was, that it enabled them to keep place with salary unabandoned and patronage undiminished. The concurrent testimony, not only of opponents, but even of their own supporters was, that their measures were inconsistent, evasive, ambiguous and unsatisfactory. Nobody could tell what measures which they supported to-day might not be abandoned in the next. When Lord Melbourne resumed office, after having resigned, from a confession that he no longer possessed the confidence of the House of Commons, he maintained that the noble Viscount ought to have instantly come forward with a statement of the general policy on which his Government was to be conducted for the future.
But no such explanation had been given. The only result had been that some young people had been permitted to retain their places about the court. But he wished to know what had since been done by the Government of the country, and how their position had been altered? He could not see any change since the noble Lord in that House, and Lord Melbourne in another place, confessed that they no longer possessed the confidence of the country. He saw no difference in their conduct before and since their resignation, but he saw a great and striking difference between her Majesty’s Ministers and his right hon. Friend. His right hon. Friend was supported by his party because they cordially approved of and concurred in the justice and wisdom of his measures. While of those who voted with the Government many condemned the measures which they still fostered by their votes. He, therefore, protested against the system which they were pursuing, and as regarded Canada, he thought they were only establishing an additional claim to the forfeiture of the confidence of the country.
Mr. Hume did not intend to enter into the merits of the question further than to express his deep regret that the Government had not expressed an intention immediately to re-establish the local government of Canada. It would have been most satisfactory to learn that the Government were prepared to follow out the recommendations of Lord Durham’s report. If such were the case, public confidence would be immediately restored. He knew from persons in the colony that such a course would be satisfactory, but
as the Government had determined upon leaving every thing unsettled, the people in the province were perfectly at a loss what they ought to do. He would impress upon the Government the expediency of acting on the report of Lord Durham, and of coming to a speedy determination. Emigration from the province was going on at a great rate, and every hour that they remained without a settled government only added to the evil. He would not make any remarks upon what he fully believed to have been the origin of all these evils, as that would only aggravate their extent. But he hoped that measures would be speedily taken to remove the cause by the re-establishment of a local government.
Mr. O’Connell would not detain the House, but begged to state, that he differed with the hon. Member for Kilkenny, and thought the House ought to pause and deliberate before they determined on their future proceedings. He rejoiced that her Majesty’s Government did not wish to pledge the House to an union of the two provinces, and considered it much better that that question had been left for further consideration. The materials for such an union were discordant, and it could not be accomplished without sacrificing the rights and interests of the people in one province or the other—and what was to the advantage of the public in the Upper, would act injuriously to those in the Lower.
He had seen, with deep regret, the recommendation for union, in the otherwise admirable report of Lord. Durham. It would annihilate the political power of the French Canadians. These French Canadians had been justly described in that report as persons highly benevolent, charitable, excellent, and possessed of the best moral qualifications— exemplary in the performance of their duties, and what was their return? To annihilate them as a separate race
Mr. Hume—He said, “Yes, yes!” If they deprived them of their proper share in the franchise, their acts would at least have that tendency, and would only increase the existing discontent. In fact, they would thus give to those persons a legitimate ground for discontent, as they had done before, and thus perpetuate the evils which they sought to remove. It would be infinitely better to return to an amendment of the old constitution, preserving to each state its separate constitution. But they ought to change the nature of
their Executive and Legislative Councils. In the Executive Council of Upper Canada there was not at present a single Canadian born, and in the Legislative Council of that province, four out of five were not born in Canada. How, then, could they expect peace and satisfaction in the colony, when the native population were excluded from power? Nothing but jobbing resulted from such a system, and everything was monopolised by the British-born residents. That was not the proper course to deal with the native population. They ought to act fairly—to deal leniently with them, and, above all, take measures to make the local legislatures depend upon the confidence and true affections of the people. Let them do that, and restore the local governments to each province, and they would have a fair prospect of achieving the pacification of those colonies.
