[Ed: McGee’s famous speech evoking the “Shield of Achilles,” his vision of a Canada from sea to sea, has inspired generations of Canadians. Less well known, it was delivered in a debate on constitutional changes seven years before Confederation, marking the high-tide in George Brown’s first drive to reform the constitution by federalizing the union of Upper and Lower Canada. In an extended analysis, McGee applies the test of experience to the existing constitution, asking “because I am a unionist, must I, therefore, be for this Act of Union and for no other?” Declaring the existing union “hangs in tatters upon the expanding frame” of Canada, McGee calls for a federal union of all the provinces, hailing Canada’s “march towards nationality.”]
BROWN (Toronto) having moved a series of resolutions affirming the necessity of constitutional changes in the relations of Upper and Lower Canada,
Mr. McGEE said – I have no intention of detaining the House by speaking at any great length, and still less of following in anything like detail, the observations made last night by the member for North Hastings (Mr. Benjamin). I listened to the hon. gentleman’s speech throughout, with a great deal of attention, but I failed to perceive any conclusive argument in all that he said. The exposition he made to this House reminded me of Falstaff’s “Penny-worth of bread to such an unconscionable quantity of sack.” (Laughter.)
But, though I do not intend to follow in argument, as I must follow in point of time, the hon. member for North Hastings, if the House will allow me, I shall offer some views which I have formed for myself, from a careful perusal of the political records of this Province, as well as of the sister colonies of British North America, and after giving the all the attention I could, both during the recess and during former sessions, when I had the honour of attending this House, and had the use of its valuable library, the most valuable possession we have, I shall offer to the House with great deference the views which I considered it my duty to form in relation to this question, which differs most materially from any other question that can come before this House.
On every other occasion, we are either debating a particular expenditure, or we are for or against a particular law, but in this discussion we have raised the long previous question, whether or not we ought to be here – whether it is true that, at this moment, this House and the co-ordinate branches of the Legislature, are governing this country, according to the prevailing theory in Canada of Responsible Government. We are debating the tenure of our own existence, whether we have fulfilled the conditions of that tenure, and whether it is for the advantage of our constituents that that tenure should be prolonged.
That is a question of much more serious scope than the propriety of any particular expenditure, which may take place under our form of Government, or any particular Act which we may either pass here or reject.
I may observe, Mr. Speaker, before going farther, that this is not the first time, nor the second, nor the third, that the Constitution of Canada has been under discussion in Assemblies similar to our own. Sir Henry Cavendish’s report of “The debates on the Quebec Bill” in the Imperial Parliament, in 1774, are familiar to most members of this House. That discussion occupied the Commons of Great Britain nine days, and engaged the earnest attention of the ablest statesmen of the first half of George the Third’s reign; yet in 1774, there were, according to Sir Guy Carleton, not above 400 British settlers all in Canada, and not more than 90,000 inhabitants altogether, including, I suppose, the Aborigines. The first Constitution continued in force till 1791 – seventeen years; it was then abolished; two provinces were created; local legislatures, consisting of an executive head and two chambers each, were granted to Upper and Lower Canada. The discussion on the Canada Act of 1791 occupied the Commons of Great Britain six days, and were sustained by the first statesmen of that generation.
That was the discussion which was chiefly dwelt upon, and most largely quoted from by the member for Toronto. It was a discussion very remarkable in every respect, because it coincided in point of time with the great debate on first principles, which at that day occupied the minds of all the statesmen in the civilised world. The great issues raised by the French Revolution were then novel to the minds of men, and even the Canada Act of 1791 got entangled in the consideration of the general principles involved in the discussion of the issues raised by the French Revolution, and as the member for Hastings said last night, led to the rupture of a political and personal friendship of twenty-five years’ standing, between two of the most illustrious statesmen of Great Britain, Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox – a rupture, however, which did not grow, as he said, out of the merits of the Canada Bill, but from the introduction of French politics into the debate by Burke, as was charged by his former friend Fox – unjustly and unnecessarily.
The constitution adopted in 1791 differed very materially from that adopted in 1774, and continued for twenty or thirty years, without encountering any formidable criticism or censure. It went into effect in Lower Canada at once, and in Upper Canada in 1796. It was called in those days the “New Constitution,” and had its eulogists and enthusiastic admirers. We have an anecdote in Christie’s “History of Canada,” that when Prince Edward, father of her present Majesty, and grandfather of the young Prince, whom we expect soon to see amongst us, visited this colony, he quelled an election riot at Charlesbourg, in this neighbourhood (Quebec), by appealing to the merits of the “New Constitution,” and the advantages Canadians had obtained under it.
