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Lord Sydenham
Chapter XVIII - Election and Opening of the First United Parliament


IN both provinces, where there was the prospect of anything like a close contest, it was quite evident that there was to be an exceedingly vigorous election campaign. There had been no election in Lower Canada since the outbreak of the rebellion, and the last election in Upper Canada was regarded as having been carried by the Compact and Orange elements, with the assistance of Lieutenant-Governor Head, in such a manner as to prevent the legitimate expression of the popular will. The great issues of the stability of the union, the dominance of race, and the future of responsible government were all dependent on the outcome of the elections.

The attitude of the most responsible and influential element among the French-Canadians towards the Union Act and the government to be formed under it, is given in an address by the " Quebec Committee" to the electors throughout the province. This was published in the Quebec Gazette, of February 22nd, Mr. Neilson. the editor and proprietor, being one of the chief members of the committee. The keynote of the address is given in the following paragraph with

reference to the practical duty of the electors: "No consideration whatever should -induce us to vote for any candidate who does not disapprove of that Act and its iniquitous provisions; for, in voting for such a candidate, we would give our consent to the Act, and approve of those who have advised it. We should proclaim our own dishonour and dishonour our country in stretching forth the neck to the yoke which is attempted to be placed upon us, till it be repealed or amended, so that the injustice which it authorizes shall cease.

It was everywhere admitted that this attitude and these principles dominated the French-Canadian elections. All things considered, the attitude was perfectly natural, but it involved at least this plain fact, that the government could make no terms with the French-Canadian members until, through experience of the working of the Union Act and of the attitude of the government towards their interests as citizens of a united Canada, they had modified their views and abandoned their pledges of absolute opposition. Thanks to Lord Sydenham's policy and the appreciation of the more enlightened French-Canadians, it was possible for his successor, Sir Charles Bagot, to make the first practical move towards incorporating in his ministry leading French-Canadians who could command a respectable following of their fellow-members. It might have been possible for Lord Sydenham to win over individual members of the French- Canadian party, but in doing so he would have captured, not a section of an army, but a few isolated deserters. lie had himself offered to Messrs. Roy and Marehand seats in the legislative council, on the sole condition that they should attend during the session of the legislature and not treat the appointment as a merely honorary one; but they declined. Time and experience alone could deal with that problem, hence the criticism of Lord Sydenham's government, as lacking a representative French-Canadian element, was quite beside the mark. The fault was neither his nor that of the body of the French-Canadians; it was a passing necessity of a stage in national development. Rut that the necessity was a passing one, may fairly be placed to the credit of the policy which Lord Sydenham inaugurated and which rendered possible the action of his successors.

An interesting side-light on the preparation for the elections in the Upper Province is shed by a private letter from Robert Baldwin to Lord Sydenham. After referring to the chances for the election of Mr. Dunn and himself, he says, speaking in the third person: "Mr. Baldwin has just transmitted to Mr. Murdoch, for His Excellency's information, a list of names of persons whom he has been led to believe would make good returning officers in some of the counties, and also the names of places where the elections could be most conveniently held. The materials for this list were collected chiefly when Mr. Baldwin was on the circuit. As to the persons, he endeavoured to ascertain that they were men of reasonable intelligence, personal respectability, and not of violent temperament. As to the places, he endeavoured to ascertain that they were as conveniently situated as possible for all, or at least the greater number, of the electors, but, above all, that they were as far as possible removed from the neighbourhood of any Orange clique. He has in some instances mentioned the names of persons and places which were represented to him as peculiarly ineligible." These precautions, however, did not secure the avoidance of riot and even bloodshed at several of the elections in Upper Canada, particularly in and around Toronto, where the ultra-loyal and ultra-Protestant element conceived it to be at once their privilege and their duty to employ violence in support of British institutions and in opposition to a government too strongly tainted with French-Canadian sympathies and responsible government radicalism. Yet this was the same government against which a solid French-Canadian opposition was being successfully organized in Lower Canada, because of its supposed leanings towards Orangism and ultra-British sympathies.

We cannot refer in detail to the many objectionable and regrettable episodes which characterized the elections in a number of constituencies, especially in the districts around Montreal and Toronto.

Responsibility for the riotous conduct was pretty evenly divided between the rival interests, but wherever violence was used in favour of a candidate favourable to the union policy or responsible government, it was of course attributed directly to the government, and even to the governor himself. Thus did Lord Sydenham immediately experience one of the chief difficulties which of necessity attached to the double function of governor and prime minister.

