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Lord Sydenham
Chapter XIV - An Analysis and a Forecast


NO sooner had the union measure safely passed the legislature of Upper Canada, than, with customary energy, Governor Thomson resumed the task of making himself familiar with the working of the various executive departments and their relations to the legislative branch of the government. He had already set on foot a series of inquiries, and had required a number of comprehensive returns to be prepared for his information. The results of these inquiries were far from encouraging. On December 15th, 1830, in a long confidential despatch to Lord John Russell he gives the general results of his investigation, accompanied by the usual direct and penetrating comments, the whole throwing a flood of light upon the condition of affairs which had prevailed up to that time. There is also an admirable forecast of the only possible lines for remedial measures in the future.

It <s stated at the outset that the administration of the affairs of the province is in a very unsatisfactory condition, and yet it is impossible to speak too favourably of the province itself and of its resources. He summarizes its many excellent features, but points out that the extremely distracted political condition of the country has arrested progress and threatens it with retrogression and even bankruptcy. The Province is overwhelmed by debt which il has no means of supporting; public works are at a stand; emigration to the States is going on and a deterioration in the value of every man's property causes discontent and dissatisfaction." For this the abortive rebellion is only very partially responsible, and moreover there is not the slightest doubt of the essential loyalty of the great body of the people, though charges of disloyalty are, for political reasons, directed against those who advocate an extension of popular rights. There is, on the other hand, great dissatisfaction with the majority of the officers of the executive government, and this is by no means confined to the popular party, but is manifested by many of those who support the prerogative of the Crown. His own investigations have shown that there are permanent causes for party bitterness, and "just grounds for dissatisfaction 011 the part of the people with the management of their affairs. These are, the total want of system and power in the conduct of government and the defective State and departmental administration." tie proposes to take these up in detail, but first he has certain observations to make on the "general system of government.'

"Wherever the constitution has vested in representative Bodies the privilege of making Laws, it becomes the duty of the Executive Govt, to initiate and perfect the Measures necessary for the good of the Country, and above all to endeavour to give to the action of those Bodies the direction which will make their labours most efficient. This duty, one of the most important that can devolve on a Government, has hitherto been entirely neglected in Canada.

"In either House in England, upon the introduction of any considerable Measure or upon the demand on the part of the public for any extensive Change in the Laws, the Natural question is, what Course does the Government propose to pursue, and it is universally admitted, whoever may be in power, and by the opponents no less than the supporters, that a great and important measure can be properly undertaken only by the Govt, itself, or at all events the opinion of the Govt, must be clearly and decidedly stated. But here the opposite Course has been pursued. In the Legislature the Local Government has not only abstained from taking the initiative in measures of Legislation, but it appears to have studiously repudiated those Legitimate means of influence without which it could scarce be carried on.

"Thus, notwithstanding the presence in the Assembly of many Official persons, the conduct of measures recommended by the Crown or on which the Govt, entertained a very decided opinion has been generally left to individual members, no person being authorized or instructed to explain to the House the views of the Government. Nay more, it has happened that on important questions respecting which the local Executive could not properly be indifferent, public Officers have been found taking the most prominent part on opposite sides, apparently without any reference to the opinions or wishes of the Govt. Thus the Govt, became chargeable either with indifference to the proceedings of the Legislature and the welfare of the province, or with weakness in not controlling its own Officers.

"In either case the effect on the public mind has been very injurious and the result that much defective Legislation, altho complained of, has been uncorrected, while the Executive Govt, has in a great measure lost its legitimate influence over the action of the Legislature upon matters which have been under their deliberation.

"The evils resulting from this defective organization of Govt, are exemplified in the most striking manner in the present financial state of this Province. The Country has plunged headlong into debt w ithout the slightest effort on the part of the Govt, to warn the Assembly of the improper and unwise course it was following. Nay, the very control over the expenditure when voted and even the examination of the Accounts have been removed from the Executive, and suffered without a protest to devolve on the popular branch of the Legislature—the very worst body for the performance of such a duty. Yet while such has been the practice I have every reason for believing that in no place would the enunciation of the opinions of the Govt, produce more effect or be attended with more weight than in these Colonies. The Natural influence enjoyed by the Govt, is great.