The only way it could be done was by measures of conciliation—doubtful, perhaps, even in that way, but certainly not to be accomplished by annihilating their existence as a separate people. The French Canadians were eulogized by Lord Durham as possessing many estimable qualities. They were only accused of being defective in the possession of knowledge and means of education. That defect could be remedied by making the means of instruction more attainable, and aiding the diffusion of knowledge. In other respects, they did not suffer by a comparison with the British residents. He rejoiced in the meantime that Government had not persisted in their measures for pledging the House to the principle of union between the Upper and Lower provinces, as it would give time and opportunity for that deep reflection which the importance of the subject required.
Mr. C. Buller thought it exceedingly desirable that the session should not close and the news of its close go out to the Canadas, without the people of those colonies being informed at the same time what were the opinions of the British Parliament upon the subject of their future government. He would not enter into the merits of any particular plan on this occasion; but he must say, that it was most important that the House and her Majesty’s Government should tell the people of Canada what they were to expect. The adoption of any plan for the future government of the Canadas, however defective, would be less mischievous in its results to the people
of those colonies than the adoption of none, and the leaving them in doubt as to the future. He had recently received a newspaper from Toronto, now six weeks old, in which it was stated that the people were looking forward with the greatest anxiety for the arrival of new measures for the settlement of their public affairs by the Great Western steam-ship, which was then expected to arrive at New York in a short time. When it was considered that the lives and property of these people and all that they hold dear depended on what measure that House might adopt, what kind of feelings must it be supposed that they must have when they saw nothing but postponement after postponement, and just merely an edge or corner of a proposition let out to excite discussion, and doubt, and discontent?
How could it be expected that the people should be satisfied and content when they were kept in continued doubt, not only as to what her Majesty’s Government were doing, but as to whether they intended to do anything at all or not? He could assure the noble Lord that a general belief was growing up in the Canadas, that their interests were wholly neglected; and if the Government refused month after month, and session after session, to give a permanent character to the Government there, and to take means to establish order there, what other opinion could the people entertain? The union of the Canadas was a grave question—one that was so important that it seemed scarcely possible any government should propose it without being prepared to carry it into effect. He did not wholly disapprove of the course which the noble Lord had taken, under existing circumstances, but he thought it would have been better if the Government had at once adopted the report of Lord Durham, or declared that they would not adopt it. If they were not prepared to do anything with respect to the permanent government of Canada, they should have said nothing at all; that would have been a much wiser and a much safer course than that which had been pursued. He now wished to ask distinctly, and he thought the noble Lord should state as distinctly, what course the Government meant to adopt in future, in order that when Parliament met the next time they might be able to know whether the Government had secured the assent of the colonies to their propositions. It had been announced that certain propositions were to be sent out, and the probability was that next session the Government would have
conflicting opinions to deal with, and be in as much doubt as to what measures should be proposed as they were at present. He was perfectly convinced that the success of the noble Lord’s plans was in his own hands. If he chose to put forth a strong measure with a determination to carry it, he had no doubt that he would rally all parties in the colonies around him; because the chief cause of the dissatisfaction there, arose not from any particular error in legislation, not from any bad course which had been followed, but from the adoption of no course at all. The vaccillation, not of this Government particularly, but of the British Government for the last ten years, had brought the colonies to the situation they were now in.
If the colonies saw that the Government were fully bent upon a plan of union, the only question which would be agitated there then would be how the plan could best be carried out with perfect fairness to all parties, and he was certain that the assistance of all parties would be readily lent to the furtherance and completion of that plan. From the state of feeling in Nova Scotia and elsewhere, he believed that, so far from any difficulty being experienced in effecting a union of the provinces, it would be perfectly easy to accomplish that larger plan of union of all the British North American colonies, the only plan, according to his opinion, which would be productive of solid advantages to the colonies and the mother country. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had talked about a recommendation that the political annihilation of the French Canadians should be effected by some juggle in the franchise, and the hon. Member for Westminster cheered the observation of the hon. and learned Gentleman; but he wished to know from what part of Lord Durham’s report that idea had been taken. The report distinctly stated, that the only plan was to have an honest system of representation.
