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Lord Sydenham
Chapter IX  - A New Type of Governor


WE have now seen how numerous and conflicting were the cross-currents of interest and policy which divided the inhabitants of the Canadian provinces. We have seen also what was the general purpose of the home government as to the future administration of the colonies, and from a general survey of the situation we may in some measure realize what a difficult task the new governor had undertaken, and what special qualities of rapid perception, breadth of sympathy, sound judgment, and endless patience and tact would be required to accomplish a working basis for the Canadian government, not to mention an entirely consistent and smoothly operating political system.

It was not until the middle of September, 1839, that the news that Lord John Russell had taken up the colonial office, and that the Right Honourable Poulett Thomson had been appointed as governor-general of British North America, reached Canada. The announcement was received with much doubt even by the Reformers, and with dismay and anger by the English element in Lower Canada and the Compact party m Upper Canada. His free trade principles were particularly distasteful to the commercial element in Quebec and Montreal, who took their cue largely from their principals in London, most of whom were deeply interested in the Canadian timber trade, which was supported chiefly by heavy British bounties. They were also at that time pressing to have Canadian grain and other produce granted special privileges in the British markets. Further, the new governor's known sympathy with radical principles indicated that he was likely to favour in Canada the advocates of responsible government and other heresies. So alarmed were the British interests connected with Canada that, on learning of the selection made for the Canadian governorship, they petitioned against Mr. Poulett Thomson's appointment.

The Canadian newspapers, as a rule, judged him from the point of view of the matters in which they disagreed with him. In consequence, those of the most opposite parties were disposed to condemn him without a hearing. The French papers were opposed to him because he represented the union policy of the home government and a British future for Canada; those of the English section in Lower Canada were hostile because he was the enemy of the Canadian timber trade, and because he was supposed to favour responsible government; the Compact party in Upper Canada opposed him because of his union policy, his sympathy with responsible government, and his general radical tendencies. The Quebec Mercury, though voicing the alarm of the timber trade, expressed the hope 180 that when he saw the actual condition of trade from the Canadian point of view he would probably be more favourably disposed towards an industry which engaged British capital, labour and shipping. The Montreal Gazette, after expressing great regret at the departure of Sir John Colborne, declared that his successor belonged to a party which commanded little respect in Canada. However, as governor, he must receive a certain deference, and be given a fair chance, but it adds this solemn warning, "We promise him that, should he deviate from the stern integrity, the devoted loyalty, the unwearied zeal and strict impartial demeanour of his predecessor, he will have to sustain an opposing force which no authority can repel, no ingenuity avert, no talent subdue." Thus it would appear that there were others besides French-Canadian Nationalists and "Yankce-visaged Reformers" who could make it unpleasant for a British governor who did not happen to conform to their views. The Kingston Chronicle and Gazette, one of the more moderate of the organs of the Tory party in Upper Canada, thus refers to the new governor. "Perhaps the most important part of the news to the Canadian reader, is the appointment of the Right Honourable Charles Poulett Thomson as captain-general and governor-in-chief of these provinces. Mr. Thomson, besides being a Whig Radical, has for years been a known opponent to the Canada lumber trade; being himself deeply interested in the Baltic timber business. His appointment, under these circumstances, cannot be viewed with any-great complacency by the loyal port on of this community. He is, however, a man of experience and abilities as a merchant, and his proposed visit across the Atlantic may be the means of dispelling some of his former prejudices, as has been the case with all others under similar circumstances. His Excellency and suite are to come to Quebec in the Pique frigate."

The committee of the North American Colonial Association, a London organization which took a special interest in Canadian affairs, through their chairman, R. Ellice, sent an address to the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, expressing their regret at the reported retirement of Sir John Colborne from the Canadas, and stating their conviction that the separation of the civil and military authority would be very dangerous at that time. Finding that the Right Honourable Poulett Thomson is contemplated as his successor, while they have no criticism to make of Mr. Thomson personally, yet they deem it their duty to express "their deliberate conviction that his known opinions on subjects involving the interests of the colonies would necessarily deprive him of their confidence, without which it would be impossible for him to administer the government of the colonies with advantage or safety." In several other quarters more virulently loyal there were even more vigorous expressions of dissatisfaction with the new appointment.