The election returns were known early in April, and the results were thus summed up in a letter from Mr. Murdoch, the civil secretary:—"Government members, 21; French members, 20; moderate Reformers, 20; ultra-Reformers, 5; Compact party, 7; doubtful, 0." Considering the issues on which they were elected, the French members, at first at any rate, could be safely counted upon to oppose without question every measure brought forward by the government. On most essential matters the majority of the moderate Reformers would support the government, while the ultra-Reformers and the Compact party would oppose it. Oil other issues, however, many votes would depend upon the particular question before the House. The government seemed fairly sure of a good working majority. But considering the whole past history of Canadian representative bodies, the most difficult task before Lord Sydenham would be to maintain a united administration on all essential government questions. The opposition to the government might, on occasion, prove very formidable; for parties of the most incompatible views, such as the French-Canadians, the Compact party, and the ultra-Reformers, might enthusiastically unite in opposition to the government, and might even out-vote it, without the slightest possibility of forming another administration to take its place.

The members of the legislature were finally summoned to meet at Kingston on June 14th, 1841. Postponement of the date previously fixed was due partly to the state of the governor's health, he having been prostrated by a particularly severe attack of gout, and partly in order to permit agricultural operations to be sufficiently advanced to allow the country members to attend. Lord Sydenham thus describes to the colonial secretary the preparations made for the accommodation of the legislature:—

"In pursuance of what I had the honour of stating upon a former occasion, I decided on calling the first Parliament at Kingston and of placing the seat of Government there. Upon investigation I found that I could obtain without difficulty the necessary accommodation both for the Legislature and the Government Offices, of a temporary nature, but still affording more convenience at less cost than if I had fixed upon either Montreal or Toronto. The Hospital which was recently erected, but has remained unoccupied, will, with slight alterations, afford better accommodation for the meeting of the Legislature than even at Toronto. I have hired a new range of buildings which was destined for warehouses and can be easily finished for their new purposes as Govt. Offices, for all the different Departments of the Government, - and they will be far superior in convenience to any that are to be found in any of the Three Cities of the Province. I have hired a house for the Residence of the Governor-General, which with some additions will answer the purpose, and altho' the different Officers of the Government will be obliged to submit to inconveniences for a time, I have no doubt that accommodation can be provided. The expense will not be very considerable and will be defrayed from the balance of the Crown Revenues which I have transferred, upon the declaration of the Union, to the Military chest, to answer the claims upon it for various services."

The building used for the accommodation of the legislature is once more the main structure of the Kingston hospital. The government offices referred to, a row of low stone buildings on Ontario Street erected by the Marine Railway Company, are now devoted to much humbler uses. The house selected for the governor's residence, a plain but comfortable stone mansion with ample grounds, beautifully situated on the lakeshore on the western border of the city, was erected and at the time owned by Baron Grant, and is still known as "Alwington."

Just before the opening of the legislature, Mr. Robert Baldwin, who had been solicitor-general for Upper Canada since the close of the session of 1840, and who had held a similar position as a member of the government since the proclamation of the union, suddenly proposed to Lord Sydenham, within a couple of days of the opening of the legislature, that he should entirely recast his government and replace some of the most important members by a combination of French-Canadians and ultra-Reformers. From the point of view of elementary political wisdom, in the face of so delicate a situation as then confronted the governor, the proposal was preposterous and would undoubtedly have been so treated by Mr. Baldwin himself when at a later date he had to frame and lead a ministry. To Lord Sydenham, Mr. Baldwin's action naturally appeared more or less treacherous; and yet Baldwin was evidently actuated by honourable sentiments, if not guided by practical wisdom.

His attitude may be more readily understood after reading the seemingly naive, and yet remarkably able and adroit letter of Mr. Morin to Mr. Hincks, written between the elections and the assembling of parliament. Notwithstanding the utter hostility to the union, and the consistent repudiation of responsible" government by Mr. Neilson, whom Mr. Morin acknowledges to be the leader of the French-Canadians and to possess their entire confidence, Mr. Morin, with his charmingly innocent and almost affectionate manner to which his own thorough goodness of heart lent an air of perfect sincerity, laboured to prove that the French-Canadians and the Reformers of Upper Canada were natural allies and desired practically the same objects. If, therefore, they united together they could command the situation—an opinion which there was no disputing. He announced also that he himself and a number of others were going up, a few days in advance of the opening of the House, to confer with representative Reformers with a view to effecting a combination. It was with these men that Mr. Baldwin had been negotiating, and that they had completely captured him is indicated by the proposition which he placed before Lord Sydenham on the eve of the opening of the House. As it turned out, both Morin and Baldwin were entirely mistaken in their estimate of the situation. Mr. Neilson. and not Mr. Morin, proved to be the true prophet of the political attitude of the French-Canadians in the first session of the legislature. It is true that as the session progressed the more enlightened French-Canadians, of whom Mr. Morin himself was a conspicuous example, were often found voting in opposition to the general body of their fellow-countrymen, but the majority, with Mr. Neilson as their leader, steadily opposed all Liberal measures.