They might rely on the British people being in the majority —first, by having recourse to emigration, and in the second place, by that larger plan of union of all the colonies, which was so desirable. What could be better for the French Canadians than to be made in all respects British subjects, by the adoption of the language, laws, and institutions’, of British subjects? Those who had looked into the laws and institutions which the French Canadians had derived from the worst monarchical times of France, must be well aware, that instead of leading them on in civilization, they were calculated to leave
them degraded and enslaved. He conceived that the French Canadians ought to be treated as British subjects, and put in possession of all the immunities and rights of British subjects. They were at present the poorest class of the community; they had been gradually losing their property, which had passed into the hands of the British race, who were the rich merchants and great proprietors of the land, and the governing classes. And was it for the benefit of the country that the masses of the people should speak a language different from that of the governing body and the people of property? Or was it not rather the very course to reduce the people to slavery and thorough degradation? If we would make them civilised and free men, we must put them on an equality with the rest of the population, and we must have them speak the language and be partakers of those institutions which were the language and institutions of every free man in North America. If the noble Lord did not mean to adopt the plan of uniting the two provinces, if he meant to oppose that plan, let him say so at once, and let him do every thing in his power to convince the House that it was a plan which ought not to be adopted. But if the noble Lord wished to have the public voice in his favour, he must say that he was taking rather a strange course to secure it. In the first place he did not wish any discussion to go on in that House upon the question of the union of the provinces; and in the second place, all the information he gave in support of that request was, that objections existed in Upper Canada to that plan of union.
Her Majesty’s Government had been pleased to give the House information as to the mode in which the principles laid down in the report of Lord Durham were treated in the Canadas, they had laid on the table of the House the report of the committee of the Assembly of Upper Canada, impugning some parts of that report; and also some despatches of Sir G. Arthur complaining of other parts of it. Now, if the noble Lord was really anxious that the union should be carried, he thought he might have given the evidence in favour of it as well as that which was against it. He had put forth the report of the committee of the Assembly as decidedly expressive of the feelings of the people of Upper Canada; but he had not told the House that that report was carefully kept back till the very last day of the session, which was to have broken up on the Thursday preceding the Saturday to which it was kept open,
and on which day it did break up; and that then, when one third of the Members had gone home, the report was proposed and carried, at the same time that the Clergy Reserves Bill was carried by one vote. As to the objections existing in the Canadas against the plan of union, he knew that two candidates had carried the only two elections which had since taken place by standing on the principles propounded by the report of Lord Durham. The committee had sent over a report, but they had afforded no assistance to legislation; they had done nothing but criticise Lord Durham’s report and a speech which he (Mr. Buller) made at the beginning of the session, and cast aspersions on his (Mr. Buller’s) character, as being of the same principles as Papineau and M’Kenzie. However, he did not complain of the singular manner in which his speech had been treated, but he must say, that before the noble Lord had laid on the table of the House the despatches of Sir G. Arthur, he should have looked into Lord Durham’s report to see whether there was anything in it to justify the querulous complaints of Sir G. Arthur. Her Majesty’s Government ought to have made inquiry into the truth of Sir G. Arthur’s charges, He had no hesitation in saying that the assertions on which Sir G. Arthur had built his complaints were untrue, not that he charged Sir G. Arthur with stating anything which he knew to be untrue, but that he had not taken sufficient caution, and that he should not have put forth those statements without being first well assured of their accuracy.
With respect, for instance, to the execution of those two unfortunate men whose case was made a subject of comment, all that the report of Lord Durham did was simply to mention the fact. Sir G. Arthur asserted that Lord Durham had overstated the number of signatures to the petition in their favour at 30,000, and affirmed that it was only 5,000, and in order to show how perfectly accurate he was, he gave a list of the signatures. But a gentleman from Upper Canada had called on him that very day, and stated, as a fact within his personal knowledge, that to one petition which he himself had presented to Sir G. Arthur, and which Sir G. Arthur had wholly omitted from his catalogue of petitions, more signatures were attached than Sir G. Arthur had acknowledged as the total appended to all the petitions. In conclusion, he must say, that the course pursued by her Majesty’s Government was exceedingly unsatisfactory to
all parties in Canada, but particularly to the loyal party, who were beginning to think that they had thrown away all their exertions in the support of a Government which seemed to care little or nothing about them.
