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Louis-Joseph Papineau
Chapter VI - Papineau Returns to Canada —At War with Lord Dalhousie


ON his return to Canada in November, 1823, Papineau wrote forthwith to Neilson, who had been compelled by important business matters to return before him. Neilson had no sooner arrived than he became the object of a shabby persecution on the part of Lord Dalhousie, and was deprived by him of the government patronage. "I am much grieved," Papineau writes to his friend, "to find on my return home, that our wretched Administration, instead of appreciating the services which a man of your high integrity would be in a position to render to them, if their policy were just, have undertaken to persecute you. The first adventurer who is willing to-day to flatter an incapable such as the Governor, a vain creature such as the Chief Justice [Sewell], a contemner of all the rules of courtesy such as Richardson [a legislative councillor who had insulted the French Canadians], and some others of like character, will be received into the favour of these men—as they received Henry and other such knaves—in preference to men of high character, ability and influence, who would refuse to approve of their odious acts of usurpation."

Such was the spirit in which Papineau once more rushed forward to the assault against the crying abuses he had already so often attacked, and which owed their prolonged existence to the fact that so many individuals found profit in maintaining them.

It looked as though the government were playing into Papineau's hands. He had, time and again, pointed out the danger of not exercising control over the public expenditure, of not providing for responsibility on the part of public officials. These representations had hardly been uttered again on his return, when Lord Dalhousie was compelled to inform the House that the receiver-general, Caldwell, whose extravagance was a public scandal, had appropriated to his own use £96,000 of the public monies. Taking this enormous defalcation as the basis of his attack, Papineau, in the House, assailed the governor in a speech which, as we are told by the historian Bibaud, recalled to one's mind by its violence the Philippics of Demosthenes and the fierce invectives of Cicero against Catiline.

Violence of language is not argument, but does not the government at this time seem to have been acting in open defiance of decent public opinion, in allowing this unfaithful official, guilty of embezzlement and liable to imprisonment, to remain at liberty? It was an insult to the people, who had been audaciously robbed; an outrage to public morality, and a pilfering which recalled the crimes of Bigot, with the difference that the latter had been called to account before the courts by Louis XV., notwithstanding that that king was not himself overburdened with scruples. Time and again had the assembly denounced the incredible negligence of the government, in failing to require from Caldwell the ordinary security for the. honest discharge of his duty. And yet, strange and incredible as it may appear, his successor was also appointed without being compelled to find sureties for the faithful administration of his office!

Naturally enough the conclusion of Papineau's address was an appeal to the House to refuse to grant supplies. Valli&res, who had come to terms with the governor, argued against Papineau's motion and succeeded in defeating him. A rivalry thus sprang up between the two men, and they will thenceforth be found acting at times in antagonism. The supply bill was nevertheless rejected by the legislative council on the ground that it reduced the vote for salaries to civil servants by twenty-five per cent. This was an additional fault to be scored against the Upper Chamber.

The eternal question of the finances held the first place during Dalhousie's term, in the councils of the French Canadians. Appeal after appeal was heard in London in relation thereto; but in every instance these were decided unfavourably to Papineau, whose temper must have been sharply tried by such a reply as this from the secretary of state for the colonies:—"The claims of the House of Assembly are unreasonable; it is the proper term to apply to them, for they are contrary to the law, and that body has violated a principle of constitutional law by refusing to appropriate any portion whatever of the large revenue it controls, unless the permanent revenue of the Crown be given up." This was going too far, and Downing street exaggerated the shortcomings of the House of Assembly. A written constitution is a very elastic instrument of government and in the hands of a man of ability may be made to adapt itself to the exigencies of the situation. At the period herein dealt with, Nova Scotia regulated her expenditure as she thought proper, without the intervention of the executive-Papineau writing to Sir James Mackintosh informs him that in an interview with Lord Dalhousie he said to the governor:—"When you were governor of Nova Scotia, you allowed the assembly to vote the supplies item by item, while you refuse to tolerate this procedure here." His Lordship said in reply: "I was about to alter that system when I was called to Quebec." This explanation of the governor's was a pitiful subterfuge which shows clearly that he was not actuated by principle but simply and solely by the wish to keep the reins of power in the grasp of the coterie who had so long profited by its abuse.

What the assembly sought to attain by securing control of the supplies was the removal of the abuses which prevailed from top to bottom in every department of the government, the cumulation of offices, the sinecures—such as the lieutenant-governorship of Gaspé the incumbent of which was out of the country, and the post of lieutenant-governor of Lower Canada.

In the executive council consisting of ten members, there sat seven members of the legislative council, the attorney-general and two clerks of the legislative council. The president of the executive council, Jonathan Sewell, also wore the ermine of the chief justice and president of the court of appeal. Beside this body strutted a swarm of sine-curists, including two lieutenant-governors whose faces had never been seen by those they were supposed to govern. Of the members of the executive council, but one was a native of the province of Lower Canada, the others hailed from the neighbouring provinces.

No responsibility attached to their acts in the colony, for their instructions came from the king. This permanent body was in point of fact the embodiment of authority, for it possessed the covert but absolute control of the finances. No sooner did a new governor arrive than he fell as a matter of course into the hands of the executive councillors, who so influenced and indoctrinated him as to make him an instrument in their hands. Full of prejudice against the French Canadians and puffed up with pride and self-conceit, they constantly treated with scorn and contempt men superior to themselves in intellect and often in birth.