After a full and fair trial, however, the New Constitution was found not to work well. It was found that the colony had outgrown it. Time and experience, those great instructors of all statesmen, who are not wilfully blind or hopelessly incapable, proved wiser than Lord North in 1774, than Mr. Pitt and his colleagues in 1791, exposed many gaps and vacant spaces in the once lauded constitution, and pointed out many occasions and any reasons for change, improvement, addition, and amendment.
Dissatisfaction strongly manifested itself in Lower Canada about the year 1822. The relations of the Executive and Legislature were not defined. The relations of the Judiciary to the Executive and Legislature were not defined. The House of Assembly had spent the greater part of two sessions, 1818 and 1819, in impeaching the Chief Justice and three or four of the other Judges. They claimed the power of impeachment, while the Upper Chamber asserted its competency to sit as a court of impeachment. This raised a great constitutional question, which was referred by Lord Dalhousie to the Prince Regent’s Government; but, though it was taken into consideration, no decision on the point has been given by the Home Government from that day to this. (Hear, hear.)
In 1822, this section of the Province, then by far the most populous, was before the House of Commons as a petitioner for constitutional changes. It was at that time gradually becoming accustomed to Constitutional Government, which at first, of course, it was not. For it is a curious fact – a fact, perhaps, the dregs of which are not yet entirely worked out of the social state of Lower Canada, – that the majority of Lower Canadians did not themselves in the first place wish for Constitutional Government, having been trained under the military system of Montcalm and his predecessors, to a preference for submission to military power.
When the Constitution of 1774 was proposed, the French population of Lower Canada petitioned almost to a man against it, and declared they did not wish to be inflicted with an Assembly. They pointed out how Assemblies in other colonies had led to conflict between the colonists and the Crown, and also to their lavish expenditure of public money. But after a few years were past, when the generation which saw the substitution of the flag of Great Britain for the flag of France had passed away, and when a generation familiarised with constitutional practices grew up, the public men, of the legal profession especially, and some of the medical profession, and some of the seignors of the country, began to warm towards a constitutional system, and the ambition which had formerly been directed to the career of arms, transferred its hopes to the legislature, so that it became a source of triumph and pride to have a seat in either the Upper or Lower branch of the governing body of the country.
But, as that constitutional feeling grew strong, so also grew strong the dissatisfaction of the people with the defective system introduced in 1791. Accordingly, in 1822, the Commons of Lower Canada appeared as petitioners at the bar of the House of Commons, in England; the same year Mr. Maryatt, M.P., was appointed their agent in the Imperial Parliament; and in 1823 Mr. Speaker Papineau was sent to London to obtain a redress of grievances. In 1828 Mr. Huskisson’s “Canada Committee” sat, and they, in their report, conclude that no changes short of “an impartial, conciliatory, and constitutional system,” will be attended with the desired effect – the pacification of the Province at large.
In 1832, Mr. Wm. Lyon Mackenzie carried to London a petition signed by 24,000 inhabitants of Upper Canada, against the scheme of union then in preparation; in 1834, the ninety-two resolutions of Lower Canada, and the report of the “Committee on Grievances” in Upper Canada, sufficiently proved that the system would not work; yet it was not until the unsuccessful insurrection of 1837 and ’38 challenged the attention of Imperial statesmen to the necessity for “Constitutional Remedies,” that they entered in good earnest on their consideration.
The measure proposed in 1839 was, however, postponed till the next year, when Canadian affairs occupied the House of Commons six or eight days; the result was, the present Act of Union, now in its twentieth year, and which we, on this side, propose to subject to the same test of experience – of fitness to our present circumstances – which the statesmen of 1840 employed towards the Constitution of 1791, and the statesmen of 1791 applied to the Constitution of 1774. (Hear, hear).
A century has not passed since the Treaty of Paris handed over this country to Great Britain; yet, in that century, it has existed under five different forms of Government. For fourteen years it was governed by a military executive; for seventeen years it was ruled as a Crown Colony, by a Governor and Council; for forty years and upwards it was ruled as two distinct Provinces, with one chamber filled by election and one by nomination, in each section; and at this moment it is governed by a single Legislature, but with both branches elective since 1854, and the Executive Ministers, in theory at least, responsible for their official acts to the people and Parliament of Canada only.
The debates of 1774, of 1791, and of 1840, show, Mr. Speaker, how deeply the best minds in the Empire were exercised in planning the fabric, and proportioning the parts of the several systems under which this Province has been governed for the last hundred years. In reading over those debates, we are overawed at the fulness of information, at the generous forecast, the enlightened wisdom of many of the men who have gone before us, in considering the constitution of Canada; but we are no less struck, Mr. Speaker, by the fact, that all their plans have been materially modified and amended by time. Time and experience have proved wiser counsellors than the wisest of men; time and experience have condemned Lord North’s attempt, and every other attempt, to establish the Church of England in any portion of Canada, as the State Church; time and experience have condemned Mr. Pitt’s attempt to make seats in the Legislative Council hereditary; and to these same high authorities – time and experience – we now appeal against the defects, the radical defects in Lord John Russell’s constitution of 1840.
