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Chapter VIII - The Demand for Responsible Government

WHEN Mr. Wilmot first entered the House of Assembly, many of the members were office-holders and therefore depended on the goodwill of the governor for their positions. At the session of 1842, a bill was introduced for the purpose of putting an end to this evil, in which it was declared that any member of the House of Assembly who should accept the office of executive councillor or any office of profit or emolument under the Crown should be incapable of taking or holding his seat in the General Assembly while in such office, unless reelected after acceptance thereof. An amendment was moved to exempt executive councillors who did not hold any office of emolument from the provisions of this section, but it was lost by a close vote. Mr. Wilmot voted for the amendment on the ground that a man who was merely an executive councillor without office, and who received no emolument as such, should not be required to go back to the people for reelection. The bill, nevertheless, was passed by a full House, but it was disallowed by the home authorities on the ground that it was not in accordance with British precedents. The colonial secretary said, “This Act as actually drawn would therefore seem to establish a principle of great importance as well as novelty—the principle, namely, that the Crown may not select its own confidential advisers from amongst representatives of the people unless the person so chosen should be willing to hazard a new election. How far it is wise to erect such a barrier between the executive government and the popular branch of the legislature would seem to be a matter well meriting serious consideration.” In the same despatch, the propriety of seats in the assembly being vacated for the same reasons which would vacate seats in the House of Commons was fully conceded. The stand taken by Wilmot in regard to this subject was therefore .the one which was approved by the home government and was further endorsed by subsequent legislation. Yet it was not until 1849 that the Act was passed which finally settled the question, and required members of the legislature accepting office to vacate their seats in the House of Assembly and go back to their constituents for reelection.

Sir William Colebrooke had not been a popular governor since the appointment of his son-in-law to the office of provincial secretary. The House of Assembly, therefore, was disposed to watch his conduct very closely and to criticize actions which perhaps would not have attracted so much attention under other conditions. During the session of 1846, it was shown that he had appropriated a portion of the surplus civil list fund, amounting to about three thousand pounds, for the purpose of defraying the expenses of surveying Crown lands in Madawaska. [This occurred during the time of the “rump” government composed of Messrs. Simonds, Allen and McLeod, the members of the executive who refused to resign at the time of the Reade appointment.] This money was taken by the order of the colonial secretary, Lord Stanley. Thus it appeared that, although the province was supposed to have the control of the territorial revenue, the British government assumed the right to dispose of a portion of this revenue without the consent or authority of the House of Assembly. The conduct of the governor in connection with this matter was censured in a strongly worded resolution which was passed by the House of Assembly almost unanimously.

The following resolutions which were moved by Mr. Partelow were carried in the House of Assembly by a vote of twenty to two:

“1st. Resolved, That this committee deeply regret that His Excellency the lieutenant-governor in council should not have felt himself authorized to communicate to the House the despatch of the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, of January 5th, 1845, relative to the appropriation of the surplus civil list, in answer to the address of the House of Assembly of March 14th, 1845, whereby the House was prevented from representing, by an humble and dutiful address to Her Majesty, that such appropriation was not in accordance with the despatch of the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies of August 31st, 1836.

“2d. Resolved, As the opinion of this committee, that any funds necessary to carry out the fourth article of the Treaty of Washington, being a national treaty with a foreign power, ought not to be chargeable upon the funds of this province; and that the House should, by an humble and dutiful address to Her Majesty, pray that any appropriation made for that purpose from the surplus civil list fund may be refunded to the same.”

The time had gone by when the representative of the Crown could do as he liked with the public funds of the province, as had been the case in former years.

The legislature was dissolved in 1846 under the provisions of the Act which limited its term to four years. On the last day of the session Wilmot bade farewell to the members of the House, and stated that he did not intend to offer himself again for reelection. No doubt he was quite sincere in making this statement at the time, but he soon had reason to change his mind. The people of the county of York were unwilling to lose the services of the champion of their rights in the House of Assembly, so that he found it necessary to consent to be again nominated. He was returned at the head of the poll, and with him Mr. Charles Fisher, who had been his colleague in two previous legislatures.

