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George Brown
Chapter VI - Brown's First Parliament


IN the autumn of 1851 parliament was dissolved, and in September Mr. Brown received a requisition from the Reformers of Kent to stand as their candidate, one of the signatures being that of Alexander Mackenzie, afterwards premier of Canada. In accepting the nomination he said that he anticipated that he would be attacked as an enemy of the Roman Catholic Church; that he cordially adhered to the principles of the Protestant reformation; that he objected to the Roman Catholic Church trenching on the civil rights of the community, but that he would be ashamed to advocate any principle or measure which would restrict the Liberty of any man, or deprive him on account of his faith of any right or advantage enjoyed by his fellow-subject. In his election address he advocated religious equality, the entire separation of Church and State, the secularization of the clergy reserves, the proceeds to go to national schools, which were thus to be made free. He advocated, also, the building of a railway from Quebec to Windsor and Sarnia, the improvement of the canals and waterways, reciprocity with the Maritime Provinces and the United States, a commission for the reform of law procedure, the extension of the franchise and the reform of representation. Representation by population afterwards came to be the watchword of those who demanded that Upper Canada should have a larger representation than Lower Canada; but as yet this question had not arisen definitely. The population of Upper Canada was nearly doubled between 1842 and 1851, but it did not appear until 1852 that it had passed the lower province in population.

The advocacy of free schools was an important part of the platform. During the month of January, 1852, the Globe contained frequent articles, reports of public meetings, and letters on the subject. It was contended by some of the opponents of free schools that the poor could obtain free education by pleading their poverty; but the Globe replied that education should not be a matter of charity, but should be regarded as a right, like the use of pavements. The matter was made an issue in the election of school trustees in several places, and in the Toronto election the advocates of free schools were successful.

It will be convenient to note here that Brown’s views on higher education corresponded with his views on public schools. In each case he opposed sectarian control, on the ground that it would dissipate the energies of the people, and divide among half a dozen sects the money which might maintain one efficient system. These views were fully set forth in a speech made on February 25th, 1853, upon a bill introduced by Mr. Hincks to amend the law relating to the University of Toronto. Brown denounced the measure as a surrender to the sectaries. There were two distinct ideas, he said, in regard to higher education in Upper Canada. One was that a university must be connected with a Church and under the management of the clergy, without whose control infidelity would prevail. The Reform party, led by Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Hincks, had denounced these views as the mere clap-trap of priestcraft. They held that there should be one great literary and scientific institution, to which all Canadians might resort on equal terms. This position was founded, not on contempt for religion, but on respect for religion, liberty, and conscience. “ To no one principle does the Liberal party owe so many triumphs as to that of nonsectarian university education.” Until 1843 Anglican control prevailed; then various unsuccessful efforts at compromise were made, and finally, in 1849, after twenty years of agitation, the desire of the Liberal party was fulfilled, and a noble institute of learning established. This act alone would hav e entitled Robert Baldwin to the lasting gratitude of his countrymen.

Continuing, Brown said that the Hincks bill was reactionary—that the original draft even contained a reference to the godless character of the institution—that the plan would fritter away the endowment by dividing it; among sects and among localities. He opposed the abolition of the faculties of law and medicine. Rightly directed, the study of law was ennobling, and jurists should receive an education which would give them broad and generous views of the principles of justice. The endowment of the university ought to be sufficient to attract eminent teachers, and to encourage students by scholarships. “We are laying the foundations of a great political and social system. Our vote today may deeply affect, for good or evil, the future of the country. I adjure the House to pause ere destroying an institution which may one day be among the chief glories of a great and wise people.”

Brown was elected by a good majority. The general result of the election was favourable to the Hincks-Morin administration. A large part of the interval between the election and the first session of the new parliament was spent by Mr. Hincks .n England, where he made some progress in the settlement of the clergy reserve question, and where he also made arrangements for the building of the Grand Trunk Rl lway from Montreal westward through Upper Canada. Negotiations for the building of the Intercolonial Railway, connecting Lower Canada with the Maritime Provinces, fell through, and the enterprise was delayed for some years.

It was a matter of some importance that the first parliament in which Mr. Brown took part was held in the city of Quebec. He had entered on a course which made Catholics and French-Canadians regard him as their enemy, and in Quebec French and Catholic influence was dominant. Brown felt keenly the hostility of his surroundings, and there are frequent references in his speeches and in the correspondence of the Globe to the unfriendly faces in the gallery of the chamber, and to the social power exercised by the Church. “Nothing,” says the Hon. James Young, “could exceed the courage and eloquence with which Brown stood up night after night, demanding justice for Upper Canada in the face of a hostile majority on the floor of the chamber and still more hostile auditors in the galleries above. So high, indeed, did public feeling run on some occasions that fears were entertained for his personal safety, and his friends occasionally insisted after late and exciting debates, lasting often till long after midnight, on accompanying him.”1 Mr. Young adds that these fears were not shared by Mr. Brown, and that they proved to be groundless. Mr. Brown, in fact, did not regard the Quebec influence as a personal grievance, but he argued that on public grounds the legislature ought not to meet in a city where freedom of speech might be impaired by local sentiment. That he harboured no malice was very finely shown when parliament met four years afterwards in Toronto. He had just concluded a powerful speech. The galleries were crowded, this time with a friendly audience, which at length broke into applause. Brown checked the demonstration. “I have addressed none,” he said, “ but members of this House, and trust that members from Lower Canada will not be overawed by any manifestation of feeling in this chamber. I shall be ready on all occasions to discourage it. In Lower Canada I stood almost alone in supporting my views, and I well know how painful these manifestations are to a stranger in a strange place. I do sincerely trust that gentlemen of French origin will feel as free to speak here as if they were ii> Quebec.”

Brown made his maiden speech during the debate oil the address. It is described in a contemporary account as “a terrible onslaught on the government.” An idea of violence conveyed in this and other comments would appear to have been derived from the extreme energy of Brown s gestures. The printed report of the speech does not give that impression. Though severe, it was in the main historical and argumentative. It contained a review of the political history of Canada from the time of the rupture between Metcalfe and his ministers, up to the time when the principle of responsible government was conceded. Brown argued that Reformers were bound to stand by that principle, and to accept all its obligations. In his judgment it was essential to the right working of responsible government that parties should declare their principles clearly and stand or fall by them. If they held one set of principles out of office and another set in office they would reduce responsible government to a farce. He acknowledged the services which Hincks and Mor n had rendered -n fighting for responsible government; but he charged them with betraying that principle by their own conduct in office. Two systems of government, he said, were being tested on this continent. The American system contained checks and balances. The British system could be carried on only by the observance of certain unwritten laws, and especially a strict good faith and adherence to principle. Brown, as a party man, adhered firmly to Burke’s definition of party: “A body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle on which they are all agreed.” Office-holding, with him. was a minor consideration. “There is no theory in the principle of responsible government more vital to its right working than that parties shall take their stand on the prominent questions of the day, and mount to office or resign it through the success or failure of principles to which they are attached. This is the great safeguard for the public against clap-trap professions.”


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