What were the circumstances which surrounded the introduction of that constitution into Canada? Both Upper and Lower Canada had been agitated to their depths by the unsuccessful insurrection of 1837 and 1838. The swell and clamour of the storm had not disappeared, when the high commanding voice of Lord Durham was heard above all other voices, propounding remedies – immediate and permanent remedies – for the state of the Province. The report of that noble Lord completes the evidence of the Imperial care of Canada exhibited in the discussions of 1791 and 1774. It is, as I am sure everyone in this House will admit, a document above all praise, above all price; it I such a report as Timoleon might have made to the Corinthian Senate, when sent to deliver their descendants, the Syracusans, from the double-headed monster, despotism and anarchy.
Lord John Russell was, naturally enough, deeply imbued with the sentiments of Lord Durham; he became Colonial Secretary in the Melbourne ministry of 1839, greatly to the satisfaction of his friend, Lord Sydenham; who accepted at the same time the office of Governor-General of the British North American Colonies. It was agreed between the Melbourne ministry and Lord Sydenham – before he could have any other knowledge of the actual state of Upper and Lower Canada, than that gleaned from Lord Durham’s report and Lord Durham’s conversation – that the Legislative Union was to be carried. It was decided upon as a necessary measure, from an Imperial point of view, in order to prevent the recurrence of the events of 1837 and 1838, and in order to strengthen the connection with Great Britain.
I do not pretend to say that all considerations local to Canada were underrated or omitted from the deliberations of the Melbourne Administration – I do not even say that the Imperial view they took was not the view which even the most patriotic Canadian – reasoning now long after the fact – might not have taken could he have foreseen its actual consequences; but I do say, that the measure of Union passed in 1840 was conceived in an Imperial spirit, that it was urged on by Imperial, rather than Provincial motives and interests, and that advantage was taken of the temporary agitation and reaction, in this country, to force it, all imperfect as it was, into premature operation. (Hear, hear).
Honourable gentlemen, its defenders and eulogists in this House, may speak fondly of it as “our constitution” – and “our invaluable constitution” – but it cannot be called ours in its conception nor in its execution. Before the Act of 1774 was passed, Canadian witnesses were examined by the Imperial Parliament; Sir Guy Carleton, Chief Justice Hay, Baron Maseres, and M. de Lotbiniere, were examined; before the Act of 1791 was passed, Mr. Lymburner, a very able man, a citizen of Quebec, was examined on behalf of the British inhabitants of Lower Canada, and other colonists had been consulted by correspondence: but in framing he provisions of the Act of 1840 no such preliminary consultation with leading colonists had taken place.
It was resolved upon in England before Lord Sydenham left; and that energetic nobleman prided himself especially on the celerity with which he carried the foregone conclusion of his colleagues into effect. He gave the Special Council of Lower Canada less than a week’s time to deliberate – he gave the Parliament of Upper Canada a fortnight; after listening to both he heeded neither; he confesses in his private correspondence that he thought the best thing for Lower Canada “would be ten years more of despotism;” but he could not personally afford to wait ten years; he had arrived in the last week of October, 1839, and he boasted, within two months from that date, before the end of December, he had carried the Union, so far as Canada could assent or make submission. (Hear, hear).
And this is the origin of the measure – the work of two or three men, done in a hurry, in two short months – which is spoken of in the same sense as the British Constitution – the work of many generations of men – the foundations of which, like Cologne Cathedral, were the work of one age, the superstructure of another, the completion of a third, the embellishment of a fourth which is compared to the American Constitution, the product of the wisest men, gathered in from the Kennebec to the Altampa, sitting in conclave, under the presidency of a Washington, or engaged in the discussions of the “Federalist” or the Forum for seven whole years together!
Mr. Speaker, there is no sanctity of age about this Constitution of ours; we cannot invoke its provisions as “the wisdom of our ancestors!” neither were the means by which it was carried, such as to surround it with any great halo of glory. There was no chivalric gathering, such as met at Runnymede; no learned assembly, such as sat at Annapolis; the free voices of the people were not heard demanding it; no fair representation of the people existed at the time even in Upper Canada: it was carried by sheer Imperial influence, executive address, and the advance of £1,500,000 sterling for public works.
The Sydenham loan carried the Sydenham Union, and the instrument thus framed deserves for its origin no other reverence than such as may fairly be attached to its authors, Lord Sydenham and Lord John Russell. It is in this sense Lord Grey speaks of Lord Sydenham, as having “assumed the government”; and that Lord Metcalfe, in his despatch to Lord Stanley, of the 5th of May, 1843, speaks of Lord Sydenham, as “the fabricator of the form of Government now existing in this Province.”
