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Lord Sydenham
Chapter XVI - A Survey of His Whole Domain


LEAVING the administration of Upper Canada in the hands of Sir George Arthur, immediately on the close of the session the governor returned to Montreal and summoned the Special Council, in order to dispose of such matters of purely local concern as required immediate attention, or as would only have proved an embarrassment among the more general matters which were certain to crowd the first session of the united legislature. That the political outlook in the Lower Province was not of a very promising character may be gathered from the following private letter which summarized the situation.

"1 have been back three weeks, and have set to work in earnest in this province. It is a bad prospect, however, and presents a lamentable contrast to Upper Canada. There great excitement existed; but at least the people were quarrelling for realities, for political opinions, and with a view to ulterior measures. Here there is no such thing as political opinion. No man looks to a practical measure of improvement. Talk to any one upon education, or public works, or better laws, let him be English or French, you might as well talk Greek to him. Not a man cares for a single practical measure—the only end, one would suppose, of a better form of government. They have only one feeling-—a hatred of race. The French hate the English, and the English hate the French; and every question resolves itself into that and that alone. There is positively no machinery of government. Everything is to be done by the governor and his secretary. There are no heads of departments at all, or none whom one can depend on, or even get at; for most of them are still at Quebec, and ;t is difficult to move them up here, because there are no public buildings. The wise system hithereto adopted has been to stick two men into some office whenever a vacancy occurred; one Frenchman and one Britisher! Thus we have joint Crown surveyors, joint sheriffs, etc., each opposing the other in every tiling he attempts. Can you conceive a system better calculated to countenance the distinction of race ? . . . . The only way, under these circumstances, in which I can hope to do good, is to wait for the Union in order to get a Government together; and that I shall do. Meantime, what I am chiefly anxious about now is to get a good division of the province for judicial purposes, which I shall make fit in with the proposed municipal districts. I hope to get an entirely new system of judicature, introducing circuits for the judges, and district courts for minor civil causes. I have already established stipendiary magistrates; and a rural police in this district, commenced by Lord Seaton, I mean to extend generally over the whole province, in a few weeks, by an ordinance.

In accordance with this programme, a couple of draft ordinances to regulate the practice of the courts of judicature were early presented to the Special Council. The first, which related to the superior courts, was drawn by Chief-Justice Stuart, and was printed for distribution. The criticisms received were carefully considered, and the ordinance when passed gave general satisfaction. The second provided for the establishment of minor or district courts, as n Upper Canada. Another ordinance which gave rise to much debate and petitions pro and con, was one for incorporating the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Montreal. The object of this was to permit the seminary to obtain an equitable commutation of its dues, and thus extinguish feudal tenures in the Island of Montreal. In the estimation of a number of influential English citizens of Montreal, this ordinance was regarded as a further evidence of the governor's undue partiality for the French-Canadians. He considered, however, that the commission of 1830 had established beyond question the equitable claim of the seminary. Ordinances were also passed re-establishing civic corporations for the cities of Quebec and Montreal, the former charters having expired during the late troubles. There were altogether twenty-one ordinances passed, including two railroad measures. The council was prorogued on June 28th, and the governor thus briefly reported the proceedings. "I have closed my Special Council, and send you home my ordinances. They have done their work excellently well, thanks to Stuart and my new solicitor-general, who turns out admirably.....

I have passed some, but not all the measures which are indispensable previous to the Union. The Registry Rill still remains; but that 1 shall get through in the autumn, after it has been for two or three months before the public, which was the course 1 adopted with the Judicature Rill, and found most advantageous. Education also stands over; for it is impossible to do anything in that until we get the municipalities erected in the districts."

The new measures were received with very mixed feelings, and undoubtedly the governor was quite justified in his remark that "nothing but a despotism could have got them through. A House of Assembly, whether single or double, would have spent ten years at them." The Quebec. Gazette, which was so bitterly opposed to the Union Rill and to responsible government, preferring government from England rather than by any popular majority in Canada, was nevertheless strenuously opposed to the despotic system which came from England. In summing up a lengthy criticism of the work of the governor and Special Council the Gazette said, "The system of legislation by a Governor and Council prudently and discreetly managed, might have been beneficial, for a time; but it has been completely worn out, in little more than two years; thereby furnishing another striking instance that power, even in the hands of enlightened and liberal men, soon degenerates into the grossest abuse when there is no present and ever-active check." Nevertheless, the Gazette continued to rail at all forms of responsible government.