"I find that in the House of Assembly many of the members are placeholders of one description or another and there is among the independent and middle party in the Colony, so far as I can judge, a strong desire to be made acquainted with the views and opinions of Govt, upon the different measures submitted to the Legislature."

Thus does Lord Sydenham put his finger upon the very essence of responsible government in practice, and yet not one i» a thousand of those who were incessantly wrangling over the subject in Canada gave evidence of having any true conception of what it really involved or how it must be put in practice.

Another subject on which the governor reports much dissatisfaction, accompanied by more or less drastic demands for alteration if not for reform, was the composition and working of the legislative council. " The members usually selected for this Council have been either Officers of Govt, or Gentlemen resident within or near the Capital." The appointment of people from a distance has commonly proved a merely7 honorary distinction. The work of the council has been carried on by five or six individuals resident in Toronto or servants of the Crown, "a mere clique in the Capital." The government, however, has had no vital constitutional connection with them. They have been "frequently opposed both to the Govt, and the Assembly and considered by the people hostile to their interests.'' Yet it is this body "in defence of which all the authority and power of the Imperial Parliament has been invoked." If the government had amended the composition of the council so as to bring it into some harmony with the assembly, he considers that the greater number of the complaints regarding it would not have arisen, and there would not have been any serious demand for an elective council. A movement in this direction had been made by Sir George Arthur, who had introduced twelve new members of council, selected from different parts of the country and regarded as having most weight and influence in their respective sections. The result has been very beneficial, many of these gentlemen attended the council this session; the debates have assumed a true parliamentary character, and the deliberations of the council have aroused interest and commanded respect. It is along this line of policy that hope for the future of the council lies.

The system hitherto pursued with reference to the executive council has been equally faulty. This body undertakes many duties which might perhaps be better discharged through the different departments of the government. At present, however, he is treating only of the executive functions of the council. It had been the practice of late to place responsibility for the acts and decisions of the whole government upon the executive council, thus relieving the governor from personal responsibility. At the same time the council is, as a rule, a stationary body, in no way selected as holding opinions in harmony with the majority in the assembly. Their opinions, indeed, are often known to be opposed to those of the people. These characteristics of the council have afforded one of the chief occasions for the cry for responsible government. It has been one of the regular assumptions of the home government that the governor himself, and not the executive council, must be responsible for his administrative acts. It may sometimes appear convenient for the governor to shelter himself behind the executive council, but it is poor policy. Moreover, the executive council should be brought into constant and essential harmony not so much with the governor as with the assembly, for the executive council must have the confidence of the people.

"With regard to the Administrative Depts. of the Govt., Your Lordship can scarcely imagine anything more ill digested than the system on which they have hitherto been conducted." Sir George Arthur, himself a man of experience in practical business, had made great efforts to introduce a better system, but much still remained to be done and the case was urgent. That the reorganization must be undertaken by the governor, and could hot be shifted to any other authority, appeared obvious to Lord Sydenham. In the first place, there was as yet no responsible body upon whom the duty could be laid, and in any case the governor considered it his duty. The principal and more responsible duty of the Administration must of course under any system fall on the Governor assisted by his Secretary. It is proper and necessary that it should be so, since were it otherwise the Governor could not exercise that control over the administration of affairs which, is the indispensable condition of his responsibility. But the manner ui which this principle has been carried into practice is open to very serious objection." He then points out that in the early days of the province the governor and his secretary' personally attended to all the departments of the administration, including the smallest details. This system had certain advantages which made for unity, efficiency, and economy. However, the stage for such a system had long passed, and yet the system itself had not been altered. The subordinate officers of government were still supposed to be directed by the governor in person, yet they were very much left to themselves, had become irresponsible, and had lost energy and efficiency. The result has been, as brought out in the investigations which are in progress, that even in the financial department, where accuracy is most essential, there is great irregularity in the system and the checks provided for security have for years fallen into disuse. What losses may have resulted is not yet determined.