Owing to the position which he had taken at the opening of the session, Mr. Baldwin himself was constrained to oppose some of the most liberal measures of the government, such as the introduction of a comprehensive municipal system, the extension of the main highways of Upper Canada, the reform of the usury laws, etc. On the other hand, it was due to Mr. Hincks and the general body of the Reformers that these important measures were passed. Mr. Hincks has told us in his Reminiscences that he, in common with Mr. Baldwin and many other Reformers, firmly believed, before coming into close touch with the general body of the French-Canadian party, that it was possible to form a combination of Reformers from Upper and Lower Canada which would command a majority in the House and compel the governor-general, in accordance with his avowed principles of responsible government, to frame an administration which would command their confidence. He found, however, as the result of practical experience, that it was quite impossible, at that time, to unite in one Reform party the majority of the French-Canadian representatives who followed Mr. Neilson and the Reformers from Upper Canada. In his own words, published in his paper the Examiner later til the session:—

"We found, moreover, when we came to act in parliament with men, the great majority of whom we had never met before, that we could not act as a party man with several gentlemen who must be considered active leaders of the Lower Canadian Reformers. There -s no individual in the House of Assembly for whom, as a private individual, we entertain a more sincere respect than the venerable and kind-hearted member for the County of Quebec, Mr. Neilson; but as a politician, we have found ourselves almost invariably opposed to his views. We have been an attentive reader of the Gazette for several years, and our subscribers must be well aware that its principles are entirely dissimilar from those advocated in the columns of the Examiner. Mr. Aylwin is another prominent leader of the same party, and with this gentleman we hold no views »n common. Lower Canada politics are indeed a mystery to us. In some instances the contrasts are most singular. The Liberals of Lower Canada send us Messrs. Neilson, Aylwin, Berthelot, and Burnett as Reformers, while the Tories send us Messrs. Sol.-Gen'l Day, Black, Dunscombe, Holmes and Simpson.—Without in the least degree adopting the opinions of the latter gentlemen, we hesitate not to say that they are many degrees more liberal than the former."

Under these conditions Mr. Hincks's position was perfectly plain.

" he formation of a new Ministry on the declared principle of acting in concert with the united Reform party having failed, all parties were compelled to look to the measures of administration, and we can now declare that, previous to the Session of Parliament., our opinion was given repeatedly and decidedly, that in the event of failure in obtaining such administration as would be entirely satisfactory, the policy of the Reform party was to give to the existing administration such a support as would enable it to carry out liberal measures which we had no doubt would be brought forward. We have adhered to that opinion. We consider that it would have been political suicide, because we were thwarted in our own views, to aid the Tories in embarrassing an administration disposed to carr out Reform measures, although not so fast as we could desire."

As to the extreme action taken by Mr. Baldwin, he has this to say, in the same article: "We are now warranted in saying that a large majority of the party desired that Mr. Baldwin should have remained in the council, and that he should only have abandoned it in case he found that other influence preponderated over his own."

Mr. Baldwin's influence with his party had been very great, and on any reasonably defensible issue his defection would have been a serious blow to the government; but in this case, in resigning from the government on such an issue and adopting an attitude of extreme opposition, he lost for a time the sympathy of the general body of the Reformers, who preferred the much sounder policy of Mr. Hincks, the other great leader of the Reform element and a man at once of sounder constitutional principles and of more far-sighted political wisdom, if not of so interesting a personality.

The governor-general thoroughly appreciated Mr. Baldwin's valuable qualities and his great influence with the Reformers. As his despatches show, he sympathized with his general principles, though not with his reckless haste for their extreme realization. He had gladly taken advantage of the first opportunity to bring Mr. Baldwin into the government and. had done his utmost to meet his personal scruples, as when he took upon himself the responsibility of modifying in his case the oath of office prescribed in the Union Act; he therefore felt the more aggrieved when Mr. Baldwin attempted to break up the government on the eve of a most critical session.


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