Immediately after proroguing the Special Council at Montreal, the governor-general set out for Quebec on his way to the Maritime Provinces, which were also committed to his care. In Nova Scotia, in particular, an embittered agitation was in progress, centring around the inevitable question of responsible government. Mr. Joseph Howe was the leading exponent of the new policy on that subject. It was understood in Canada that " the object of His Excellences visit to Nova Scotia is to meet the Legislature of that Province, and explain the views entertained by Her Majesty's Government on the subject of Responsible Government." As a matter of fact, the friction between the lieutenant-governor, Sir Colin Campbell, and the executive council on the one hand, and the house of assembly on the other, had reached a crisis. Oil April 30th Lord John Russell requested the governor-general to proceed to Nova Scotia " to inquire into the causes of these lamentable dissensions; but while Her Majesty is determined not to admit of any thing derogatory to the honour or reputation of Sir Colin Campbell, Her Majesty will be disposed to listen favourably to any suggestions you may be able to make for the better government, and future contentment of a portion of her people from whom the Queen and her Predecessor have received so many proofs of loyalty and attachment" In reply the governor promised that, though sorely needed in Canada, he would meet the colonial secretary's wishes. In a confidential despatch lie stated that, so far as he could learn from his communications with that province, there were few, if any, vital issues at stake, save only the lack of personal harmony between the members of the executive council and the assembly. He regarded the situation as but a striking instance of the unwisdom of attempting to maintain in office persons who are objectionable to the majority of the assembly. The colonial government, legislative and executive, should be a unit on all important matters and command the confidence of the popular majority, so that the advice which they tender to the governor may be taken as expressing the wishes of the people. It will then be a matter of imperial policy as to whether or not the advice of the colonial government should be taken, and for that decision the governor alone must be responsible, not the colonial executive.

The action taken by the Nova Scotia assembly, in the present instance, rendered it difficult to either refuse or concede their demands. So far as he could judge, before studying the situation on the ground, his recommendation would be, "to send out a Civil Governor to dissolve the Assembly; to re-model the Executive Council upon its true principle, and to deal finally with the state of things as it may then arise." He closes the despatch with this significant remark, " The state of things indeed affords to my mind only another instance of the mischief which must inevitably arise from entrusting the delicate and difficult task of governing with a popular assembly to persons whose previous pursuits have left them practically unacquaiuted with the management and working of such bodies."

Arriving in Halifax, July 9th, he was sworn in as governor the same day. The next day he held a levee at Government House, received and replied to the usual addresses, and immediately plunged into the details of the provincial troubles. Consulting the leading men of all parties, he found the political situation to be very much what he had anticipated in his despatch from Montreal. There had been no quarrel with the lieutenant-governor personally, nor over any measures of vital public interest. The difficulties were entirely due to jealousy as to the division of power and patronage between the assembly and the executive council, a body established only three years previously. Upon the governor alone devolved the task of defending the executive council, which according to the governor-general was well-nigh impossible of defence. It was composed of eleven men, only two of whom had seats in the assembly, and the majority did not possess the confidence of the people, being a constant source of weakness instead of strength to the administration. The legislative council also had been a source of weakness, its members having been selected too exclusively from the party opposed to the majority of the assembly. Here again, as in Canada, he found the central defect to be the lack of a well-organized government in touch, through the assembly, with the needs and wishes of the people. This lack of the basal principle in responsible government he expresses as follows: "By far the most serious defect in the Government is the utter absence of Power in the Executive, and ini total want of energy to attempt to occupy the attention of the Country upon real improvements or to lead the Legislature in the preparation and adoption of measures for the benefit of the Colony. It does not appear to have occurred to any one that it is one of the first duties of the Government to suggest improvements where they are wanted. That the Constitution having placed the power of Legislation in the hands of an assembly and a Council it is only by acting through these Bodies that this duty can be performed, and that if the proper and legitimate Functions of Government are neglected, the necessary result must be, not only that the improvements which the People have a right to expect will be neglected and the prosperity of the Country checked, but that the Popular Branch of the Legislature will misuse its power and the popular mind be easily led into excitement upon mere abstract Theories of Government to which their attention is directed as the remedy for the uneasiness they feel."

