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George Brown
Chapter VIII - Reconstruction of Parties


IN June, 1854, the Hincks-Morin government was defeated in the legislature on a vote of censure for delay in dealing with the question of the clergy reserves. A combination of Tories and Radicals deprived Hincks of all but five of his Upper Canadian supporters. Parliament was immediately dissolved, and the ensuing election was a melee in which Hincks Reformers, Brown Reformers, Tories and Clear Grits were mingled in confusion. Brown was returned for Lambton, where he defeated the Hon. Malcolm Cameron, postmaster-general under Hincks. The Reform party was in a large majority in the new legislature, and if united could have controlled it with ease. But the internal quarrel was irreconcilable. Hincks was defeated by a combination of Tories and dissatisfied Reformers, and a general reconstruction of parties followed. Sir Allan MacNab, as leader of the Conservative opposition, formed an alliance with the French-Canadian members of the Hincks government and with some of its Upper Canadian supporters. Hincks retired, but gave his support to the new combination, “ being of opinion that the combination of parties by which the new government was supported presented the only solution of the difficulties caused by a coalition of parties holding no sentiments in common, a coalition which rarely takes place in England. I deemed it my duty to give my support to that government during the short period that I continued in public life.”

Whether the MacNab-Morin government was a true coalition or a Tory combination under that name was a question fiercely debated at that time. It certainly did not stand for the Toryism that had resisted responsible government, the secularization of the clergy reserves, and the participation of French-Canadians in the government of the country. It had at first some of the elements of a coalition, but it gradually came to represent Conservatism and the personal ascendency of John A. Macdonald. Robert Baldwin, from his retirement, gave his approval to the combination, and hence arose the “Baldwin Reformer,” blessed as a convert by one party, and cursed as a renegade by the other.

Reconstruction on one side was followed by reconstruction on the other. Upper Canadian Reformers rallied round Brown, and an alliance was formed with the Quebec Rouges. This was a natural alliance of radical Reformers in both provinces. Some light is thrown on it by an article published in the Globe in 1855. The writer said that in 1849, some young men of Montreal, fresh from the schools and filled to the brim with the Republican opinions which had spread from France throughout all Europe, formed associations and established newspapers advocating extreme political views. They declaimed in favour of liberty and against priestcraft and tyranny with all the ardour and freshness of youth. Their talents and the evident purity and sincerity of their motives made a strong impression on their countrymen, contrasting as they did with the selfishness and mediocrity of other French-Canadian leaders, and the result was that the Rouge party was growing in strength both in the House and in the country. With the growth of strength there had come a growing sense of responsibility, greater moderation and prudence. In the legislature, at least, the Rouges had not expressed a single sentiment on general politics to which a British constitutional Reformer might not assent. They were the true allies of the Upper Canadian Reformers, and in fact the only Liberals among the French-Canadians. They had Reform principles, they maintained a high standard of political morality. They stood for the advance of education and for liberty of speech. They were the hope of Canada, and their attitude gave promise that a brighter day was about to dawn on the political horizon.

It was unreasonable to expect that the Liberals could continue to receive that solid support from Lower Canada which they had received in the days of the Baldwin-Lafontaine alliance. In those days the issue was whether French-Canadians should be allowed to take part in the government of the country, or should be excluded as rebels. The Reformers championed their cause and received the solid support of the French-Canadian people. But when once the principle for which they contested was conceded, it was perceived that Lower Canada, like Upper Canada, had its Conservative element> and party lines were formed. Mr. Brown held that there could be no lasting alliance between Upper Canadian Reformers and Lower Canadian Conservatives, and especially with those Lower Canadians who defended the power and privileges of the Church. He was perfectly willing that electors holding these views should go to the Conservative party, which was their proper place. The Rouges could not bring to the Liberal party the numerical strength of the supporters of Lafontaine, but as they really held Liberal principles, the alliance was solidly based and was more likely to endure.

The leader of the Rouges was A. A, Dorion, a distinguished advocate, and a man of culture, refinement and eloquence. He was Brown's desk-mate, and while in physique and manner the two were strongly contrasted, they were drawn together by the chivalry and devotion to principle which characterized both, and they formed a strong friendship. “For four years," said Mr. Brown, in a public address, “I acted with him in the ranks of the Opposition, learned to value most highly the uprightness of his character, the liberality of his opinions, and the firmness of his convictions. On most questions of public general policy we heartily agreed, and regularly voted together; on the questions that divided all Upper Canadians and all Lower Canadians alone we differed, and on these we had held many earnest consultations from year to year with a view to their removal, without arriving at the conviction that when we had the opportunity we could find the mode.” Their habit was not to attempt to conceal these sectional differences, but to recognize them frankly with a view to finding the remedy. It was rarely that either presented a resolution to the House without asking the advice of the other. They knew each other’s views perfectly, and on many questions, especially of commerce and finance, they were in perfect accord.

