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George Brown
Chapter X - The “Double Shuffle”


BY his advocacy of representation by population, by his opposition to separate schools, and his championship of Upper Canadian rights, Mr. Brown gained a remarkable hold upon the people. In the general elections of 1857 he was elected for the city of Toronto, in company with Mr. Robinson, a Conservative. The election of a Liberal in Toronto is a rare event, and there is no doubt that Mr. Brown’s violent conflict with the Roman Catholic Church contributed to his victory, if it was not the main cause thereof. His party also made large gains through Upper Canada, and had a large majority in that part of the province, so that the majority for the Macdonald government was drawn entirely from Lower Canada. Gross election frauds occurred in Russell county, where names were copied into the poll-books from old a rectories of towns in the state of New York, and in Quebec city, where such names as Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Judas Iscariot and George Washington appeared on the lists. The Reformers attacked these elections in parliament without success, but in 1859 the sitting member for Russell and several others were tried for conspiracy, convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. That the government felt itself to be much weakened throughout the country is evident from Mr. John A. Macdonald’s unsuccessful effort to add another to his list of political combinations by detaching Mr. John Sandfield Macdonald from the Reform party, offering seats in the cabinet to him and another Reformer. The personal attack on Mr. Brown in the session of 1858 has already been mentioned. The chief political event of the session was the “ Double Shuffle.” On July 28th, 1858, Mr. Brown succeeded in placing the ministry in a minority on the question of the seat of government. Unable to decide between the conflicting claims of Toronto,. Quebec, Montreal and Kingston, the government referred the ques4ion to the queen, who decided in favour of Ottawa. Brown had opposed the reference to the queen, holding that the question should be settled in Canada. He also believed that the seat of government should not be fixed until representation by population was granted, and all matters in dispute between Upper and Lower Canada arranged. He now moved against Ottawa and carried his motion. During the same sitting the government was sustained on a motion to adjourn, which by understanding was regarded as a test of confidence. A few hours later the ministers met and decided that, although they had been sustained by a majority of the House, “it behoved them as the queen’s servants to resent the slight which had been offered Her Majesty by the action of the assembly in calling in question Her Majesty’s choice of the capital.” The governor-general, Sir Edmund Walker Head, sent for Mr. Brown as the leader of the Opposition, to form a government. It was contended by Liberals that he ought not to have taken this step unless he intended to give Mr. Brown and his colleagues his full confidence arid support. If lie believed that the defeat of the government was a mere accident, and that on general grounds it commanded a working majority in the legislature, he ought not to have accepted the resignation, unless he intended to sanction a fresh appeal to the country.

The invitation to form an administration was received by Mr. Brown on Thursday, July 28th. He at once waited on the governor-general and obtained permission to consult his friends. He called a meeting of the Upper Canadian members of his party in both Houses, and obtained from them promises of cordial support. With Dorion he had an important interview. Dorion agreed that the principle of representation by population was sound, but said that the French-Canadian people feared the consequences of Upper Canadian preponderance, feared that the peculiar institutions of French Canada would be swept away. To assure them, representation by population must be accompanied by constitutional checks and safeguards. Brown and Dorion parted in the belief that this could be arranged. They believed also that they could agree upon an educational policy in which religious instruction could be given without the evils of separation.

Though Mr. Brown’s power did not lie in the manipulation of combinations of men, he succeeded on this occasion in enlisting the services of colleagues of high character and capacity, including besides Dorion, Oliver Mowat, John Sandfield Macdonald, Luther Holton and L. T. Drummond. On Saturday morning Mr. Brown waited upon the governor-general, and informed him that having consulted his friends and obtained the aid of Mr. Dorion, he was prepared to undertake the task of forming an administration. During the day the formation of the ministry was completed. “At nine o’clock on Sunday night,” to give the story in Mr. Brown’s words, “learning that Mr. Dorion was ill, I went to see him at his apartments at the Rossin House, and while with him the governor-general’s secretary entered and handed me a despatch. No sooner did I see the outside of the document than I understood it all. I felt at once that the whole corruptionist camp had been in commotion at the prospect of the whole of the public departments being subjected to the investigations of a second public accounts’ committee, and comprehended at once that the transmission of such a despatch could have but the one intention of raising an obstacle in the way of the new cabinet taking office, and I was not mistaken.”

The despatch declared that the governor-general gave no pledge, express or implied, with reference to dissolution. When advice was tendered on the subject he would act as he deemed best. It then laid down, with much detail, the terms on which he would consent to prorogation. Bills for the registration of voters and for the prohibition of fraudulent assignments and gifts by leaders should be enacted, and certain supplies obtained.

Mr. Brown criticized both these declarations. It was not necessary for the governor-general to say that he gave no pledge in regard to dissolution. To demand such a pledge would have been utterly unconstitutional. The governor was quite light in saying that he would deal with the proposal when it was made by his advisers. But while he needlessly and gratuitously declared that he would not pledge himself beforehand as to dissolution, he took exactly the opposite course as to prorogation, specifying almost minutely the terms on which he would consent to that step. Brown contended that the governor had no right to lay down conditions, or to settle beforehand the measures that must be enacted during the .session. This was an attempt to dictate, not only to the ministry, but to the legislature. Mr. Brown and his colleagues believed that the governor was acting in collusion with the ministers who had resigned, that the intriguers were taken by surprise when Brown showed himself able to form a ministry, and that the Sunday communication was a second thought, a hurriedly devised plan to bar the way of the new ministers to office.