The legislative councillors followed in the footsteps of the members of the executive in their deplorable work. Thus it is that we find that legislative body on one occasion in their anxiety to please the executive uttering with full solemnity the constitutional heresy embodied in the following resolution:

"Resolved that the Resolution of the Assembly in the words following:—4Resolvedthat this House 'will hold personally responsible His Majesty's Receiver-General and every other person or persons 'concerned, for all monies levied on His Majesty's 'subjects in this Province, which may legally come into 'his or their hands and be paid over by him or them 'under any authority whatsoever, unless such payments be or shall be authorized by an express provision of law,' is an attempt to raise their separate vote above the law by dictating to an officer who is constitutionally bound to act according to his instructions from the Executive Government and not from either of the two Houses of the Legislature."

It was for a moment hoped that an understanding had been arrived at on this vexed question. In 1825, Lord Dalhousie being in England, Sir Francis Burton, lieutenant-governor, laid before the House a budget prepared in accordance with its wishes. This was promptly voted amidst the applause of the whole country. "At last," people exclaimed, "here is the question which has caused so much discord and excited so much angry feeling, banished from the political arena."

This satisfaction was of short duration; our people had forgotten the hostility of the colonial office, and Lord Dalhousie, in the session of 1826, intimated that Sir Francis Burton had exceeded the limits of his power and that the House must recur to the system it had so often refused to accept. To withdraw a concession once made, even though made in error, is an act of bad policy, dangerous, and fraught with provocation. As a matter of fact it would have been extremely difficult to point out a single abuse consequent on the budget of 1825. The governor's course was a challenge and a defiance, and the House expressed its indignation by a fresh refusal to comply with his wishes as to the mode of voting the monies required for the ends of the government.

At the session of 1827 the national party entered the House stronger than ever; the general elections held in the previous July had added to the number of Papineau's followers. He stood forward as the avowed adversary of Lord Dalhousie, and the struggle between the two men assumed the character of a personal war. Hence, when the House elected Papineau speaker, the governor refused to confirm the election. The members refused to cancel the election, and the governor dissolved parliament in a speech filled with bitter reproaches addressed to the House of Assembly.

"I come to close this session of the Provincial parliament, convinced by the state of your proceedings, that nothing likely to promote the public interest can be now expected from your deliberations. Gentlemen of the legislative assembly, it is painful to me that I cannot speak my sentiments to you in terms of approbation and thanks. I have seen seven years pass away without any conclusive adjustment of the public accounts. I have seen the measures of the government directly applicable to the wants of the province thrown aside, the forms of parliament utterly disregarded; and in the session, a positive assumption of executive authority instead of that of legislative, which last is alone your share in the constitution of the state."

Papineau's spirit revolted against these reproaches which assumed, in his mind, the character of so many insults offered to his country in the person of her representatives. Stirred by his eloquent words the whole province was aroused, and an outburst of indignation answered his appeal. Resolutions condemning the governor were adopted and petitions addressed to the English government were signed. As in 1822, it was Papineau who directed the great national protest. The petitions set forth the grievances we have just described, but they dwelt more strongly on certain abuses. Thus, while complaining of the usurpation of authority by Lord Dalhousie in spending the public monies without the authorization of the House, the petitioners pointed out to His Majesty that more than one half of the revenue was absorbed in paying the 62 salaries of the officials, and that the expenditure under that head was increasing in face of a declining revenue. At that time, moreover, public instruction was cramped and paralysed, and money was needed in order to place the system on a proper footing. For thirty years the assembly had striven to secure the revenue derived from the estates of the Jesuits. "The properties confiscated from the Order had been granted to them by the kings of France for the purposes of education; let these estates be devoted to the purpose for which they were originally granted." Such were the reasonable demands of the petitioners. As a matter of course, the petitions are filled with violent attacks on the legislative council, "that body composed for the majority of men who are dependent for their own and their families' support on salaries attached to their positions, which they hold only at the governor's good pleasure."

John Neilson was again selected to bear the complaints of the French Canadians to London. They relied upon his experience and his moderation and upon the fact that he was a Scotsman, sharing the opinions of the French Canadians, and could not be suspected of race prejudice. M. Cuvillier and D. B. Viger accompanied him. Our delegates found their mission an arduous task and a cruel ordeal, struggling as they did against indifference, contempt, or ill-concealed hostility. By dint of persistent pleading, however, they succeeded in putting a committee of the House of Commons in possession of the facts of our case; and that committee after considering the grievances complained of, declared: "That the French Canadians must not in any way be disturbed in the exercise and enjoyment of their religion, their laws, and their privileges; that although the right to appropriate the revenue collected under the Act of 1774 belonged to the Crown, the committee were of opinion that the true interests of the provinces would be best promoted by placing the collection and expenditure of all public revenues under the control of the House of Assembly; that the majority of those composing the legislative council should not consist of persons holding office at the good pleasure of the government; and that as regards the judges, excepting the chief justice only, it would have been better that they should not have taken part in the affairs of the House."

The ministry did not press the adoption of this report in the House of Commons. It did not help our delegates much, except as eliciting a mild expression of opinion. It settled nothing and left matters in status quo. True the government put an end to Lord Dalhousie's administration, but the mere removal of the official head was of no avail, so long as the abuses continued to exist. It was not the governors that needed changing, but the spirit by which they were animated and which had its inspiration in London.


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