– When hon. gentlemen attribute to “the Act of Union” the advantages which have sometimes flowed from the system of responsible government, they commit, it seems to me, a serious anachronism. Responsible government is nowhere conceded in the Act of Union. (Hear, hear). Neither Lord Sydenham, nor his second and ablest successor, Lord Metcalfe, recognised “responsible government” in the sense we now due it, as inherent in the Act of Union. As Lord Metcalfe observes of his predecessor, he “scouted the idea” of responsible government in his despatches. After the Union was consummated at Kingston, he practically accepted it, or submitted to circumstances he could not control, by admitting that members of the Executive Council ought not to continue such, when they ceased to command the confidence of a majority of this House. Lord Metcalfe certainly did not recognise that theory; nor did the Colonial Ministers, his immediate superiors; Lord Elgin, so bitterly abused yesterday from the benches opposite, may be called the first Governor-General who acted consistently on the theory – and he did not arrive here till the seventh year after the Union.
Let us, therefore, not confound two things – the Act of 1840 and the establishment of responsible government; let us not credit to a false cause whatever good results have sprung from another, and a subsequent advance towards legislative independence.
And, after all, in what does this “responsibility” of ministers to this House or the country consist? On the vigilance and patriotism of the majority of the House I admit it ought to depend; but on what does it really depend? I answer – and the records of our recent as well as of our earlier politics under the Union bear me out – it depends as much, if not more, on the personal qualities, of the Governor sent us – on his capacity, his firmness, and his superiority to personal influences – as on the will of this House. It does not exist in your Union Act, nor in any other fundamental law. It exists mainly in the personal character of the Governor. When you get a Governor who respects public opinion, who has had a constitutional training, who is by temper as well as by information fit to be the head of a great constitutional State – which every public man chosen by favouritism or chance medley is not (hear, hear) – then you have Responsible Government; but not otherwise. (Hear, hear).
For it is a very different thing, Mr. Speaker, moving in a prescribed orbit, as ministers in England, carrying out a constitution which every body around them habitually obeys, from trying to work an ill-defined constitution, in a new state of society, supplementing the defects of that constitution out of the resources of your own wisdom, and justice and foresight. That constitution which depends on the will of any one man, however high he may be, or the will of any number of men, is no constitution, is undeserving the name of a constitution.
I know very well that the theory is, that ministers cannot remain in office without being sustained by a majority of this House. But there is another power which may have more to do with keeping them in office, under the present system, than a majority of this House, or their own electors, once they are elected. Give any ministry, however scraped together, a chamber of one hundred and thirty members, not divided by deep and broad party lines – give them, at the same time, a pliable, or partisan, or incapable Governor, who will permit them a profuse use of the public money, under the colour of “Orders in Council” – and such a ministry, however distrusted or detested in the country, may continue to rule this House for four consecutive years, or as long as such a Governor remains. Is it not so? Is not this the plainest lesson which Time and Experience have taught us from our existing constitution?
And where, even with a new Parliament or a new Governor – where is the redress of the people against a bad minister? He may lay down his portfolio, and laugh us all to scorn. He may retire from official station, and you cannot follow him to the back benches or the cross benches. You cannot reach him when he is in – you cannot reach him when he is out. Where, then, is your “Responsible Government?” Can there be responsibility of ministers without a penalty? It seems to me there cannot. And if not, where is your penalty? Have you not the same radical effect which Mr. Grattan found in the constitution of his country, when he exclaimed, in allusion to the Roman fasces, “Ireland has no axe and therefore she has no honest minister.”
I am well aware that, practically, the power of impeachment has fallen into comparative disuse in England, and has been very rarely resorted to in the United States; but I know that it exists in the constitution of both – that it is not a dead letter – that it has been used with terrible effect in times past, just as the great guns under our windows, though silent now and somewhat rusted, can yet serve every purpose for which they were originally cast from the furnace, and mounted where they stand.
But, sir, we are told by the hon. member for North Hastings, that we owe to the Union, unqualifiedly – apart from the system of responsibility – whatever monetary credit the Province has enjoyed the past dozen or twenty years. Sir, I am not a disunionist, and I hold of course that some form of union is essential to our common credit, and most beneficial to our common progress. I do not think it possible that Upper and Lower Canada, once separated, could advance, or command one means of progress – money – in anything like the proportion which they can, being united. Dissolution, “pure and simple,” as the phrase is, I consider very simple indeed; I consider it altogether retrograde; and I do not believe the youngest man in this House will ever live to see it. (Hear hear.)
But because I am a unionist, must I, therefore, be for this Act of Union and for no other? Or, is it even possible for me, or for any one, to stand by Lord Sydenham’s union at this time of day? Sir, it is not possible; for that union, such as it was, no longer exists; it has been frittered away, year by year, by Imperial legislation and by Provincial legislation till it now hangs in tatters upon the expanding frame of this colony.