By this process of evolution Liberals and Conservatives were restored to their proper and historic places, and the way was cleared for new issues. These issues arose out of the ill-advised attempt to join Upper and Lower Canada in a legislative union. A large part of the history of this period is the history of an attempt to escape the consequences of that blunder. This was the reason why every ministry had its double name—the Lafontaine-Baldwin, the Hincks-Morin, the Tach-Macdonald, the Brown-Dorion, the Macdonald-Sicotte. This was the reason why every ministry had its attorney-general east for Lower Canada and its attorney-general west for Upper Canada. In his speech on confederation Sir John Macdonald said that although the union was legislative in name, it was federal in fact—that in matters affecting Upper Canada alone, Upper Canadian members claimed and usually exercised, exclusive power, and so with Lower Canada. The consolidated statutes of Canada and the consolidated statutes of Upper Canada must be sought in separate volumes. The practice of legislating for one province alone was not confined to local or private matters. For instance, as the two communities had widely different ideas as to Sabbath observance, the stricter law was enacted for Upper Canada alone. Hence also arose the theory of the double majority—that a ministry must, for the support of its general policy, have a majority from each province.

But all these shifts and devices could not stay the agitation for a radical remedy. Some Reformers proposed to dissolve the union. Both believed that the difficulty would be solved by representation by population, concerning which a word of explanation is necessary. When the provinces were united in 1841, the population of Lower Canada exceeded that of Upper Canada in the proportion of three to two. “If,” said Lord Durham, “the population of Upper Canada is rightly estimated at four hundred thousand, the English inhabitants of Lower Canada at one hundred and fifty thousand, and the French at four hundred and fifty thousand, the union of the two provinces would not only give a clear English majority, but one which would be increased every year by the influence of English emigration, and I have little doubt that the French, when oncc placed by the legitimate course of events in a minority, would abandon their vain hopes of nationality.” But he added that he was averse to every plan that had been proposed for giving an equal number of members to the two provinces. The object could be attained without any violation of the principles of representation, such as would antagonize public opinion, and “ when emigration shall have increased the English population of the Upper Prov ince, the adoption of such a principle would operate to defeat the very purpose it is intended to serve. It appears to me that any such electoral arrangement, founded on the present provincial divisions, would tend to defeat the purpose of union and perpetuate the idea of disunion.”

Counsels less wise and just prevailed, and the united province was “gerrymandered” against Lord Durham’s protest. Lower Canada complained of the injustice, and with good reason. In the course of time Lord Durham’s prediction was fulfilled; by immigration the population of Upper Canada overtook and passed that of Lower Canada. The census of 1852 gave Upper Canada a population of nine hundred and fifty-two thousand, and Lower Canada a population of eight hundred and ninety thousand two hundred and sixty-one. Brown began to press for representation by population. He was met by two objections. It was argued on behalf of the French-Canadians that they had submitted to the injustice while they had the larger population, and, that the Upper Canadians ought to follow their example. Mr. Brown admitted the force of this argument, but he met it by showing that the Lower Canadians had been under-represented for eight years, and that by the time the new representation went into force, the Upper Canadians would have suffered injustice for about an equal term, so that a balance might be struck. A more formidable objection was raised by Mr. Hincks, who said that the union was in the nature Of a compact between two nations having widely different institutions ; that the basis of the compact was equal representation, and that Brown's proposition would destroy that basis. Cartier said that representation by population could not be had without repeal of the union. The French-Canadians were afraid that they would be swamped, and would be obliged to accept the laws and institutions of the majority.

It is impossible to deny the force of these objections. In 1841 Lower Canada had been compelled to join a union in which the voting power of Upper Canada was arbitrarily increased. If this was due to distrust, to fear of “French domination,” French-Canadians could not be blamed for showing an equal distrust of English domination, and for refusing to give up the barrier which, as they believed, protected their peculiar institutions. Ultimately the solution was found in the application of the federal system, giving unity in matters requiring common action, and freedom to differ in matters of local concern. Towards this solution events were tending, and the importance of Brown’s agitation for representation by population, which gained immense force in Upper Canada, lies in its relation to the larger plan of confederation.


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