Mr. Leader was aware that this discussion was somewhat irregular, as the order of the day was for the second reading of the Canada Government Bill, and the House had got into a discussion upon the union of the provinces, a measure which had been entirely abandoned by the Government. He was afraid the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard was rather too Utopian in his ideas respecting the advantages to be derived from Lord Durham’s report. If a good local government could be permanently established, it would be well, and it was a very desirable object. But the favourite plan of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard was the union of Upper and Lower Canada; and he must say, that he entirely disagreed both from the report and the hon. and learned Member, upon the propriety of such a union.
In the first place, a vast majority of the population of Lower Canada were decidedly opposed to that union, and a very great proportion of the people of Upper Canada was also opposed to it; indeed, he was not sure that a majority of the population of the two provinces did not oppose the union. In the next place, if the plan of union were effected, the French Canadians would be completely crushed. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, they must adopt the language, laws, and religion, too, he supposed, of the governing few. Why, that was precisely the case of Ireland, and the cause of the complaints which were heard from Ireland. It might be right, perhaps, according to the view of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the few English Protestants of Lower Canada should give laws to the many French Roman Catholics there; but then, upon that principle, all that the British Legislature had been doing in favour of the Irish Roman Catholics was wrong. It would be absurd to argue, that the Roman Catholics of Ireland, forming the majority there, should be in possession of rights as British subjects, and that the Roman Catholics of Canada, also forming the majority, should be denied those rights only because they were in Canada, and not in Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman thought, perhaps, that he would be conferring
a benefit on the French Canadians by making them speak the same tongue, and conforming to the same laws, as the English; and perhaps he might, but unless they could be convinced that it was a benefit, it would be the grossest tyranny, to make them English in language, laws, and religion, against their own feelings and wishes. The hon. and learned Member for Liskeard seemed to think that there was nothing offensive to the French Canadians in Lord Durham’s report; that there was nothing which could lead one to imagine that they would be sacrificed in any of the electoral arrangements that were contemplated. Why, one of the chapters of that report was headed, “Acknowledged Inferiority of the French Canadians.”
It was only recently that a gentleman was arguing with him that the beavers were the first possessors of North America: they were driven out by the Indians, who had too much intelligence and skill for them. The Indians were supplanted by the French, and now came the Anglo Saxons, and the French Canadians, being the weaker, must submit; it was a law of nature. That might be very true; but it would be a disgrace to that House, if by any act of legislation they gave additional power to help the strong to crush the weak. He trusted, that in any future discussion on the question of the union, the French Canadians would have the powerful advocacy of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin against that proposal, and against any plan which, by uniting the two provinces, would sweep their language and their religion from that part of the world. The bill now before the House was truly a bill to enlarge the powers given under the coercive measure passed last session to an already despotic authority. To the present bill he objected, both in principle and detail; he, however, knew he should have little or no support in opposing its progress, and, protesting against it, he would not take up the time of the House by a more formal protest in the shape of a division. As to the details, he trusted hon. Members on both sides of the House would give ample attention, and would not allow any of the clauses to be passed in committee without careful consideration of the results which might follow the powers granted by them. The hon. and learned Member for Liskeard had said, he should like to know what the Government meant to do with respect to Canada during the recess, Why, of
course, they would do nothing with it. They were glad now to get rid of the question, and shuffle it off until the next session. The hon. and learned Member stated, that the people of Canada had been impressed with the belief that the Government had been long employed about legislative measures for that country—that they were labouring with assiduity to establish there a good system of government; but, at the very time the innocent population of Canada were thinking this, there was an intrigue going on in the Government to put out one colonial minister, and to bring in another; and if any good had ever been intended, the result of the present session showed that they had not paid the least attention to the interest of that colony.