Of its sixty-two clauses, no less than thirty have been repealed by statute within the last ten years! The 4th clause, in relation to the Legislative Council, has been repealed; the required sanction of the two-thirds vote in Constitutional Changes has gone with that clause; the clauses from 13 to 25, inclusive, relating to elections – to the constitution of this House – have been repealed; the proviso of the 26th clause, and the whole of the 27th clause, relating to the same important subject, have been repealed; clause 41, making the English language the official language of the country, has been repealed; clause 42, reserving all legislation on ecclesiastical matters for the Sovereign’s consent, has been repealed; clause 44, relating to Provincial Courts of Appeal, has been superseded; clauses 50 to 57, inclusive, constituting the Consolidated Revenue Fund, and schedules A and B of the Act referred to in those clauses, have all been repealed. And this is the shattered idol we are called upon to worship, as the image of life, and health, and power!
So far as it defined the powers of this Chamber, or the composition of the other, the Act of Union is defunct; so far as it touched the delicate subjects of language and religion it is defunct; so far as it constituted Courts of Appeal, or legislated for the public credit, it is defunct; and in this carcass we are asked to place all our trust and all dependence for future good government!
But I mistake – it is not altogether dead, though so dreadfully mutilated. There is still a little life left, which the Administration of the day draw hope from with desperate fidelity – the 12th section, decreeing an equality of representation, independent of population, and the 45th section, vaguely describing the powers of the Governor-General and the all important “Orders in Council;” the section, also, limiting the duration of Parliament to four years, may be counted among the relics which remain.
The equality clause was introduced, avowedly, into the Act, for the purpose of “swamping the French;” but that purpose has been defeated – and I rejoice that it has been defeated. (Hear hear). It was a deliberate conspiracy against the rights of one set of people – flagitious in the conception, and wholly indefensible in the enactment; why then, should it be maintained and enforced against another set? (Hear, hear).
Are we, of Lower Canada to rule our fellow subjects of Upper Canada, on the Pagan principle of the lex talionis? Or rather, on the Christian principle “of doing unto others as we would be done by?” I do not say that we should place ourselves or our institutions – differing so widely as we do from Upper Canadians – at their mercy; I mean nothing of the kind; I have never entertained any such idea. No! I believe that a remedy can be found by Upper Canada for her wrongs, and by Lower Canada ample safeguards for her rights; and I shall immediately, with permission of the House, though with very great self-distrust, indicate the nature of that remedy, as it suggests itself to my mind.
But, before I do so, let me ask every candid man in this Assembly, whether he believes the present state of things in this Province can be much longer maintained? Are the people satisfied with the vague, unlimited power of the Executive over the public expenditure? Are they satisfied with the appointment of strong political partisans – often by their own colleagues – to the judicial bench? Are elections to this House conducted on a system calculated to inspire awe and obedience towards the laws we make? Is the character of this House elevated by the scenes which take place at our elections, by the notorious bribery and corruption which have been practised, by the fact that we met in 1858 with thirty-two seats in this House, out of 130, contested, with every fourth man in the House petitioned against? (Hear hear).
Is it the fact that the character of this House has been raised of late years under the working of our present system? Is it the fact that Lower Canadian majority persistently ruling the people of Upper Canada against their well-understood wishes, as expressed though their legitimate organs in this House – is that winning friends for the system in Upper Canada? (Hear, hear). Is an elective Legislative Council, when it becomes wholly elective – as it soon will – is it, coming fresh from the people, likely to recognise in this Assembly the same monopoly of popular power which the House of Commons holds, in comparison with the hereditary House of Lords?
If then, what remains of our constitution does not work satisfactorily – if the Legislature is losing the respect and confidence of the people – if the Judiciary even be sometimes looked upon with doubt, recruited as it is from the thick of the political conflict – if the Executive is not regarded with affection and respect by the country – if the three great divisions of the Government of the country have all sunk in the public estimation, then I put to any honest man the question, How does all this happen? Is it that our present rulers, the Executive, or the administrators of justice, or the representatives of the people in this House, are worse men, are more prone to despotism or corruption than those who have one before them, or those who may come after them?
I do not charge them with any innate depravity of that kind; but I charge the abuses which have crept into the provisions of the Act of Union, or the omissions of the Act of Union, an instrument not strong enough to sustain official weakness against temptations to go beyond the strict line of official duty – an instrument which makes the weak weaker, and tempts and enables the corrupt to become more corrupt. (Hear, hear). And I say, an instrument like that ought not to be held up to the respect of this House and of this country; and that it would be indeed a poor verdict on the intelligence of the people of Canada, if after 23 years of peace following the last social commotion in this Province, if there are not men to be found in Canada at this day of sufficient wisdom to fame a much better instrument than Lord Sydenham improvised, and Lord John Russell imposed upon Upper and Lower Canada, regardless of the opposition of both. (Cheers.)
