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CHAPTER III

POLITICAL DIFFICULTIES

L

ORD ELGIN made a most favourable impression on the public opinion of Canada from the first hour he arrived in Montreal, and had opportunities of meeting and addressing the people. His genial manner, his ready speech, his knowledge of the two languages, his obvious desire to understand thoroughly the condition of the country and to pursue British methods of constitutional government, were all calculated to attract the confidence of all nationalities, classes, and creeds. The supporters of responsible government heard with infinite pleasure the enunciation of the principles which would guide him in the discharge of his public duties. "I am sensible," he said in answer to a Montreal address, "that I shall but maintain the prerogative of the Crown, and most effectually carry out the instructions with which Her Majesty has honoured me, by manifesting a due regard for the wishes and feelings of the people and by seeking the advice and assistance of those who enjoy their confidence."

At this time the Draper Conservative ministry, formed under such peculiar circumstances by Lord Metcalfe, was still in office, and Lord Elgin, as in

duty bound, gave it his support, although it was clear to him and to all other persons at all conversant with public opinion that it did not enjoy the confidence of the country at large, and must soon give place to an administration more worthy of popular favour. He recognized the fact that the crucial weakness in the political situation was "that a Conservative government meant a government of Upper Canadians, which is intolerable to the French, and a Radical government meant a government of French, which is no less hateful to the British." He believed that the political problem of "how to govern united Canada"-and the changes which took place later showed he was right—would be best solved "if the French would split into a Liberal and Conservative party, and join the Upper Canada parties which bear corresponding names.” Holding these views, he decided at the outset to give the French Canadians full recognition in the reconstruction or formation of ministries during his term of office. And under all circumstances he was resolved to give "to his ministers all constitutional support, frankly and without reserve, and the benefit of the best advice" that he could afford them in their difficulties. In return for this he expected that they would, "in so far as it is possible for them to do so, carry out his views for the maintenance of the connection with Great Britain and the advancement of the interests of the province." On this tacit understanding, they the governor-general and the

CHANGES IN THE CABINET

Draper-Viger cabinet-had "acted together harmoniously," although he had "never concealed from them that he intended to do nothing" which would "prevent him from working cordially with their opponents." It was indispensable that "the head of the government should show that he has confidence in the loyality of all the influential parties with which he has to deal, and that he should have no personal antipathies to prevent him from acting with leading men.'

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Despite the wishes of Lord Elgin, it was impossible to reconstruct the government with a due regard to French Canadian interests. Mr. Caron and Mr. Morin, both strong men, could not be induced to become ministers. The government continued to show signs of disintegration. Several members resigned and took judgeships in Lower Canada. Even Mr. Draper retired with the understanding that he should also go on the bench at the earliest opportunity in Upper Canada. Another effort was made to keep the ministry together, and Mr. Henry Sherwood became its head; but the most notable acquisition was Mr. John Alexander Macdonald as receiver-general. From that time this able man took a conspicuous place in the councils of the country, and eventually became prime minister of the old province of Canada, as well as of the federal dominion which was formed many years later in British North America, largely through his instrumentality. From his first entrance into politics

he showed that versatility of intellect, that readiness to adapt himself to dominant political conditions and make them subservient to the interests of his party, that happy faculty of making and keeping personal friends, which were the most striking traits of his character. His mind enlarged as he had greater experience and opportunities of studying public life, and the man who entered parliament as a Tory became one of the most Liberal Conservatives who ever administered the affairs of a colonial dependency, and, at the same time, a statesman of a comprehensive intellect who recognized the strength of British institutions and the advantage of British connection.

The obvious weakness of the reconstructed ministry was the absence of any strong men from French Canada. Mr. Denis B. Papineau was in no sense a recognized representative of the French Canadians, and did not even possess those powers of eloquence-that ability to give forth "rhetorical flashes"-which were characteristic of his reckless but highly gifted brother. In fact the ministry as then organized was a mere makeshift until the time came for obtaining an expression of opinion from the people at the polls. When parliament met in June, 1847, it was quite clear that the ministry was on the eve of its downfall. It was sustained only by a feeble majority of two votes on the motion for the adoption of the address to the governor-general. The opposition, in which LaFon

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IMPORTANT LEGISLATION

taine, Baldwin, Aylwin, and Chauveau were the most prominent figures, had clearly the best of the argument in the political controversies with the tottering ministry. Even in the legislative council resolutions, condemning it chiefly on the ground that the French province was inadequately represented in the cabinet, were only negatived by the vote of the president, Mr. McGill, a wealthy merchant of Montreal, who was also a member of the administration.

Despite the weakness of the government, the legislature was called upon to deal with several questions which pressed for immediate action. Among the important measures which were passed was one providing for the amendment of the law relating to forgery, which was no longer punishable by death. Another amended the law with respect to municipalities in Lower Canada, which, however, failed to satisfy the local requirements of the people, though it remained in force for eight years, when it was replaced by one better adapted to the conditions of the French province. The legislature also discussed the serious effects of free trade upon Canadian industry, and passed an address to the Crown praying for the repeal of the laws which prevented the free use of the St. Lawrence by ships of all nations. But the most important subject with which the government was called upon to deal was one which stifled all political rivalry and national prejudices, and demanded the earnest consideration of

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