He found that his analysis of the situation in Nova Scotia and his proposed remedies were entirely approved by Joseph Howe, then editor of the Nova Scotian and leader of the popular party in the assembly. "I have received from that gentleman and his friends and also from many others who are considered as of the opposite party, the assurance of their readiness entirely to concur in the course which I propose to adopt with regard to the formation of the Councils, and lend their hearty co-operation to the harmonious working of the system." The central principle in the new system proposed is thus expressed: "I consider that principle to be, that seats in the Executive Council shall be held only by the Officers of the Government or by Members of either branch of the Legislature. That the leading Officers of Government should take their fair share of responsibility by becoming Members of it, if they wish to retain their Offices. That where it may be expedient to give Seats in the Council to Gentlemen not connected with Office, leading men should be selected, giving a fair preponderance to those whose general opinions concur with those of the majority of the assembly without excluding altogether others, which in a small Colony, where parties are not and cannot be ranged as they are in England, seems advisable." He then goes on to specially in detail the changes to be effected, preferably by a new governor. He closes this long confidential despatch with a clear statement of the position which a governor-general must occupy in the colonial system of North America, and which clearly indicates that in the initial stages at least of responsible government, the governor must be his own prime minister. "It appears to me indispensable to the good conduct of Colonial Government that the initiation should be taken by the Executive in all measures for the improvement of the Province, and this can be effectually done by no one but the governor himself. He is in fact the Minister, and unless, therefore, he is from his habits inclined to consider questions of Civil Government, and has some acquaintance with the mode in which, first of all, the task of preparing measures is to be performed by those who hold Office under him, and next with the working of popular institutions, it is in vain to expect either that harmony can long be maintained, or that the Colony should prosper as it ought to do. Moreover he must be responsible for selecting his own cabinet.....

"If the Queen's Representative is to be responsible to Her Majesty and Her Advisers, and not to his Council—if the people are to look to him, and not to any responsible advisers of his in the Colony, he must act as a minister does n England. He must feel it to be his first duty to endeavour .to act in harmony with the wishes of the people, he must impart vigour to every branch of his Government, he must distribute his subordinate Officers in the way which may be most acceptable to the Legislature, thro' whom he has to act, and he must shew the Colony that he will himself take the lead in all that may appear to be for their interest."

What Lord Sydenham did not fully foresee was that when this system of organized cabinet government was once definitely introduced, the function of acting "as a minister does ui England" would be chiefly transferred to a minister in Canada, leaving to the governor the purely formal function of representing the home government in sanctioning that which s "in harmony with the wishes of the people." Thus would be avoided that which Lord Sydenham recognized as the chief difficulty in his conception of a governor as prime minister; namely, what was to become of the governor when his ministry was no longer acceptable to the people? If the prime minister in England may be driven from power by a vote of want of confidence, must not a Canadian minister, even if governor, suffer the same fate ? Sydenham admitted that he ought to be recalled, but saw the difficulty, from the point of view of imperial connection, ol recalling a governor as the result of an adverse colonial verdict upon his ministry. Rut by separating the functions of colonial prime minister, once they were firmly established, and imperial governor, the fall of the colonial minister would not involve the recall of the colonial governor. It is true the governor would thenceforth represent but a relatively small portion of his previous combination of functions, but he would be the visible symbol, as the king is n Britain, of the continuity of government amid the changes of ministries and the dissolution of parliaments ; the visible symbol also of the unity of the Empire. The permanence and unity were preserved by Lord Sydenham's plan for the introduction of a responsible cabinet government with the governor as the first prime minister. He thus adroitly bridged the chasm between a line of governors who recognized little necessity for accepting advice, and a line of governors who were to recognize as little necessity for giving any.

While m Halifax, the governor-general received a visit from Sir John Harvey, lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, conveying the desire of the people of New Brunswick that he should visit that province. Lord Sydenham accordingly paid a short visit to St. John and Fredericton. There he found a governor and a government fulfilling his ideas of a true colonial administration. " There reigns in New Brunswick the most perfect tranquillity and an entire harmony between the Executive Government and the Legislature. This state of things is greatly owing to the course which has been pursued by the Lieutenant-Governor whose personal popularity appears to be very considerable and no doubt much is due to the good sense of the Inhabitants. The happy effects of it are to be seen m the rapid advance which the Province is making to wealth and prosperity." Sir John Harvey had already expressed his views on responsible government, and they very closely corresponded with those of Lord Sydenham.

Returning to Halifax on July 20th, he set out for Quebec on the twenty-eighth, reaching that city on the thirty-first. On his way to Montreal he passed through the Eastern Townships. Everywhere he put himself n personal touch with the people, receiving most hearty responses. Realizing fully the political advantage of such a course, and finding that the Union Bill had now passed the British parliament, he immediately set out upon an extensive tour of the western province. This proved of the utmost importance to him in that first trying session of the united legislature. The tour occupied the greater part of August and September, 18 to. His experiences are best given in his own words, taken from a private letter which deals with various incidents more freely than his formal despatches, though these are also enthusiastic over the future prospects of the province.