Before I pass from this subject, there is one other point to which I must refer – the admitted necessity of Departmental Reform, which cannot be had under our present system. The Public Works Department is a fathomless abyss; our Public Domain does not pay the wages of its overseers; our Department of Agriculture and Statistics is without a head; our Emigration Service is unorganised; the only active agencies of administration are to be found in the Taxing Department and the Sueing Department – with the Finance Minister, the Postmaster, and the Attorney-General. Individual vigour, I admit, may do much towards a remedy; but the system ought to be such as to provide against individual weakness, and to render mediocrity comparatively harmless. This Sir, I fear we never can have, with the present arrangement of nominal heads and irresponsible subordinates. We certainly have not hitherto had a satisfactory departmental system. (Hear, hear.)
I have shown, I trust, that Lord Sydenham’s Union did not originate in any view to the interests of Canada, though I do not allege but that the interests of Canada have been served by that instrument, up to a certain point. But I say it was not the act of the people of Canada. It was imposed on the people of Canada by Imperial authority alone. It was urged on to remove an irksome state of things in the Province itself, and to strengthen the connection with the mother country. It was hastened at a time when its chief advocate, the Governor-General of that day, would have needed to have been more than human, to have been above the impressions produced on his mind by all the conflicting stories and views pressed upon him, by men coming heated from the late social contest, many of whom had been actually in the mêlée of civil war. I admit that those who point out the defects of the present Union are bound to make a clear and strong case against it; and I think that clear and strong case has been made. (Hear, hear.)
I speak not now so much of details, as of the broad and general facts. The details have been elaborated with great care in several publications; and among, other, in an excellent political document which the hon. member for North Hastings took as the text for his speech last night – the address of the Reform Convention lately held in Upper Canada. But, I suppose, upon this subject, we are all free companions on this side of the House, and each of us has some peculiar view of his own, which he will express, as I have risen to do, in pronouncing an opinion on the motion of the hon. member for Toronto. I should have preferred, I admit, to have voted upon that motion with some modifications; but I am now debarred forming so by the motion of the previous question moved by the member for Hastings; so that now we shall have to vote for or against it in the form in which it has been proposed. (Hear, hear.)
As I am debarred from voting for any modification of that motion, I am prepared fully to concur in the opinion, that the Act of Union has not answered the designs of its projectors – that it has not fulfilled what they claim for it – that it has been already in great part repealed – this it has not longer, so to speak, “a leg to stand upon.” – that it is not now in existence in this Province.
The question, then, is a question of remedy. The hon. member for Hastings, last night, twitted the hon. member for Toronto that he had no remedy to propose. I have no doubt, when we come to that stage of the matter, remedies will be as thick as blackberries. I have no doubt every one who has ever opened a constitutional book will have his own scheme of the distribution of functions, and of joint authority, of the proportion of power to be exercised by the central authority, and the proportion to be retained by the local governments. There is no subject, perhaps, on which the human mind can exercise itself, so capable of endless combinations, as the question of civil government. Perhaps, even that science, the subtlest of all sciences, Theology, is not more full of acute distinctions than this comparatively modern science, of the formation of constitution and the distribution of powers.
Now my own humble view, which I offer to the House for what it is worth, is, that the remedy which will suit our circumstances, is a bold application of the federal principle. I am prepared to apply that remedy to our position with the sanction of the people of both sections of the Province, and not otherwise. But the best and most desirable thing, to my mind, is the Federal Union of all the North American colonies – and I think it not only a more desirable thing, but a more practical thing.
I think every man in this House who has given careful consideration to the subject, must see that dissolution pure and simple is entirely out of the question, that an absolute dissolution of the Union is an impossibility. We are not our own masters in that respect at all events. We have to get the consent of the Empire, and the consent of the public creditor, and the whole tendency of these modern times is against it. Every invention for diminishing the obstacle of space, for the multiplication of ideas, for the swifter communication of intelligence, is against it – art is against it – science is against it – nature is against it. Dissolution pure and simple, no man on the floor of this House, I believe, ever will live to see, should he live to be as old as the oldest of his ancestors.
But, while I believe that to be neither the desirable nor the practical remedy, I say it is easier to obtain, and we have already obtained, the sanction of the Imperial authorities to enter into the consideration of the question of the general federation. Yet to work out this cure even with the sanction of the metropolitan power, much time for deliberation, and many mutual conferences, will be necessary. If the Legislatures of the Lower Colonies, and our own, were prepared for it, the initiative ought to be taken immediately upon the visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, for even then, it would probably be 1864 or 1865 before all the obstacles could be removed, and all the arrangements agreed upon. It would, however, be something to hope for, and to work for, and to wait for, in the interim; it would occupy the hearts and minds of all the statesmen of all the colonies, and prepare them by correspondence and intercourse to act understandingly together, when they should come together.
I rest the advocacy of a Federal Union of all the Provinces mainly on these grounds.
First. – That a Unity of all the Provinces is desirable commercially, and would be beneficial to each. Secondly. – That a mere Commercial union, such as the German Zollverein, without the superintendence of some central political power, would not give sufficient security for the interests of all members of the confederacy. Thirdly. – That such a union is a necessary complement of our present colonial system – unless we are to look forward to annexation to the United States. Fourthly. – That while the tendencies of our times are all in favour of such Unions, the obstacles in our way are not greater than those which have been repeatedly overcome by other disunited States and Provinces.
That a Union of the colonies is desirable commercially, was, I think, very clearly shown to this House two sessions since, by the present Finance Minister – though he did not then put his resolution to the vote. Had he done so, I should have felt it my duty to vote with him, as I did subsequently on the subject of an Intercolonial Railway.
It is desirable commercially for Canada, that we should have an addition of a million consumers to our domestic market. It is desirable that but one tariff and custom system should prevail throughout all these Provinces. How is it now? With half a dozen different tariffs and different currencies, with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia taxing each other’s industry, and both taxing ours, is it possible we should grow in numbers or in wealth in the ratio of the conterminous New England States? It is not possible, as we find to our cost. While the New England States average thirty inhabitants to the square mile, Canada averages but seven, and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, taken together, but eleven.
The statistics of Intercolonial trade, contrasted with our trade to the United States, shows what a “triangular duel” we are engaged in, at the expense of each other’s safety and property. In 1857 we exported to the United States breadstuffs to the value of 1,776,250l., or near $9,000,000, while the two adjoining Provinces imported from the United States breadstuffs to the value of 408,000l., or $2,000,000. On the other hand we imported from the United States, West Indies produce to the value of $4,500,000, while our exports to the West Indies were nil. New Brunswick, however, in the same year imported from the West Indies to the value of 40,000l., and Nova Scotia to the amount of 322,000l. – in all, to the amount of say, $1,800,000 – a figure which shows how possible it is to carry on much of our West India trade through the agency of the sister Provinces.
I instance only these two articles of commerce – West Indian goods and breadstuffs. But there are other mediums of exchange between us. Nova Scotia has coal, – we have none; and fuel, at least in Lower Canada, we are told is becoming every day more scarce and dear; Upper Canada exports flour, and imports West Indian goods – fish and coal; we manufacture many articles which the Lower Provinces want, and they produce or can profitably procure us others which we require.
What then is wanting to our mutually benefiting each other? I answer – intercourse – association – union. (Hear, hear).
It is argued that no intercourse exists, and therefore that no commerce could exist. Create the intercourse, and you create the commerce. Would the Reciprocity Treaty have been of any practical value to any portion of Canada, if it were not for the canals and railways on our side [of] the line and the other? There are the broad facts – a million of consumers at our own doors – our own fellow subjects – with wants which we can supply, and commodities to exchange – yet they profit nothing from our vicinage, nor we by them. At this moment each of these Colonies is much more profitable to the United States than to Canada; we have reciprocity with strangers, but none with our fellow-subjects.
When I place the necessity for a general federation on commercial grounds in the first instance, I do not mean to say, Mr. Speaker, that a mere commercial union without a central political power, could accomplish any great things. I know there is the example of the Zollverein, which, since 1838, has extended its circles from the Rhine to the Russian frontier – over 40,000,000 of consumers. Where would the Zollverein be, without the sustaining and directing power of Prussia?
The experience of the Hanse towns and the Italian Republics – the experience even of those separated Provinces is full of instruction on this head. The territorial interests of New Brunswick were sacrificed in the Ashburton Territory, the ship-building interests of all our seaports were sacrificed in the Reciprocity Treaty – the American coasting trade has been lost to us, by the indifference of Imperial statesmen – the interests of Newfoundland have three times been on the point of being given up to France within six or seven years. Can any one suppose that if we had a central political power – strong enough to protect every member of what Mr. Caming called “the Great British Confederacy” of North America – such things could ever happen again?
My third ground is, Sir, that such a Union as I am considering is a necessary complement to our colonial representative system – unless we look forward – which I believe no one in this House does –to annexation to the United States. (Hear, hear.) Sir, we have already advanced too far for dependencies, to halt in our march towards nationality. On what principles that nationality will ultimately repose – whether on British or on American principles – whether we are likely to become part of a Northern Republic, flanked by Southern slavery, or a secundo-geniture in the royal family of England, I do not now mean to discuss. One thing is certain, we have advanced and must continue to advance. The law of our youth is growth, the law of our growth is progress.