The general election of 1846 brought a considerable number of new men into the House, and in point of liberality the new assembly was a slight improvement on its predecessor. The legislature met near the end of January in the following year. The government at that time consisted of only five persons, of whom two were members of the House of Assembly and three of the legislative council. It appeared that negotiations had been going on with some of the members of the Opposition for the purpose of filling up the vacancies in the executive council. Wilmot had been offered a seat in that body, but made it a condition of his acceptance that he should go in with two of his friends, provided the council was filled up to the number of seven, or three, if filled up to the number of nine. This was not agreed to, so he remained outside the government. During the first week of the session three new members were added to the government, one of them being the surveyor-general, Mr. Baillie, who had been elected a member of the House of Assembly for the county of York. The arrangements made were not satisfactory to Wilmot and his friends, and the government had to face what was practically a want of confidence resolution. It was moved by Mr. Fisher and was as follows:—

“Resolved, As the opinion of this House, that while it fully recognizes the accountability of the executive council to the assenfbly, it will expect that henceforth the provincial administration will, from time to time, prepare and bring before the legislature such measures as may be required for the development of the provincial resources and the general advancement of the public interests.” In the course of the debate Wilmot spoke with great power and effect. The following report of his speech on that occasion may serve to convey to the reader some idea of his manner and method as a public speaker:—

“The honourable gentleman might have spared himself the trouble of making the defence he did. I have heard that he \vas to be presented with a gold medal for his admirable defence of that nearly extinct race—the old Family Compact. I see that I shall have to cross a lance with my honourable and learned friend [Mr. Hazen] politically. Yet I hope the same good feeling which has characterized the debate thus far will be continued. A great deal has been said about politics and political principles, but my political principles are not of yesterday—I have gleaned them from the history of my country, a country which we are all proud to own. Will any honourable member dare to tell me that because we are three thousand miles from the heart of the British empire the blood of freemen shall not flow through the veins of the sons of New Brunswick ? If so, I have yet to learn the reason. Before I sit down I will endeavour to show my honourable friends what the distinction is between Liberals and Conservatives — what the Liberals have done, and what the Conservatives have not done. Now to the resolution. My honourable friend said yesterday that the resolution meant initiation of money grants. When this announcement was made I heard a shout from the direction of my honourable friend, Mr. Partelow, in a tenor voice, and an honourable member in the rear [Mr. Barberie] joining in a sort of falsetto accompaniment. I think my honourable friend [Mr. Hazen] is much to blame for having accused his honourable colleague [Mr. Woodward] with writing an article in a city paper. What, suppose he did write it, do not some of the first noblemen and statesmen in England write for the papers? I will not deny that I have written for the papers myself some little squibs. But it is wrong to place an honourable member in the position where he will have to affirm or deny it. A great cry has been raised of a contemplated attack on the government, and, after all, it has turned out that their fears have been excited by a newspaper paragraph. The government has fortified all their outposts, and His Excellency and two aides have been on the lookout for the coming attack. At length my honourable colleague [Mr. Fisher] brought forth his resolutions when they said to each other, ‘Why, this doesn’t mean anything; there is no attack.’ But they slept over it one night, cracked some wine upon it, and while sitting under the mahogany they said—‘Hazen, there is something in these resolutions of Fisher’s, depend upon it—some hidden meaning —what shall we say it is ? what mil we call it? we must give them some ugly name, or they will pass.’ ‘Oh,’ said Hazen, ‘I have it—initiation of money grants—that’ll do; I’ll just go down to the House and cry out “mad dog,” “initiation of money grants”; members will become alarmed, and we’ll succeed in defeating them.’ But the honourable member from St. John [Mr. Jordan] has made the most wonderful discoveries; he has taken a peep from the lookout station at the enemy; he has looked through a political microscope, and has discovered more than the commander-in-chief himself. ‘ Why,’ says he, ‘there’s everything there—I see “free trade” and “protection” both, and let me see—I—there’s the “Board of Works,” too; and round on the other side I see “Municipal Corporations.’” I will endeavour before I sit down to prove that the arguments of my honourable friend Mr. Hazen are fallacious. He has been developing at a great rate yesterday; he was not asked to develop the money, but to bring down such measures as would develop the provincial resources; this is the meaning of the resolution, and, had not my honourable friend become alarmed for the safety of the government, there is no man into whose hands I would sooner place the resolution. But he has chosen to put the construction upon the resolution which he has done, and other honourable members said, ‘Oh, he knows what it means better than I do; he has cried “mad dog” and we’ll follow him.’ The government is not asked to bring in the revenue bill, or any other bill which involves the principle of money grants. All the resolution requires is, that they shall be prepared, at the opening of the session, with such measures as may be considered for the general welfare of the country, and not keep the assembly waiting two or three weeks for the motion of the government, as has been the case this session. Honourable members will recollect that there is a constituency behind them to whom they are accountable; but they may resolve and re-resolve as they please. There is a spirit of inquiry abroad among the people, a political intelligence, which was not to be found a few years since when my honourable friend denounced responsible government as all nonsense! What was the case when responsible government was first talked of in this province? Who descended from their lofty eminence to warn the people to beware of these new doctrines? The old official Family Compact party—they who entrenched themselves behind the prerogative of the Crown in 1836, came down to the people and said, ‘We who have done so much for you—we who have watched over and guarded you, beware of that dreadful monster, responsible government.’ These are the people who call themselves Conservatives. What, I would ask, did they conserve? Everything but the good.of the country; and, had the Conservatism of 1836 been carried out, an insulted people would ere this have risen in their majesty and would have shaken off the yoke of bondage under which they had been labouring.