"This tour has indeed been a triumph—a series of ovations. you can conceive nothing more gratifying than my progress through Upper Canada, especially in the west; nor, indeed, with one exception, anything more fortunate; for I have had beautiful weather and good health, and have been able to keep my time very exactly at the different places, so as to receive all intended honours, and satisfy and please the people.

"That exception was Lake Erie. The Government steamer in which I embarked was altogether the filthiest and vilest concern which ever floated on water. Admiralty, not Provincial, of course; and my patriotism prevented me from hiring a Yankee steam-boat instead, which would have conveyed me safely and comfortably. We had a storm on the lake, and got very nearly lost; and what was as bad, 1 could put in nowhere to see the coast, but was obliged to run for Amherst burg. The same thing happened on Lake Huron, where the sea runs as high as in the Ray of Biscay; and, to complete the catastrophe, in running up the river Thames to Chatham away went the rudder and tiller, both as rotten as touchwood. So I abandoned the Toronto to cut a fresh rudder out of the woods, and was right glad to get the rest of my tour by land.

"I had a carriage on board and plenty of saddle-horses, and as the roads are not impassable at this time of year, on horseback at least, I made out admirably.

"Amlierstburg, Sandwich, River St. Clair, Lake Huron, Goderich, Chatham, London, Woodstock, Brantford, Simcoe, the Talbot Road and Settlement, Hamilton, Dundas, and so back to Toronto. You can follow me on a map. From Toronto across Lake Simcoe to Penetanguishene on Lake Huron again, and back to Toronto, which I left last night again for the Bay of Quints. All parties uniting in addresses at every place, full of confidence in my government, and of a determination to forget their former disputes. Escorts of two and three hundred farmers on horseback at every place from township to township, with all the etceteras of guns, music, and flags. What is of more importance. my candidates everywhere taken for the ensuing elections; in short, such unanimity and confidence I never saw, and it augurs well for the future. Even the Toronto people, who have been spending the last six weeks in squabbling, were led, I suppose by the feeling shown in the rest of the province, into giving me a splendid reception, and took in good part a lecture I read them, telling them that they had better follow the good example of peace and renewed harmony which had been set them elsewhere, instead of making a piece of work about what they did not understand.

"The fact is, that the truth of my original notion of the people and of this country is now confirmed. The mass only wanted the vigorous interference of a well-intentioned Government, strong enough to control both the extreme parties, and to proclaim wholesome truths, and act for the benefit of the country at large in defiance of ultras on either side.

"Rut, apart from all this political effect, I am delighted to have seen this part of the country; I mean the great district, nearly as large as Ireland, placed between the three lakes—Erie, Ontario, and Huron. You can conceive nothing finer I The most magnificent soil in the world—four feet of vegetable mould—a climate certainly the best in North America—the greater part of it admirably watered. In a word, there is land enough and capabilities enough for some millions of people, and for one of the finest provinces in the world; the most perfect contrast to that miserable strip of land along the St. Lawrence, called Lower Canada, which has given so much trouble.

"I shall fix the capital of the United Province in this one of course. Kingston will most probably be the place; but there is everything to be done there yet, to provide accommodation for the meeting of the Assembly in the spring."

I he addresses which he everywhere received expressed confidence in the new administration and renewed hope for the future. His replies were no mere permutations on formal platitudes, but were filled with vital principles and a vigorous handling of the chief issues before the country, adapted to local needs. His frank yet courtly manner, his shrewd appreciation and sympathetic, treatment of the real needs of the people, and his magnetic personality quite captured the hearts and confidence of the people, who recognized in him an entirely new style of governor who dealt with Canadian problems from a new, popular, and firsthand point of view.

He was not so successful, however, with the people of Lower Canada, who, for various reasons, were less fortunately situated for taking an independent view of the problems of the country, and were more completely under the control of their former leaders. "Great efforts are made by some few of the old Leaders of the Papineau Party to mislead the people, and they are seconded in a most mischievous manner by Mr. Neilson of Quebec. But altho they may be successful in imposing on the credulity and ignorance of the habitants so far as to obtain the return to the United Legislature of a small party of violent men opposed to British connection, I am satisfied that they will not again induce the Peasantry to support any attempt at disturbance."


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