In the light of the very defective system of government winch prevails in the provinces the discontent of the people is no matter for astonishment. Under proper remedies a better state of public feeling should im time be secured. This, however, raises the question of future administration, and therefore of responsible government. Referring to Lord Russell's despatch of October 14th, in which lie defines the attitude of the government on the subject, Poulett Thomson says that he thoroughly agrees with the principles there laid down. Rut he has found, in Upper Canada at least, that the views of the leading advocates of responsible government are not properly represented in England. He has found them on the whole to be fairly reasonable. There is no very accurate conception, however, of what is meant by the term responsible government; the general reference seems to be to the form of responsibility advocated by Lord Durham in his Report, but even there it is not defined. While it is quite evident that there can be no formal subordination of the governor to the council, he considers that both Lord John Russell and himself accept the spirit of Lord Durham's Report on the subject, and he thus continues:

"It has been my anxious desire to meet and discuss with the principal advocates of this demand their views and opinions. I have stated clearly to all with whom I have conversed the views so well expressed m Your Lordship's Despatch. 1 have declared that to attempt to make a council responsible to any one but the governor for advice tendered to him, is incompatible with Colonial Government, and can never receive the sanction either of H. M. Govt, or Parliament. At the same time, however, that this pretension must necessarily be resisted, I have stated no less forcibly that it was the earnest wish not merely of II. M. present Government, but must no less be the interest of every British Minister to govern the Colony in accordance with the wishes and feelings of the People; and that whilst the Governor could not shift any portion of his own responsibility upon the Council, it would of course be his best policy to select as members of that body, whose duty it would be to tender him advice for his consideration, men whose principles and feelings were in accordance with the Majority, and that it must equally be his policy upon all merely local matters where no Imperial Interest would be concerned to administer the affairs of the Colony in accordance with the washes of the Legislature.

"To these opinions 1 have found a ready assent and I have received from all the warmest advocates for the watchword of responsible Govt, the assurance that if these principles and those contained in Your Lordship's despatch respecting the tenure of Office in the Colony are carried practically into effect the object they seek would be entirely answered. And certainly as far as present appearances go, I am bound to believe them sincere; for since these declarations, and above all since the appearance of that Despatch which has given the greatest possible satisfaction, the excitement on the subject has altogether ceased. In spite, therefore, of the anticipated dangers ensuing from this, of the great excitement which prevailed, and of the disheartening appearance winch the province presents at the present moment, I hope I am not too sanguine in believing that a better state of things may be arrived at. 15y the Union of the Provinces the important changes which are indispensable will be greatly facilitated. A good departmental organization may be effected, a more vigorous and efficient system of Govt, may be established, which, conducted m harmony with the wishes of the People, will at the same time be enabled to give a direction to the popular branch of the Legislature and also check the encroachments upon the powers and functions of the Executive, which have been carried so far and have produced so much mischief. Power will pass out of the hands of any small party whose possession, or supposed possession, of it has produced so much irritation, and the people will be satisfied that whilst there is a steady determination on the part of the Home Govt, to resist unconstitutional demands, there is no desire either that the affairs of the Province should be mismanaged for the supposed benefit of a few, or that a minority opposed to them in feeling and principle should govern it »n opposition both to themselves and to the Home Govt."

This confidential report at once fully analyzes the evils under which the Upper Province in particular was labouring, and clearly expresses the line of policy which the governor intended to follow. It shows also that he had the same rational and practical conception of responsible government as that laid down by his friend the colonial secretary. In his reply to this communication Lord John Russell stated that he had read it with the greatest interest, entirely approved of the interpretation of responsible government given in it and of the policy which he proposed to follow, and congratulated him in the warmest terms on the efficient manner in which he had begun his administration and the remarkable progress which he had already made.

As already explained, the very great personal influence exercised by Poulett Thomson as governor has been largely transferred to the prime ministers of the present day and their cabinets, and even in part to the leader of the Opposition. Rut it was just the vigorous exercise of the governor s influence in 1810-11, in bringing the Canadian administration out of the exclusive but unorganized power of an irresponsible oligarchy and into harmony with the wishes of the people, as expressed by the majority of their representatives in the assembly, which permitted subsequent governors to leave more and more of the details and responsibilities of office to a departmentalized system of cabinet government. It was this system which Poulett Thomson himself inaugurated, and in doing so of necessity performed the functions of the first prime minister in Canada. I he policy outlined in the foregoing important despatch expressed what is still the constitutional theory of the Canadian government, and it is this combination of theory and practice which permits of the maintenance without friction of the double relation of colonial self-government and imperial connection. At the same time, the changes here outlined had yet to be made, and the new system proposed had yet to be constructed and introduced. There was certain to be resentment and recrimination on the part of those who supported or profited by the anomalies and abuses so fully exposed.

