Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

memory of a great man, too soon removed from the public life of Great Britain, combined with the natural desire to please his daughter when he wrote these words to her:-"I still adhere to my opinion that the real and effectual vindication of Lord Durham's memory and proceedings will be the success of a governor-general of Canada who works out his views of government fairly. Depend upon it, if this country is governed for a few years satisfactorily, Lord Durham's reputation as a statesman will be raised beyond the reach of cavil." Now, more than half a century after he penned these words and expressed this hope, we all perceive that Lord Elgin was the instrument to carry out this work.

Here it is necessary to close this very brief sketch of Lord Elgin's early career, that I may give an account of the political and economic conditions of the dependency at the end of January, 1847, when he arrived in the city of Montreal to assume the responsibilities of his office. This review will show the difficulties of the political situation with which he was called upon to cope, and will enable us to obtain an insight into the high qualifications which he brought to the conduct of public affairs in the Canadas.

CHAPTER II

POLITICAL CONDITION IN CANADA

T

O understand clearly the political state of Canada at the time Lord Elgin was appointed governor-general, it is necessary to go back for a number of years. The unfortunate rebellions which were precipitated by Louis Joseph Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie during 1837 in the two Canadas were the results of racial and political difficulties which had gradually arisen since the organization of the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada under the Constitutional Act of 1791. In the French section, the French and English Canadians the latter always an insignificant minority as respects number-had in the course of time formed distinct parties. As in the courts of law and in the legislature, so it was in social and everyday life, the French Canadian was in direct antagonism to the English Canadian. Many members of the official and governing class, composed almost exclusively of English, were still too ready to consider French Canadians as inferior beings, and not entitled to the same rights and privileges in the government of the country. It was a time of passion and declamation, when men of fervent eloquence, like Papineau, might have

aroused the French as one man, and brought about a general rebellion had they not been ultimately thwarted by the efforts of the moderate leaders of public opinion, especially of the priests who, in all national crises in Canada, have happily intervened on the side of reason and moderation, and in the interests of British connection, which they have always felt to be favourable to the continuance and security of their religious institutions. Lord Durham, in his memorable report on the condition of Canada, has summed up very expressively the nature of the conflict in the French province. "I expected," he said, "to find a contest between a government and a people; I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state; I found a struggle, not of principles, but of races."

66

While racial antagonisms intensified the difficulties in French Canada, there existed in all the provinces political conditions which arose from the imperfect nature of the constitutional system conceded by England in 1791, and which kept the country in a constant ferment. It was a mockery to tell British subjects conversant with British institutions, as Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe told the Upper Canadians in 1792, that their new system of government was "an image and transcript of the British constitution." While it gave to the people representative institutions, it left out the very principle which was necessary to make them work harmoniously—a government responsible to the

AN IRREPRESSIBLE CONFLICT

legislature, and to the people in the last resort, for the conduct of legislation and the administration of affairs. In consequence of the absence of this vital principle, the machinery of government became clogged, and political strife convulsed the country from one end to the other. An "irrepressible conflict" arose between the government and the governed classes, especially in Lower Canada. The people who in the days of the French régime were without influence and power, had gained under their new system, defective as it was in essential respects, an insight into the operation of representative government, as understood in England. They found they were governed, not by men responsible to the legislature and the people, but by governors and officials who controlled both the executive and legislative councils. If there had always been wise and patient governors at the head of affairs, or if the imperial authorities could always have been made aware of the importance of the grievances laid before them, or had understood their exact character, the differences between the government and the majority of the people's representatives might have been arranged satisfactorily. But, unhappily, military governors like Sir James Craig only aggravated the dangers of the situation, and gave demagogues new opportunities for exciting the people. The imperial authorities, as a rule, were sincerely desirous of meeting the wishes of the people in a reasonable and fair spirit, but unfortunately for

the country, they were too often ill-advised and ill-informed in those days of slow communication, and the fire of public discontent was allowed to smoulder until it burst forth in a dangerous form.

In all the provinces, but especially in Lower Canada, the people saw their representatives practically ignored by the governing body, their money expended without the authority of the legislature, and the country governed by irresponsible officials. A system which gave little or no weight to public opinion as represented in the House of Assembly, was necessarily imperfect and unstable, and the natural result was a deadlock between the legislative council, controlled by the official and governing class, and the house elected by the people. The governors necessarily took the side of the men whom they had themselves appointed, and with whom they were acting. In the maritime provinces in the course of time, the governors made an attempt now and then to conciliate the popular element by bringing in men who had influence in the assembly, but this was a matter entirely within their own discretion. The system of government as a whole was worked in direct contravention of the principle of responsibility to the majority in the popular house. Political agitators had abundant opportunities for exciting popular passion. In Lower Canada, Papineau, an eloquent but impulsive man, having rather the qualities of an agitator than those of a statesman, led the majority of his compatriots.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »