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Lord Sydenham
Chapter XVII - Consumating the Union


LORD John Russell, in a despatch of July 24th, had announced to the governor-general that the royal assent had been given to the Union Bill, and asked him to prepare for the introduction of constitutional government according to that Act. The Union Act permitted for the first time in Canada, or indeed in any colony, a representative assembly to control the voting of supplies, while the executive government alone introduced money bills and was charged with the administration of the government, including the appointment of all officials. Hitherto "in many of our colonies these functions have been mixed or reversed, to the great injury of the public weal."

The passing of the Union Act also involved the issue of a new commission to the governor of the united province. As it was understood, however, that the governor's commission could not be issued before the appointment of the legislative and executive councils, Poulett Thomson was asked to send home nominations for these positions. Moreover, the governor's commission and the royal instructions which always accompanied it, would determine in many important respects the manner in which the powers conferred under the Union Act were to be exercised. But the forms of the governor's commission and the royal instructions had been but slightly altered since 1791, and as the home government was naturally not very familiar with local Canadian conditions, Poulett Thomson was invited to furnish suggestions for his own commission and instructions,—a unique mark of confidence evidently due to his former connection with the government. A new seal for the province was also reported to be in process of execution.

This juncture in the country's affairs and hi the fortunes of the governor-general was naturally regarded as the fitting occasion on which to acknowledge the important and effective services which Poulett Thomson had already rendered in connection with the union of the Canadas and the re-establishinent of colonial government upon a stable basis. Hence, before the issue of his new commission as governor-general, Poulett Thomson was elevated to the peerage with the title of Baron Sydenham of Sydenham in Kent and Toronto in Canada.

As already indicated, a few measures still remained to be brought before the Special Council before the consummation of the union. For the consideration of these Lord Sydenham, immediately after his return from the west, summoned, for the last time, the members of the Special Council. The most important measure to come before it was an ordinance for the establishment of municipal institutions, though the governor-general had not expected to bring this before any legislative body in Canada. The draft bill for the union of the Canadas which he had sent to the colonial secretary contained full provision for a municipal system. The importance which Lord Sydenham attached to this feature of the Union Bill is thus vigorously expressed on learning that these clauses were in danger of being dropped, " No man in his senses would think for a moment of the Union without its being accompanied by some sort of Local Government, in which the people may control their own officers, and the executive at the same time obtain some influence in the country districts.

"Without a breakwater of this kind between the Central Government and the people, Government with an Assembly is impossible in Lower Canada, and most difficult in Upper Canada; and it is absurd to expect that any good system can or will be established by the Provincial Legislature, even if time admitted of its being proposed to them. No colonial legislature will divest itself of the great power it now possesses of parcelling out sums of money for every petty local job; and although by the Union Bin the initiative of money votes will be confined to the Government, this provision will become null, because the moment that the executive is called upon to provide for all these local expenses, with the details of which it cannot be acquainted, it must renounce the task, and leave it in the hands of the members themselves. A distinct principle must be laid down that all purely local expenses be borne by the localities themselves, settled and voted by them, and that only great works be paid for out of the provincial funds.

"Nor is it only with reference to the Canadas that it was all-important for Parliament itself to have laid down the principle and details of Local Government. Since I have been in these Provinces, I have become more and more satisfied that the capital cause of the misgovernment of them is to be found in the absence of Local Government, and the consequent exercise by the Assembly of powers wholly inappropriate to its functions. Members are everywhere chosen only with reference to the extent of job for their particular district which they can carry. Whoever happens to lead a party in the House of twelve or fourteen members, may at once obtain a majority for his political views by jobbing with other members for votes upon them, or, by rejecting their jobs as the penalty of refusal, oust them from their seats. This, indeed, is admitted by the best men of all parties, and especially of the popular side. Rut it is equally admitted that they cannot of themselves change the system. In both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick I was told that if Parliament laid down a system of Local Government for Canada, then it was likely that in these Provinces too the Assembly would adopt it; but, without that, it would be impossible to get it done. So, by this step, if Lord John has really been forced to take it, not only has all chance of the Union Rill working well been destroyed, but also the hope of a change of system throughout all the Provinces. Last year, if you remember, we made it a sine qua non to the Union; indeed, our scheme was altogether based on it. The establishment of Municipal Government by Act of Parliament is as much a part of the intended scheme of Government for the Canadas as the union of the two Legislatures, and the more important of the two. All chance of good Government, in Lower Canada especially, depends on its immediate adoption."

But when the Union Rill came before the British parliament it was found that there were such strong objections to the municipal clauses in it that Lord John Russell considered it expedient to drop them rather than jeopardize the whole measure. In his despatch to Sydenham, September 14th, he declared that "nothing but a wish to prevent a division among those who supported the Union Rill, induced me to refrain from pressing the municipal clauses on the House of Commons.'' And in a later despatch, when he had received Lord Sydenham's remonstrances on the omission of the municipal clauses, he explained that, on the one hand, he could find no Canadian authority in support of them, while Peel and Stanley, though friendly enough to the general union measure, strongly opposed its municipal features, as did also Mr. Gillespie and others well acquainted with Canada. Lord Sydenham received formal instructions, however, to bring before the united legislature the question of municipal government, "in such form and manner as you shall judge most advisable for the attainment of an object to which Her Majesty's government attach the highest value."

Accordingly, Lord Sydenham took advantage of the closing session of the Special Council to introduce a general municipal system into Lower Canada, outside of the cities of Quebec and Montreal already provided for by special ordinances. This was accomplished through an " Ordinance to provide for the better internal Government of this Province by the establishment of Local and Municipal Authorities therein." Partly out of respect for the prejudices of those who balked at dangerous democratic innovations, and partly that the central government might hold the leading-strings while the infant municipal authorities learned to walk, the central government retained considerable control over the official appointments and financial obligations of the new municipalities. Lord Sydenham was strongly impressed with the necessity for thus providing numerous local schools for the training of the people in the elements of responsible government. Up to this stage, as he had 270 observed, the people had received no training in those habits of self-government which were so necessary in enabling them to properly choose their representatives in parliament; nor was there any opportunity furnished for testing at close range the talents and quality of candidates for seats in the legislature. Having little or no experience of the difficulties of government, the common people were inclined to blame the central authorities for all that went wrong in purely local affairs.

When we think of the pressure put upon the Dominion and provincial governments at the present time for the construction of local works, and the consequent temptation to the bribery of constituencies, we can understand what Lord S3'denham saved the country, when, for the combined provinces of Quebec and Ontario, he relieved the central government of responsibility and patronage in the case of the multifarious works and services which were devolved upon the district councils created under his comprehensive municipal system. The system was afterwards extended, with a few amendments, to Upper Canada, under an Act of the united legislature. An outline of the system will be given when we refer to the general municipal Act.

Another important measure dealt with at this last session of the Special Council, related to the establishment of offices for the registration of titles to land. This had been the occasion of almost as great debate in Lower Canada as the Clergy Reserves in Upper Canada. It had been the subject of much enquiring and reporting, and many bills had been introduced to deal with it. In the important report of 1828 the whole matter had been thoroughly gone into. It had been shown that a serious drawback to the province of Lower Canada was involved in the system of secret and implied mortgages—" Hijpotkcques tactics et occultes" — which rendered it almost impossible to be certain of a clear title to any lands which might be purchased. Ancient French laws and customs, born of a social system of rigid caste and changeless ownership, formed part of that " nationality " inherited at the conquest, which, in the struggle for the maintenance of French ascendency after the Quebec Act, was to be rendered even more changeless than in the least progressive days before the French Revolution. The more complete the demonstration of its obstructive character, the more obstinately did the typical French-Canadian cling to it and anathematize the tyranny of those who would change, in other words anglicize, his institutions. Yet the commercial and progressive French-Canadians were prepared to welcome the change, once safely made. In the latter part of November, Lord Sydenham was able to report, "I have got a registry bill, 'the ass's bridge' of the Province for the last twenty years, which meets with nearly universal assent from both French and English. It will be law in a few days, and will be really a miracle." The range and purpose of the new ordinance are sufficiently indicated in the title and preamble:—

"An Ordinance to prescribe and regulate the Registering of Titles to Lands, Tenements and Hereditaments, Real or Immovable Estates, and of Charges and Incumbrances on the same; and for the Alteration and Improvement of the Law in certain Particulars in Relation to the Alienation and Hypothecation of Real Estates and the Rights and Interest acquired therein.

"Whereas great losses and evils have been experienced from secret and fraudulent conveyances of real estates, and incumbrances on the same, and from the uncertainty and insecurity of titles of lands in this province, to the manifest injury and occasional ruin of purchasers, creditors, and others ; and whereas the registering of all titles to real or immovable estates, and of all charges and incumbrances on the same, would not only obviate these losses and evils for the future, but would also, with some alteration of the existing laws, whereby the removal of inconvenient and inexpedient restraints and burthens on the alienation of real estates might be effected, greatly promote the agricultural and commercial interests of this province, and advance its improvement and prosperity : etc."

There were altogether some thirty-two additional ordinances passed at this last session of the Special Council, relating to such important interests as highways, harbours and navigation, railways, regulations respecting aliens, the erection of gaols arid the administration of justice. In consequence of these exacting legislative duties, which occupied the attention of the governor until February, 1841, the proclamation of the union, the organization of the new government, and the provision for the election of the first legislature for united Canada were unduly delayed, much to the chagrin of Lord Sydenham, who naturally desired as much time as possible to prepare his legislative programme.

The problem as to the seat of government had already been discussed by Lord Sydenham in a private and confidential despatch of May 22nd, 1840. There were five different places whose claims were canvassed, Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Bytown, now Ottawa. The latter was eliminated almost immediately, for, though remote from the frontier, it was also remote from the more settled portions of the country and afforded no suitable accommodation. From the point of view of immediate accommodation, Toronto and Quebec were naturally best equipped, but both were too far removed from the centre of the united province. Toronto, in addition, was incapable of defence and in winter shut off from regular communication with Britain. It had been urged, apparently by representatives of Quebec and Toronto, that the legislature might meet alternately in the two provinces, which was fareefied into the proposition that the capital should be planed on a scow and towed around to the leading cities in rotation. The final choice lay between Montreal and Kingston. From the point of view of defence, Kingston was the safer; as regards communication with Britain, Montreal was nearer in summer and Kingston in winter, via New York. Montreal was the larger and more important city, Kingston the more centrally located for the whole province. Judged from the existing requirements, their claims were about equally balanced, but having regard to the future development of the country, Kingston had undoubtedly the advantage. Moreover, Sydenham frankly confessed that he considered it desirable that the capital of the province and the sittings of the legislature should be removed from the presence of a large French population, and especially from the influence of a host of petty lawyers and doctors, such as filled the Montreal district and had already created trouble. On the other hand, it would be of advantage to the French-Canadian members to bring them into an English section of the province with a new social and political atmosphere. On the whole, therefore, he gave the preference to Kingston. Replying to his despatch on the subject, Lord John Russell quite approved of Sydenham's reasons for fixing upon Kingston. It was not, however, until the beginning of February, 1841, that it became publicly known that Kingston was to be the capital of the united province.

By an Order-in-Council, dated August 10th, 1840, Lord Sydenham had been vested with authority to proclaim the union. Not, however, until February 5th, 1841, did he find it possible to issue his proclamation appointing February 10th as the date on which the union of the provinces should take effect. This date was chosen as the conjunction of several anniversaries; those, namely, of the marriage of the Queen, the Treaty of Paris, 1703, the giving of the royal assent to the Act suspending the constitution of Lower Canada, and the proroguing of the legislature of Upper Canada the previous year. Accordingly, oil that date Lord Sydenham assumed the office of Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the United Province, according to the forms prescribed in his commission. At the same time, he issued a proclamation to the people of the united province with the object of impressing upon them the privileges and responsibilities which were conferred upon them, and the great future which was in store for the country should these opportunities be properly utilized. " In your hands now rests your own fate, and by the use which you will make of the opportunity must it be decided."