It will be seen that the new governor was not awaited in Canada with the usual confidence by those elements who were wont to find the successive governors prepared by their previous associations to be entirely sympathetic with their views and vested interests, and therefore prepared to fall ready victims to their influence. It was evident that this new type of governor, a civilian, a practical statesman, and a Liberal, was to be severely tested from the day of his arrival.

Though the Reform organs in Canada had said little with reference to the new governor, being uncertain as to his policy, the attacks which he received m the organs of their opponents naturally inclined them to sympathize with him in advance. As time passed, further light came from over the Atlantic. The Montreal Courier published an extract from a letter received from an English gentleman interested in Canadian affairs, which had a somewhat reassuring effect.

"I have had an interview with the new governor, who appears anxious to get all the information he can respecting his new government. What I have seen of him promises very fair; he is in favour of the union of the two provinces, seems to think well of the bill introduced into parliament for that purpose; he thinks the colony ought to, and must, be made British, the better to secure its allegiance to Great Britain; he is anxious that no impressions should go abroad that he brings with him into the government any settled line of politics, or a wish to pursue any course that can be considered inconsistent with the best, or at variance with the British, interests of the country; and hopes to receive the assistance of the well-disposed, the better to attain this object. It s, no doubt, right to give to every man, more particularly to such a high officer as a governor, all due credit for his good intentions, but the surer criterion is to judge by his acts and not by his promises. Mr. Thomson's political creed heretofore, has not been in favour of the colonies, particularly *n regard to the timber duties; and being lately a member of the present administration may induce many to stand aloof from him, from an apprehension of his political principles. This, however, would be wrong, and injurious to the very cause we are all interested to promote; he ought, ia the outset at least, to receive the countenance and assistance of the valuable part of society, to keep bad advisers from him, if we hope to derive benefit from his administration. There is no doubt that Mr. Thomson's views, in accepting the government of Canada, are to acquire a name that may promote his own advancement; and nothing can do this so effectually as his success in effecting a proper system of government in that country. Mr. Thomson is a man of business habits —he was formerly a partner in a great commercial house in Russia, and by his talents was promoted to the Board of Trade; and I should hope he will not be backward in promoting the commercial interests of his new government. He leaves this in a few days, and intends to take up his residence at Montreal."

But by far the most interesting and important announcement of the policy of the British government and of the attitude and intentions of the new governor on the eve of his departure for Canada, was given in the Colonial Gazette of London, in its issue of September 18th. This appeared three days after the departure of Mr. Poulett Thomson from Liverpool, but, in virtue of the recently established steam service on the Atlantic, reached Canada and was reproduced in all the leading Canadian papers before the governor-general's arrival at Quebec. The claim of the paper that ts information was authoritative is completely borne out by the confidential correspondence between the governor and the minister. The interest and value of this article are due to the fact that it is a completely unreserved, even indeed, in parts, an overstated expression of the real attitude of both Russell and Thomson as to the main lines of the policy to be pursued with reference to Canada, a policy which we find was in the main duly earned out, subject only to the minor modifications required by a close study of local conditions undertaken by the governor-general during his residence in the country. It was obviously impossible, however, for either the minister or the governor to directly or personally express several of the views and features of policy attributed to them by the Colonial Gazette. The more important portion of the article is here given:—

"As soon as it was clear that the pelting of the pitiless storm on the head of poor Pow would not deter him from proceeding on his mission, we endeavoured to ascertain what line of policy he intended to pursue in Canada as a representative of the imperial government. Our inquires have been successful. We are now able to state the views and purposes with which Mr. Thomson himself has declared that he undertakes this perilous mission. We shall speak at least on his authority, he may change his mind, or may want firmness to carry into effect his own deliberate intentions; but that these were, before he left England, such as we shall now describe, we assert with perfect confidence. We shall state only that which we could prove, if neccssary, by legal evidence. If our representations are true, it is of the highest importance that they should be believed by the colonists.

"In the first place, then, according to our information, Mr. Thomson expects a very unfavourable reception in Lower Canada, on account of his known opinions with respect to the timber trade, but hopes to obtain the confidence of the British race in that province as soon as they learn his opinions on other Canadian subjects.