Now, if to the next step, we are to take, as well as those we have taken in 1774, 1791, and 1840, the consent of the Empire is essential, can we have that consent for a dissolution of the Canadian Union? I think not. For a Canadian Federation? Possibly. For a general federation, retaining the connection? It has been given over and over again; Lord Grey, Sir Lytton Bulwer [sic], Mr. Labouchere, – almost every Colonial Secretary of late years, – has declared it to be our own affair, with which the Metropolitan power has no desire to interfere unfavourably. Nova Scotia is ripe for it; New Brunswick, as I had reason to believe last year, during a visit to that country, is not actively adverse to it; the political interest below Quebec will be in its favour; and the commercial interest in England is well disposed towards it.
I hold in my hand petitions presented to the Imperial Parliament during the present year by many of the leading houses of Liverpool and Glasgow; the Cunards, Gilmores, Dunlops, Richardsons, Gillespies, – names powerful alike on ‘Change and in the reception room of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. These petitions not only show that it is commercially, but politically, desirable to draw all these colonies close together. The petitioners pray for an Imperial aid of 60,000l. a year for seven years, to complete the 400 miles of railway which would connect Halifax with Quebec. They point out that the defence of these colonies costs the Imperial Exchequer 420,000l. per annum, which this road would in great part supersede; and every argument for the road tells equally for the federation.
Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I have said that the tendencies of our times are all in favour of such a Union as I speak of, while the obstacles in our way are not greater than have been often overcome by other separated States and Provinces. It is true, we are of unequal size, with unequal resources, and different degrees of indebtedness, but the local governments may harmonise all these inequalities.
We are of different religions; yet the two great divisions of Christians – Catholics and Protestants – would be, as nearly as possible, balanced, in a union of all the colonies. We are a northern people, and must be a commercial people; the bonds of interest would therefore bind us. We would have in our favour the river system of the North, from the mouth of the Gulf to the head of Lake Superior. We have not a tithe of the difficulties to overcome which the fathers of the Swiss, Dutch, and American Confederacies overcame.
Difficulties indeed there are, but none, Sir, in my humble judgment, which could not be got over in an amicable Conference of the Colonies; and as I once heard the hon. member from South Ontario (Mr. Mowat) ask – “What are statesmen fit for, if not to overcome difficulties?”
I cannot believe that any one here has a vested interest in the continuance of our disunion. There may be those who imagine that such a plan as I have sketched would prove fatal to their self-importance; who, as is said – I think unjustly said – of Julius Caesar, “would rather be first in a village than second in Rome.” We can understand that there might be such persons, even in this House, but I believe there are other members of the Canadian Parliament endued with a wider vision and better aspirations – men who do not fear to meet in debate all the talents of all the Provinces; men, who would feel a generous satisfaction in confronting the ablest of their fellow subjects in amicable controversy. For such men the prospect of a broader arena, and less manageable majorities, has no terrors; they would welcome with enthusiasm the dawning of the day which was to enlarge our horizon, and open before us new fields of labour and of honour. (Hear, hear.)
I conclude, Sir, as I began, by entreating the House to believe that I have spoken without respect of persons, and with a sole single desire for the increase, prosperity, freedom and honour of this incipient Northern nation. I call it a Northern nation – for such it must become if all of us do but do our duty to the last. Men do not talk on this continent of changes wrought by centuries, but of the events of years. Men do not vegetate in this age as they did formerly, in one spot, occupying one position. Thought outruns the steam car and hope outflies the telegraph. We live more in ten years in this era than the patriarchs did in a thousand. The patriarch might outlive the palm-tree which was planted to commemorate his birth, and yet not see so many wonders as we have witnessed since the Constitution we are now discussing was formed. What marvels have not been wrought in Europe and America from 1840 to 1860? – and who can say the world – or our own portion of it more particularly – is incapable of maintaining till the end of the century the ratio of the past progress? I, for one, cannot presume to say so.
I look to the future of my adopted country with hope though not without anxiety; I see in the not remote distance, one great nationality bound, like the shield of Achilles, by the blue rim of ocean – I see it quartered into many communities – each disposing of its internal affairs – but all bound together by free institutions, free intercourse, and free commerce; I see within the round of that shield, the peaks of the Western mountains and the crests of the Eastern waves – the winding Assinaboine, the five-fold lakes, the St. Lawrence, the Ottawa, the Saguenay, the St. John, and the Basin of Minas – by all these flowing waters, in all the valleys they fertilise, in all the cities they visit in their courses, I see a generation of industrious, contented, moral men, free in name and in fact – men capable of maintaining, in peace and in war, a Constitution worthy of such a country. (The hon. gentleman resumed his seat amidst loud and general applause.)