“It has been said by honourable members of the government that there is no distinction between Liberals and Conservatives. If this is the case, why did they object to have me and two others take seats in the council because we were Liberals? Here is a question which I would like my honourable friends to answer. The Conservatives do not wish to see any power in the hands of the people. [Interjection from Mr. End—‘Not too much.’] The honourable member from Gloucester, Mr. End, has receded from his principles wonderfully; his speech yesterday was certainly a most extraordinary one. He said to the government in a most supplicating tone of voice, ‘ Give me fair play—give me the appointment of all the bye-road commissioners, magistrates, sheriffs, and so on, in Gloucester, and I will support you; that is all I want.’ I will take care not to be misunderstood in these matters, I will not allow any man to be the exponent of my political principles. I believe departmental government to be inseparable from our institutions, but will oppose the immediate introduction of the whole system; I will bring it in step by step as the country is prepared for it. Some extraordinary notions are entertained as to the source from whence the power of the government is derived; the freedom of government does not come down from the Crown, it goes up from the people; and if the people are fit for these institutions they are fit for self-government. I have frequently said that they who get the people’s money shall do the people’s work. [From Mr. Partelow—‘Yes, that’s right.’] I will now come down a step further—what was the case in 1837? I am not going to disclose any secrets this time— but will speak low. I wish to ask my honourable friend [Mr. Hazen] if, after the administration changed in 1837, the government had the cordial cooperation of the heads of departments? No!

There has been a counter-working going on—a constant endeavour to lead the government astray and place them in a wrong position, and my generous-hearted friend [Mr. Hazen] has to come down to this House and defend them. It is a political fact, that previous to 1841 the heads of departments in this province were in open hostility to the government. [From Mr. End—‘They could do no harm.’] If the departmental system were in operation, and their tenure of office depended upon their ability so to conduct the government as to merit the confidence of the assembly and the people, there would be none of this stabbing in the dark, and running off the track. It is, in my opinion, the only constitutional remedy for the good working of the government. These five gentlemen who have lately formed the mixed government, asked for departmental government when they signed the address to the queen; yet now they refuse to adopt it. I should like to know when they intend to graduate —does it depend upon the age of the country or the state of the atmosphere? The fact is, whenever the people of this country, through their representatives, choose to ask for it they must get it. In 1844 they ran to the rescue of the prerogative in Canada; but the very next year the same case came down to their own doors! The tune was changed then, and an address was prepared to the queen signed by the whole assembly except five. Why is this brought about—why is the tune changed so suddenly? They at first said responsible government is not fit for a colony—the next cry was, it is not fit for New Brunswick, and finally they said, when they addressed the queen—we must have it. Mr. Roebuck called upon Lord John Russell to explain what responsible government was, which he has done [reads the speech as delivered in the British parliament], and, when they had first asked for it here, it was in full operation in Canada. My honourable friend [Mr. Hazen] has accused me of having receded; but I will now ask him to point out how I have done so? He has also said that I was brought forward at the last election by the Conservatives. True, but I was backed by all my old friends, and I told them if they took me, they must do so with all my former opinions—opinions which I never will give up. When they talk about there being no difference in political names,—there is a difference; those who have contended for Liberal principles have their names covered with obloquy. We ask for a constitution that, while it protects the queen upon the throne, throws, at the same time, its paternal arms around the helpless infant. This we ask for, this we want—the pure, the free, the glorious constitution of England; for this we have contended, for this the Liberals of New Brunswick have fought, and let them call us rebels who have nothing else to write about, I care not; we ask for a system that will give fair play to all—that will upset all Family Compacts, and give to the sons of New Brunswick their birthright, the. benefit of free institutions and self-government. This is what we want, and I will not submit tamely to be called a rebel; I defy any honourable member to look at my political life and say where I have overstepped the bounds of the constitution? If I do live three thousand miles from the great body of the empire, still that empire sends its blood through the veins of every British subject. A son of New Brunswick has the same right to the benefit of her institutions as has a resident of London, and I will not submit to be cut off by any political manoeuvring.”

After a long debate, Mr. Fisher’s resolution was defeated by a vote of twenty-three to twelve, which showed that the friends of Reform had still much work to do.

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