On Monday morn ng before conferring with his colleagues, Brown wrote to the governor-general, stating that his ministry had been formed, and submitting that “ until they have assumed the functions of constitutional advisers of the Crown, he and his proposed colleagues 'will not be in a position to discuss the important measures and questions of public policy referred to in his memorandum.” Brown then met his colleagues, who unanimously approved of his answer to the governor’s memorandum, and agreed also that it was intended as a bar to their acceptance of office. They decided not to ask for a pledge as to dissolution, nor to make or accept conditions of any kind. “ We were willing to risk our being turned out of office within twenty-four hours, but we were not willing to place ourselves constitutionally in a false position. We distinctly contemplated all that Sir Edmund Head could do and that he has done, and we concluded that it was our duty to accept office, and throw on the governor-general the responsibility of denying us the support we were entitled to, and which he had extended so abundantly to our predecessor.”

When parliament assembled on Monday, a vote of want of confluence was carried against the new government in both Houses. The newly appointed ministers had, of course, resigned their seats in parliament in order that they might offer themselves for re-election. It is true the majority was too great to be accounted for by the absence of the ministers. But the result was affected by the lack, not only of the votes of the ministers, but of their voices. In the absence of ministerial explanation, confusion and misunderstanding prevailed. The fact that Brown had been able to find common ground with Catholic and French-Canadian members had occasioned surprise and anxiety. On the one side it was feared that Brown had surrendered to the French-Canadians, and on the other that the French-Canadians had surrendered to Brown.

The conference between Brown and Dorion shows that the government was formed for the same purpose as the Brown-Macdonald coalition of 18G4 —the settlement of difficulties that prevented the light working of the union. The official declaration of its policy contains these words: “His Excellency’s present advisers have entered the government with the fixed determination to propose constitutional measures for the establishment of that harmony between Upper and Lower Canada which is essential to the prosperity of the province.”

Dissolution was asked on the ground that the new government intended to propose important constitutional changes, and that the parliament did not represent the country, many of its members owing their seats to gross fraud and corruption. Thirty-two seats were claimed from sitting members on these grounds. The cases of the Quebec and Russell election have already been mentioned. The member elected for Lotbiniere was expelled for violent interference with the freedom of election. Brown and his colleagues contended that these practices had prevailed to such an extent that the legislature could not be said to represent the country. Head’s reply was that the frauds were likely to be repeated if a new election were held; that they really afforded a reason for postponing the election, at least until more stringent laws were enacted. The dissolution was refused; the Brown-Dorion government resigned, and the old ministers were restored to office.

On the resignation of the Brown-Dorion ministry the governor called upon A. T. Galt, who had given an independent support to the Macdonald-Cartier government. During the session of 1858 he had placed before the House resolutions favouring the federal union of Canada, the Maritime Provinces and the North-West Territory, and it is possible that his advocacy of this policy had something to do with the offer of the premiership. As yet, however, he was not prominent enough, nor could he command a support large enough, to warrant his acceptance of the office, and he declined. Then followed the “Double Shuffle.”

The Macdonald-Cartier government resumed office under the name of the Cartier-Macdonald government, with Galt taking the place of Cayley, and some minor changes. Constitutional usage required that all the ministers should have returned to their constituents for re-election. A means of evading this requirement was found. The statute governing the case provided that when any minister should resign his office and within one month afterwards accept another office in the ministry, he should not thereby vacate his seat. With the object of obviating the necessity for a new election, Cartier, Macdonald, and their colleagues, in order to bring themselves within the letter of the law, although not within its spirit, exchanged offices, each taking a different one from that which he had resigned eight days before. Shortly before midnight of the sixth of August, they solemnly swore to discharge the duties of offices which several of them had no intention of holding: and a few minutes afterwards the second shuffle took place, and Cartier and Macdonald having been inspector-general and postmaster-general for this brief space, became again attorney-general east and attorney-general west.

The belief of the Reformers that the governor-general was guilty of partiality and of intrigue with the Conservative ministers is set forth as part of the history of the time. There is evidence of partiality, but no evidence of ’ntrigue. The biographer of Sir John Macdonald denies the charge of intrigue, but says that Macdonald and the governor were intimate personal friends. Dent, who also scouts the charge of intrigue, says that the governor was prejudiced against Brown, regarding him as a mere obstructionist.2 The governor-general seems to have been influenced by these personal feelings, making everything as difficult as possible for Brown, and as easy as possible for Macdonald, even to the point of acquiescing in the evasion of the law known as the “Double Shuffle.”

In the debate on confederation, Senator Ferrier said that a political warfare had been waged in Canada for many years, of a nature calculated to destroy all moral and political principles, both in the legislature and out of it. The “Double. Shuffle ” is so typical of this dreary and ignoble warfare and it played so large a part in the political history of the time, that it has been necessary to describe it at some length But for these considerations, the episode would have deserved scant notice. The headship of one of the ephemeral ministries that preceded confederation could add little to the reputation of Mr. Brown. His powers were not shown at their best in office, and the surroundings of office were not congenial to him. His strength lay in addressing the people directly, through his paper or on the platform, and in the hour of defeat or disappointment he turned to the people for consolation. “During these contests,” he said some years afterwards, “it was this which sustained the gallant band of Reformers who so long struggled for popular rights: that, abused as we might be, we had this consolation, that we could not go anywhere among our fellow-countrymen from one end of the country to the other—in Tory constituencies as well as in Reform constituencies—without the certainty of receiving from the honest, intelligent yeomanry of the country- -from the true, right-hearted, right-thinking people of Upper Canada, who came out to meet us—the hearty grasp of the hand and the hearty greeting that amply rewarded the labour we had expended in their behalf. That is the highest reward I have hoped for in public life, and I am sure that no man who earns that reward will ever in Upper Canada have better occasion to speak of the gratitude of the people.’’


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