He could not but complain of the manner in which he had been treated by the Government: he had presented two petitions, one from M. Lafontaine, and he had been told by the Government, that, as the whole question would be discussed, the proper time to bring forward the complaints contained in those petitions would be when that discussion took place. No such opportunity had, however, been afforded him — the Government were afraid of meeting the question, and here the end of the Session had arrived without the matter being introduced. He thought that the people of this country and of Canada had a right to complain of the manner in which the affairs of Canada had been dealt with in the present session—he would not say dealt with, but neglected: the bill now before the House, instead of effecting good, would only exasperate the people of Canada, and tend to continue that unhappy state of things, which, after ruining commerce, and preventing all emigration would, if continued for another year, reduce Canada from being one of the most flourishing provinces of North America, to the very verge of ruin.
Sir R. Peel said, that nothing could be more unwise or impolitic than now to attempt to persuade the House to decide upon the question of the union of the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. It was clear, with various opinions on the different sides of the House, it was impossible to get the assent of the House in the present session to the second reading of the bill for that object; at the same time that the House had not been called upon to pronounce an opinion upon the bill, and though he knew it roust have
been rejected on the second reading, yet it would be difficult to remove from the minds of the people of Canada the impression that such was a final decision on the principle of that question. He was therefore not sorry that Parliament had been spared the necessity of rejecting the second reading of that bill. He hoped, however, that the first step of her Majesty’s Government would be to make an earnest, and he trusted a successful, exhortation to the Government of the United States lo put an end to the system of horrible border warfare. He could not believe that any of the plans devised by the Legislature could succeed, unless there was a cordial union between the two great Governments of the British provinces, and of the United States, to put an end to that system which was laying the foundation of hostilities, which would otherwise not be limited to the border. He trusted that elements of discord would not be permitted to ripen. The question, however, still remained, what in the mean time was to be done with the Canadas? He held it to be a most difficult problem to solve—he courted a settlement of the question; but he did not discover any prospect—he did not see any vista—he could not find any preparations made to decide the question as to the mode of government in Canada; for the House was not now in a better condition to decide that question than it was five years since.
The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, who had been in that country, shook his head; but he had read all the reports to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had been a party—he had read all the other reports on the matter, and he confessed he could not find in the documentary information any elements of a settlement. However, he was convinced, that as the Government had now abandoned all legislation at present, it would be necessary that their very first act next session should be, to decide upon the principle on which the Canadas were to be governed; for though nothing could be more plausible than to propose the union of the two provinces, yet unless Parliament was enabled to know the terms of the union, the feelings of the people, both of Upper and Lower Canada, upon those terms, and the prospect of a representative Government, under the Union, giving satisfaction to the population, and affording a guarantee for the enjoyment of liberty by the people, it would be impossible to
decide the question. He should be sorry to provoke a discussion on the question of the union of the provinces, and he would content himself with saying, that he hoped the Imperial Parliament would not allow a week to pass after meeting next Session, without determining what should be the position of those two countries. With respect to the present bill, he should offer no opposition to the second reading. Of some portions of the bill he approved; he approved, for instance, of the formation of an effective council, to consist while the present form of Government continued, of not less than twenty persons. He approved of the clause which established a check on despotic power, and provided that there should be in the council a number of persons connected with and interested in the colony, who were to advise the Governor. With regard to the other clauses, he should suspend his judgment, and reserve to himself the right to take any course with respect to them, which he might think fit.
By the bill of last year, the Governor in Council was empowered to make ordinances, which, however, were not to endure beyond the year 1842, but the second clause in the present bill enabled the Governor in Council to make ordinances to endure beyond the year 1842. This provision appeared to give therefore, a more permanent and settled form of government, and in this respect the bill gave an unlimited authority, provided her Majesty approved of the ordinances. He had not heard stated what was the reason for this clause. He knew that future Governments might repeal those laws, but still the provision was very different from giving the Governor in council a temporary jurisdiction. Probably, some explanation had been given which he (Sir R. Peel) had not heard. He did not wish to provoke any explanation now, but he trusted, in committee, the provision would be fully explained. As to the other parts of the bill, he reserved himself until the bill got into committee.