One of the most radical difficulties which stood in the way of the introduction of the first elements of responsible government was encountered by the governor-general in the first session of the legislature. Responsible government is of course unworkable where the ministers of the Crown are divided on government measures, and yet, as we have seen, when the question of the union was before the assembly both the attorney-general and the solicitor-general sided with the minority against the government measure, the attorney-general openly condemning the policy of the union. There having been as yet in Canada nothing corresponding to a united ministry, no necessity was felt that the chief officers of the Crown should follow a united and consistent policy on public measures. The conduct of the law-officers excited no surprise, not even among the advocates of responsible government. On the contrary, when it was seen that some of the officers of the Crown, as for instance Hon. R. R. Sullivan president of the council, had changed their views on the Union Rill, they were severely criticized for being influenced by the governor-general. Referring to this anomalous condition of Canadian politics, the governor in another confidential letter says of the action of the law-officers, " This is a proceeding subversive of all the principles upon which government can alone be administered under a representative system, however it may have been permitted in the colony before, and I should not for one instant have tolerated it under any common circumstances or lies' stated to relieve these officers from their official connection with the administration .... but the peculiar position in which the treatment of this question last session had placed parties induced me to allow what I should have otherwise considered quite inadmissible." Owing also to the nature of the subject before the assembly, the governor did not wish to appear as coercing the opinions of any one, even the officers of the Crown. Lord John Russell quite approved of the governor's attitude on this subject, and it was very evident that there would soon be a new order of things in the Canadian system. Hereafter the leading officers of the Crown must form a united ministry under the leadership at first of the governor himself. Should any of the members of the executive council not agree with measures supported by the governor and a majority of the council they would be expected to resign their positions in the government, and the enforcing of this was made possible by Lord John Russell's despatch on the tenure of office.

Naturally enough this new line of policy created consternation among the official heads of the Compact party. At the same time their mouths were temporarily stopped by their constant assertion that they were responsible not to a majority of the assembly but to the governor as representing the Crown. During the whole of the discussion on responsible government they had looked only to the reform element in the assembly as the one attacking party, and had uniformly employed the authority of the Crown as their defence. Now, to their dismay, the first practical movement towards responsible government emanated from their very citadel of refuge; they were at one stroke deprived of their customary weapons of defence and attack. It was equally obvious, however, that the leaders of reform m the assembly and in the country, while generally supporting the position of the governor, were frequently nonplussed by his unlooked for moves; for they, too, found responsible government being introduced along unexpected lines. For the most part, the Reformers appear to have expected that the responsibility of the officers of the Crown to the assembly would mean simply a change m the personnel of these officers, but without any other radical change in the system of government. They had not apparently considered it essential to responsible government that the members of the executive council should agree among themselves, or that they should come under anything like cabinet discipline. In fact the hue along which responsible government could alone be effectively introduced was largely unforeseen by either element in Canada.

In the meantime, notwithstanding the passing of the resolutions in favour of the union of the provinces, the discussion of the details of the measure continued with unabated vigour. The Compact party had not relaxed its opposition to the measure and still hoped, with some show of reason, to defeat it in the imperial parliament, if not in the Commons yet at least in the Lords. John Reverley Robinson, chief-justice of the province, had gone over to England, ostensibly for the benefit of his health, yet incidentally he prepared an exhaustive pamphlet in opposition to the union and the general policy of the Durham Report. Through the assistance of Conservative friends, he gained the ear of the Duke of Wellington, and persuaded him that should the union take place a combination of the French-Canadians and the Upper Canadian Reformers, or rebels, would undoubtedly gam the ascendency and the colony would be lost. The Duke took fire at this, and with his customary determination vowed to secure the defeat of the measure. Peel, on the other hand, his co-leader of the party, knew very well that the Duke was being misled, and refused to countenance opposition to the only practicable measure for a solution of the Canadian problem. The result was that the Canadian question caused for a time an estrangement between the chiefs of the Conservative party in Britain, much to the chagrin of their followers. Wheri, however, the bill finally came up in the Lords, the Duke of Wellington, though personally opposing it, did not exert his influence to have it thrown out, as was doubtless within his power.