On February 15th Lord Sydenham issued a proclamation summoning the parliament of United Canada to meet at Kingston. The election writs were returnable on April 8th, and he hoped to assemble the parliament on May 26th, when the water routes, the chief highways of the country, would be open. The date of opening the legislature was afterwards postponed to June 14th. He had already nominated as members of the executive council the principal officers of the late provincial governments: namely, Messrs. H. B. Sullivan, J. H. Dunn, D. Daly, S. B. Harrison, C. R. Ogclen, W. R. Draper, R. Baldwin, and C, D. Day. The only appointments to office, however, were Mr. Daly, the late provincial secretary of Lower Canada, and Mr. Harrison, late civil secretary of Upper Canada, to be secretaries for the united province; and Mr. Dunn, late receiver-general of Upper Canada, to be receiver-general of the united province. These appointments were indispensable to the carrying on of the business of the country.

As has been already indicated, the frankly avowed object of the Union Act was, without infringing upon the personal rights or religious convictions of the French-Canadians, to do away with the eternal conflict for racial supremacy by insuring to the country a British future as regards its national institutions and imperial connection. In order to accomplish this, it was necessary to equalize the power of the two races in such a way that, under representative institutions and responsible government, there would be a reasonable assurance of a British majority in the legislature. That did not imply that party divisions would necessarily follow racial lines; indeed it was fully expected that this would prevent such a result, and this soon proved to be the case. It was well known that any possible form of settlement would be, for a time, unpalatable to the French-Canadians. Even the least objectionable of all, and the most hopeful for the future—that involved in the union policy—was certain to give occasion to the demagogues to stir the liveliest apprehension of the ignorant masses of the people as to the inevitable oppression and loss of civil and religious liberty which were to follow the consummation of the union. The general body of the French-Canadians knew nothing of how Lord Sydenham had defended their rights, as against the extreme demands 'of the ultra-loyal element in the Upper Province, and to a certain extent m the Lower Province as well, or-the criticisms he had received in consequence. Hence it was easy to persuade them, as was industriously done, that he was their avowed enemy and oppressor; as the promoter of the union measure he was the author of all the apprehended evils which were to How from it.

As Lord Sydenham had feared, confirmation of the popular opinion of the governor was drawn from the fixing of the electoral limits of Quebec aud Montreal. In order to give the important British mercantile element an opportunity for representation amid an encircling majority of French-Canadians, portions of the suburbs of these cities were thrown in with the adjoining counties. What, however, gave this an especially sinister look in the eyes of the French-Canadians, was the fact that, mainly on the representation of Sir Robert Peel, then leader of the Opposition in the British parliament, these seats were given two representatives each. Lord Sydenham immediately recognized how this would be interpreted, and thus referred to the awkward position in which it placed him:—

"I had suggested that one Member should be given to each of the cities of Quebec and Montreal, and under proper regulation and without any great appearance of injustice the probability is that a member really representing the Commercial Interest might have been returned in this way for each City. In consequence, however, of the representations of different Canadian Merchants in London, H. M. Government and Parliament deemed it expedient to allot two Members to each of these Cities, the consequence of which is, that if the limits of the two places are not restricted in a way which may be represented to be extremely unjust with regard to the number of voters to be retained for the nomination of so many as four Members, the object which I had m view, and which Parliament, in ignorance of the real state of the case, sought to carry still farther, namely, the return of such representatives, will be entirely defeated, and the Mercantile Interest of Quebec and Montreal will have no more voice in the choice of their members-than they would in the nomination of any of the Members for the French counties. This is highly embarrassing, and another proof, )f one were wanting, of the danger of meddling with details when the parties doing so are imperfectly informed of the facts. After mature consideration, however, I have determined to carry out what I consider to have been the views of Parliament and, at whatever risk of outcry or accusation, to make such an apportionment of the limits of these two cities, by excluding the whole or the greater part of their suburbs, as shall effectually secure to the trading community the power of returning the representatives of their choice, not looking indeed to Politics, or to race, but to a commercial representation such as was sought by Sir Robert Peel in his proposal for giving a nomination to the Chambers of Commerce. Your Lordship, however, may expect that this course will be objected to by the French-Canadian population and some of their supporters, and probably the objections may find advocates in Parliament in England. It is, therefore, my duty to state to you the necessity which compels me to adopt it, and I trust that a sufficient answer will be given in case I am attacked for it."


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