Lord J. Russell said, that seeing the wish of the House not to enter into any discussion on the present stage of the bill, he should not do so. The consideration of the clauses must require the attention of the House when the bill came into committee, and he should then be ready to discuss any clause which the right hon. Gentleman might think objectionable, either in principle or in manner of detail. The hon. and learned Member for Liskeard
(Mr. C. Buller) had, in the course of his observations, implied that the Government had been anxious to avoid discussion on the subject of the union, but the right hon. baronet opposite answered him by saying, it would be unwise and impolitic at present to seek for an expression of opinion by the House upon the principle of that union, either on a resolution, or the second reading of the bill, and therefore a discussion which could tend to no good had been avoided. The hon. and learned member had also remarked upon the comments of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada on the report of Lord Durham. He wished it had not been necessary to have introduced these comments to Parliament, and he owned when he saw those comments he was induced to regret that the Government had not any power to prevent Lord Durham’s report leading to such angry recrimination.
He would only now explain generally his views as to the necessity of an alteration in the bill of last year. His opinion was decidedly in favour of an union, but he thought during the interval which must elapse before its establishment, it was wise and politic to take every means for the improvement of Lower Canada, for encouraging persons of enterprise to lay out their funds in the extension of roads, canals, and other improvements necessary, in order to establish any new population which might result from emigration. The bill of last year opposed obstacles to these objects, and it was necessary to remove those obstacles. This he thought the present bill would effect. He would not now enter into further discussion, but would be ready to meet any objections when the House went into a committee on the bill.
Mr. Ellice said, he must say one word in relation to what had just fallen from the noble Lord. For the last two years the province of Lower Canada had been in a state of the most distressing inactivity, all commerce was at an end, emigrants could not establish themselves there with any hope of employment in any public work. So many were suspended, though parties were willing to enter into speculations for the establishment of railroads between Upper and Lower Canada, and though others were willing to contract with the Government to continue the great canals opened by Upper Canada, so as to connect that navigation with the ocean. Every one of these works were necessary to give employment to the population in a
country, whose wounds were still bleeding, and where it was expedient to distract men’s minds from the horrible scenes in which they had been engaged. He therefore hoped before the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) made up his mind on any of the provisions of this bill, he would take into his consideration the deplorable state to which that country would be reduced if the Imperial Parliament did not afford some legislative means for promoting industry and carrying on the great works already begun. He rejoiced, therefore, that the present bill gave further powers in this respect to the Council, and he concurred with the right hon. Baronet in thinking the proposed addition to the members of the Council a great improvement, and one by which the House was enabled safely to intrust that body with the extended powers.
He remembered last year it was thought that sufficient powers were then given to the former council to continue taxation. He made an appeal to the House on that subject, and the right hon. Baronet stated that the restrictions under which the people were placed would be an additional inducement for them to come to that good understanding which might lead to the restoration of their Legislative Assembly. He wished that result had happened—he deplored as deeply as any man the necessity to recur to an absolute form of government; but while that necessity continued, it was hard that the colony should be deprived of the means of internal improvement. He agreed with his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell), and with the right hon. Baronet opposite, that it was easy to adopt some principle of settlement, but difficult when the details of that settlement came to be examined. He thought, however, the principle of union was that on which the settlement must be founded. In favour of that opinion he had the high authority of Sir William Grant, the late Master of the Rolls, who was connected with Canada. He had also the authority of Sir Wilmot Horton, who had introduced the Union Bill in the year 1822. At that period he and others connected with Canada had interviews with Lord Bathurst on the subject, and it was then supposed that the only remedy for the evils of the colony was to unite the two provinces. If they had been united at that time, he was persuaded that none of those consequences which the country had now to deplore would have occurred, and he was also satisfied
it would have brought the people of both provinces together by a bond of common interest, by which existing feelings of resentment would have been avoided. In the present state of things the union must be brought about by gradual means. It was his opinion that the Imperial Parliament having failed formerly to establish the union, the best course would have been to have made a Congress or Central Legislature from the two provinces (leaving them still their local assemblies), to determine whether or not there should be an union. At present he agreed with the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) that the Imperial Parliament ought not too long delay the settlement of this important question.