Immediately after the passing of the union resolutions ih the legislative council, the chief opponents of the measure, Elmsley, Strachan, Allan, Crookshank, Maeaulay, Vankoughnet, McDonnell and Willson, recorded their dissent. This turned on the points that the terms of the union resolutions did not sufficiently insure British connection, that they recognized a certain equality between rebels and loyal British subjects, did not insure a property and educational qualification for members of the legislature, permitted the continuation of feudalism and the official use of the French language, did not insure that the seat of government should be in Upper Canada, and, finally, that the details of the measure were to be left to the wisdom and justice of the imperial government, when the present imperial government in their opinion possessed neither attribute. In consequence of the renewed agitation, the matter was again brought up in the assembly, where a number of resolutions were passed and an accompanying address sent to the governor. These related chiefly to the foregoing points brought forward by the minority in the legislative council. They also urged that a vigorous immigration from Britain should be promoted in order that the country might be made British in fact as well as .n name, and that there should be a municipal system in Lower Canada similar to that in Upper Canada to provide for local works by local taxation.

In forwarding these resolutions to the home government His Excellency stated that most of them had been put forward at the time of passing the first resolution, but had been rejected. Even now they are to be treated mainly as suggestions. He himself is not prepared to go so far as they desire, especially in the matter of the English language and the qualifications for members.

It was quite evident that the governor, though determined to maintain Canada on the basis of a British colony, was, in the eyes of the British element of both provinces, much too partial to the French-Canadians. The Montreal Courier frankly regarded the impartiality of the governor as one of his objectionable qualities, as rendering him too favourable to the French-Canadians. The Compact element in Upper Canada would not concede his impartiality, claiming that he distinctly favoured French-Canadians and rebels. Vet notwithstanding all the enmity which he incurred to preserve to the French-Canadians their rights as British subjects, he was regarded by those who had the ear of the majority of them as an enemy of their race, chiefly because the equality which he would secure to them was that of British subjects.

The Lower Canadian point of view, hostile to the governor's policy, was represented in a series of resolutions passed at a special meeting in Quebec on January 17th, 184«0. It was declared that no adequate steps had been taken to ascertain the feelings of the inhabitants of Lower Canada on the subject of the union, the resolutions of the Special Council were repudiated as not representative of Lower Canada, while the representatives of Upper Canada bad been consulted through their legislature. Under the Constitutional Act, following the Quebec Act, the province had been divided so as to give each section its own laws and institutions. If now reunited those radical differences in laws and institutions would be destroyed. Anticipating references to the obviously intolerable conditions of the province of late years, they naively expressed the assurance that if allowed to retain their provincial independence the people of Lower Canada would in future avoid all previous errors, would promote harmony between the different sections of the government, would not withhold supplies, would make arrangements to give fair representation to the English element in all parts of the province, and would agree to the raising of revenue to improve ship navigation from the sea to the Great Lakes. They had, however, no similar faith in the English element of Upper Canada, who, under the union, would tax the great majority of the people for the benefit of a mere section of the province, while the debt of Upper Canada, contracted for the improvement of that province, would be imposed upon the inhabitants of Lower Canada. They therefore maintained that the Constitutional Act should remain in force until the people of Lower Canada voluntarily agreed to change it. It was resolved that petitions to the queen and both Houses of Parliament founded on these resolutions should be prepared. These remonstrances were signed by forty-eight persons, representing many of the leading French magistrates, professional and business men of the city of Quebec, and also by a few English sympathizers, such as John Neilson editor of the Quebec Gazette and T. C. Aylwin, who were bitterly opposed to the union.

As a counterblast to this movement, a meeting, promoted by the British and Irish citizens of Quebec, was held at the Albion Hotel, on January 31st. M. Le Mesurier was elected chairman, and a number of resolutions, preceded by strong speeches, were moved in favour of the union policy. On all points they expressed views directly opposed to those of the French resolutions. Obviously no solution of the Canadian problem could be afforded by any form of plebiscite. A plebiscite assumes national unity on all the main issues of political life, but it was exactly on the fundamental issues that no unity existed in Canada.


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