"Secondly, he has been convinced by Lord Durham's Report, despatches, and conversation, that French ascendency in Lower Canada is simply impossible, that any attempt to preserve the French-Canadian nationality would not merely fail but would be an act of wickedness, inasmuch as its only effects would be to prolong the agony of a nation which, as such, is doomed to extinction, and to exasperate those bitter national animosities which can never cease till the French shall, as such, be swamped by the legislative union. He is satisfied of the extreme impolicy and cruelty of the vacillating course pursued by successive governments at home, none of which has yet made up its mind on the French and English question in Lower Canada, all of which have hesitated between two opposite opinions, now favouring the French and then the English, but neither long, nor either decidedly; whereby both races have been subjected to innumerable evils, for which the only possible remedy is the establishment of a thoroughly English nationality, with complete equality for the French as British subjects. He abjures the principle of ascendency for the numerical majority as utterly impracticable in Lower Canada, because the French race, though the stronger in mere numbers, is the weaker in every other respect; but he upholds the principles of ascendency for the majority with regard to ail Canada, where the English predominate in numbers; and he is therefore resolved to promote by all the means in his power a complete union of the provinces. He rejects the notion, which some few passionate men entertain, of crushing the French by injustice and violence, but adopts without qualification or reserve the plan of swamping the French, once for all, by rendering them a minority in United Canada. In a word, he cordially embraces Lord Durham's opinions on the question which concerns Lower Canada.

"Thirdly, as respects the Upper Province, the new governor believes that the evils which afflict that colony have been occasioned by neglect and mismanagement on the part of the imperial government; that the only complete remedy for deep-rooted abuse is the union of Upper Canada with the Lower Province, whereby one powerful colony would become respectable in the eyes both of the authorities at home and of the neighbouring states; that the great majority of the inhabitants of Upper Canada are essentially loyal, and most desirous to maintain the connection with England; that the only traitors in the province are a very small minority, composed of some followers of Mackenzie —foolish and cowardly braggarts, who may be safely despised; and that the worst enemies of the colony are the Family Compact faction, which, therefore, it is most expedient to destroy, root and branch, without an hour's delay.

"Fourthly, with respect to the question of responsible government, Mr. Thomson is of opinion that no settlement of Canadian affairs can be satisfactory or permanent unless the new colonial government be founded on the principle of representation and also on the principle of admitting the natural consequence of representation—namely, the administration of local affairs in constant harmony with the opinions of the majority in the representative body. On this point also, notwithstanding Lord John Russell's declaration against responsible government, by that name, Mr. Thomson adopts the views of Lord Durham as put forth in the high commissioner's report. He conceives that representation is a mockery, and a very mischievous mockery too, if the executive is not made responsible to those in whom the people confide. By what special means he would secure this indispensable condition of peace and order under the representative system, we are not informed; but we have reason to conclude that he intends to be guided upon this point by the opinion of the leading men of the British race in both Canadas. He could not resort to any more competent advisers."

The fifth section of the article refers to the determination of the British government, through Russell and Thomson, to settle the future government of Canada during the following session, but to do this subject to maintaining British connection in accordance with the wishes of the most representative colonists themselves. The sixth section refers to the intention of the new governor to give the Upper Province an opportunity to pronounce on the future government of the colony by dissolving the present legislature. The seventh section refers to the necessity, while the governor is in Upper Canada, of leaving in Lower Canada some one who would adequately represent him there. " His choice, we understand, has fallen upon the present chief-justice of Quebec, Mr. .Limes Stuart; of whom it may be said, without at all disparaging others, that he is the ablest and most statesmanlike person in British North America. He enjoys, more than any other, the confidence of the English race in Lower Canada and more than any other Englishman the confidence of the French, notwithstanding their hatred of him as the leader of the English. As the champion of the English race, the great advocate of the union, the denouncer of official abuses, the first lawyer, one of the greatest proprietors, and the chief functionary of the province, appointed by Lord Durham amid the shouts of applause from the whole British population, Mr. Stuart is the fittest man in Canada to advise any governor-general." The article closes with a rather unflattering forecast as to the firmness of the new governor in carrying out this programme, "While, therefore, we repeat our full conviction that Mr. Thomson is gone to Canada with the opinions and objects which we have here enumerated, let it be distinctly understood that we have little hope of seeing them realized, except through the united and steadfast determination of the colonists to make use of him as an instrument for the accomplishment of their own ends." How far Mr. Thomson was to refute this last estimate, his short but crowded career m Canada was to prove.