It must be settled by general assent, for if it was made a party question he could tell the House it would be a waste of time to deliberate upon it, for if it did not go to Canada with the appearance on the part of Parliament of a firm determination to make it their last effort for the pacification and settlement of the Country, no bill that could be passed, either for the formation of an union or for the establishment of any other form of government, would have any chance of success. He therefore thought it would be better, after such a bill had been read a second time, to send it up stairs to a committee selected from both sides of the House, by whom it might be amply discussed; that it should again pass through a Committee of the whole House, and thus it would have a better chance of obtaining the general assent of the House, and with that general assent it would have a better chance of settling the disputes and differences of the unhappy country to which it was directed.
Sir Charles Grey felt it right that he should repeat on this occasion the opinion to which he had already given expression in that House, that in conceding to the Governor-general of Lower Canada the power of local taxation during the temporary suspension of the ordinary functions of the Legislative Assembly, for the purpose of constructing canals, railways, and other public works, her Majesty’s Ministers should most carefully and anxiously inquire into all the circumstances of the case before they brought such a proposition forward. He besought them to remember that the people of Lower Canada had never before been subjected to local taxation, and were impressed with a notion that it was the intention of the
English Government to introduce it amongst them. He besought the House to inquire whether they accurately understood the nature of the landed and other tenures on which this taxation must fall. He besought of her Majesty’s Government to consider what might be the effect of introducing this local taxation amongst the inhabitants of those districts through which these canals or railways would pass, for the subject was unquestionably one of extreme importance with regard to both countries.
Mr. Labouchere could assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, that it was only after the most mature deliberation that Ministers had introduced the principle of giving the power of local taxation to the Governor-general. They had not introduced that principle into the bill of last year, and it was only after their experience of an actual stagnation having taken place in the industry of the Canadian community in consequence of the absence of this very power, that they had thought of introducing it. They were quite agreed that this was a power which should only be used with the greatest caution and discretion. But it should be remembered that at the present moment neither a road-bill nor a ferry-bill could be passed in Canada.
Not one of those matters in which taxation was necessary for carrying on the common operations of society could now be conducted in Canada. The inconveniences which must arise from such a state of things in any country were so considerable that no Government would do its duty if they allowed it to continue from year to year without providing a remedy. With regard to an observation which had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesex upon the subject of a petition reflecting on the conduct of Sir J. Colborne and the troops in Canada, he could assure that hon. Member that the Government had no disposition whatever to shrink from the discussion of that subject. Upon the receipt of the petition in question, Government had referred to Sir J. Colborne for an explanation. The answer had but just arrived, and he must say, that nothing more completely satisfactory, as related to the conduct both of Sir J. Colborne and of the British troops, could possibly have been communicated to the Government. If the hon. Member felt any desire to have those despatches submitted to the House, and to have a
discussion taken upon them, he felt it due to Sir J. Colborne to say that they would by no means shrink from such discussion. He would not enter into the question of Canada now, and the clauses of the bill could best be considered in committee. He would observe, however, that although he had listened with attention to what had fallen upon this subject from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, both now and on former occasions, the right hon. Gentleman had not convinced him that it would not have been very material towards the settlement of this question, had they taken previously, upon the second reading of the Canada Bill, a discussion upon the essential principle of that measure—namely, the principle of uniting the provinces, establishing municipal corporations in them, and in all respects providing for an equitable arrangement between Upper and Lower Canada.
Had that bill gone out to the Canadas with the sanction of the British House of Commons, he believed that great progress would have been made towards the settlement of this question. From all that he had witnessed of the feeling of the people themselves, he believed that a great majority of them were prepared to assent to the principle of union. He had communicated with many persons connected with both the Canadas, and he was sincerely of opinion that this measure would be received there as a groundwork for the settlement of the great question at issue.
Sir R. Peel did not shrink from the responsibility which the right hon. Gentleman had imposed on him with regard to preventing the House from coming to a decision upon the second reading of the Canada Bill. On the contrary, he should rather say he rejoiced that the House did not come to a precipitate decision; Despatches had been received since that period from the Governor-general, which would have rendered such decision both immature and unwise.
Bill read a second time.
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