The general formal instructions given to governor-general Thomson were dated September 7th, 1839, and were composed of those given to his predecessors, beginning with Lord Dalhousie in 1820, and including the additional instructions, so far as not repealed, issued to the succeeding governors down to Lord Durham and Sir John Colborne in 1838. At the same time he was given certain additional instructions in consequence of the Act passed in 1839 to amend and enlarge the scope of the Act for "making temporary provision for the government of Lower Canada," and which provided for the giving of a more representative character to the Special Council of Lower Canada, the membership of which was increased to twenty.

In the letter which accompanied these instructions and his commission as governor-general, his friend and late colleague Lord John Russell, now colonial secretary, stated that his special knowledge as a late member of the ministry rendered it unnecessary to go into details with him on the duties of his new office. However, it was necessary for future reference that he should record the intentions of the ministry on the chief points of Canadian policy, and on which Thomson would be required to co-operate with the minister. The draft bill for the reunion of the Canadas, which had been introduced into the House of Commons, embodied the results of a careful consideration of Lord Durham's Report. It had been delayed, however, in deference to Sir George Arthur's recommendations and the resolutions of the council and assembly of Upper Canada. It will be his duty, therefore, to ascertain the general desire of the province, though the home government is strongly convinced of the wisdom of the central features of that policy. These are, the legislative union of the provinces under terms which will regard the just claims of each province, the maintenance of the three estates, the settlement of a permanent civil list to ensure the independence of the judges and the freedom of the executive officers, and the establishment of a system of local or municipal government. He must, therefore, endeavour to get these principles accepted. In the general administration of the province, however, they will greatly rely upon his judgment and recommendations as based upon a direct study of conditions. If he finds a fair and reasonable spirit in the present assembly of Upper Canada, he may appeal to that; if not, he may dissolve it, and appeal to a new assembly. If union is found quite impracticable, he must present to the home government some practical alternative. He is urged to secure a settlement as quickly as possible, for delay will foster bitterness. He will evidently be called upon to explain what control the popular branch of the united legislature will have over the executive government, and the tenure of office by its chief officials. It is obviously impossible to give a categorical answer to that question. It must simply be recognized as a working principle that harmony is to be maintained between the legislative and executive branches, and that, therefore, the council must be made up of people who are able to command the confidence of the majority of the inhabitants of the province. The extravagant military plans of fortifications for the defence of the colonies, advocated in the correspondence of Sir John Colborne, are not favoured by the ministry, and will not be carried out, at present at least. As to military matters, however, he will have the advice of Sir Richard Jackson, the commander of the forces, to succeed Sir John Colborne. Lord Durham's Report has shown the unwise policy hitherto pursued in the alienation of the Crown Lands, which might have been used to promote immigration. It is difficult, however, to confiscate these extensive land grants, or to impose a heavy tax on them. This will be an important question to be discussed by the united legislature. With reference to Lower Canada in particular, the increased powers of the Special Council will enable him to do more for that province than any of his predecessors, and this is the more urgent on account of the past neglect of many highly necessary measures. Chief among these will be the introduction of municipal institutions, in order to provide for elementary local needs and the promotion of general education. In the accomplishment of his purposes he may exercise his power in Upper Canada to any requisite extent, even to superseding Sir George Arthur, though still availing himself of his experience. The remainder of the letter deals with details of financial matters and the fate of reserved bills, some of which will be discussed later.

Here then we have m outline the programme laid out for the new governor, who, in virtue of the confidence reposed in him by his late colleagues, and especially by his friend and immediate superior the colonial secretary, was to enjoy an unusual range of personal discretion, and this in turn would enable him to give a corresponding range to the executive government and the local legislature. Thus was made possible a tentative and experimental introduction of a real measure of responsible government, though among a people up to that time quite unacquainted with the practical working of such a system. A considerable educational process, under a competent instructor, was obviously necessary before the full weight of government could be laid upon any local organization.

Having given such an extensive range of potential power to the governor-general, it was necessary to instruct Sir George Arthur to accommodate himself, where necessary, to the exercise of these powers, and to lend his loyal assistance in carrying out the policy of the new governor-general. Accordingly, immediately after giving to Poulett Thomson the comprehensive survey of his duties, powers, and privileges, which has been outlined, the colonial secretary wrote to Sir George Arthur instructing him to put himself in personal communication with the governor-general as soon as possible after his arrival in Canada. He is informed that Poulett Thomson is thoroughly in touch with the views of the home government on the whole range of colonial policy, and is instructed as to the bills of the previous session which had been reserved. He is, therefore, to place his local knowledge and experience at his disposal, and to follow his directions.


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