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STATE OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS IN CANADA ON MR. BROWN's
ARRIVAL IN 1843.
It is impossible to present any fair estimate of Mr. Brown's life and character, or to do justice to his merits as a public man, without dealing to a certain extent with the public questions in the discussion of which he was engaged for thirty-six years.
When Mr. Brown first appeared in Canada the country had not recovered from the shock and confusion caused by the ill-advised insurrectionary movements of 1837-9. These movements were brought about by a quarter of a century's misgovernment at the hands of a small but compact body of men, whose professed excessive loyalty to king and church, though marred by an abhorrence of popular rights, had generally secured to them the support of the British Government, then also controlled to a great extent by the same unjust and antiprogressive spirit.
The leaders of the popular party were almost exclusively engaged in a battle with the powers of the day on specific grievances complained of, and consequently gave comparatively little attention to the advocacy of fundamental principles of government which, left to operate freely, would have removed all grievances by due course of law. Mr. Lindsey, in his life of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie, says : “ The people "complained of the government, when they ought to have struck a blow “at the system which rendered it possible for a party who could com“mand only a small minority in the popular branch of the legislature “to continue their grasp on the reins of power.” Wild attacks on the leaders of the Canadian oligarchy (sometimes embracing the Governor), and petitions to the Secretary of State for the colonies, on subjects. which the Canadian people, left to themselves, would have immediately put right, were perhaps to be expected ; nor would it be just now to severely blame, or to blame at all, that mode of procedure ; but such a course only anticipated some temporary relief in some specific cases of injustice caused by a bad system of government, rather than looked for a radical cure.
The initiation of a system of partially responsible government with the union of the two Canadas did not rapidly tend to produce perfect contentment, for the simple reason that the name existed without the
possession of the substance. The earlier governors sent from England hesitated about giving full effect to the principles of free parliamentary government, and were all much disposed to retain an undue control of public affairs in their own hands. Even as late as 1854 Lord Derby made use of the following language while discussing proposed reforms in the Canadian constitution :
· Nothing like a free and well regulated monarchy could exist for a single moment under such a constitution as that which is now proposed for Canada. From the moment that you pass this constitution the progress must be rapid towards republicanism, if anything could be more really republican than this bill.
In 1850 Lord Elgin felt himself obliged to give a liberal Minister in England his views in the following terms :
“You must renounce the habit of telling the colonies that the colonial is a provisional existence. You must allow them to believe that, without severing the bonds which unite them to Great Britain, they may attain the degree of perfection, and of social and political development, to which organized communities have a right to aspire.
There is nothing which makes the colonial statesman so jealous as rescripts from the Colonial Office suggested by the representations of provincial cliques or interests, who ought, as he contends, to bow before the authorities of Government House, Montreal, rather than those of Downing Street."
Lord Sydenham, notwithstanding his English Whig training, formed an administration of men who had never acted together, and who could not honestly do so in the future. The sole bond of union was the personal influence of the Governor-General himself, who hoped in this way to retain in his own hands an amount of power and influence wholly inconsistent with a system of responsible government.
No vigorous effort was put forth anywhere to demand the inauguration of the new system by a full recognition of its principles. The presence of Robert Baldwin and R. B. Sullivan in company with Wm. H. Draper, in an ordinary administration, sufficiently indicated the compromise character of the principles which would govern it in its administrative capacity, and also in its legislative programme.
The attempt to maintain the old system under a new and attractive name was continued with varying success until the final rupture with Sir Charles Metcalfe, a few months after his arrival in Canada, by the proper action of his then ministers, who formed the first Liberal or Reform administration of Canada, although at least some of them showed by their subsequent action that they held their principles of popular government very lightly. It is hazarding little to say that the principles of responsible government were not well understood by the people, nor much insisted upon by their leaders up to this period, while the representatives of the Crown were either hostile to them or believed them inapplicable in their fulness to Canada. Lord John Russell announced at the time Mr. Poulett Thomson went out as
governor, that “ The principal offices in the colony would not be con“sidered as being held by a tenure equivalent to one during good “behaviour, but that the holders would be liable to be called upon to “retire whenever, from motives of public policy or for other reasons, “this should be found expedient.” This practically left it discretionary with the Governor, not with a parliamentary majority, to terminate the official life of a minister, It is probable that Sir Charles Bagot would, had he lived, have taken a more constitutional course, and governed by a parliamentary majority. No one now attempts to defend Lord Metcalfe as having rightfully exercised the functions of a constitutional governor. Mr. Walrond says of him that “ Lord Met“calfe with great difficulty formed a conservative adıninistration, and “ immediately dissolved his parliament. The new elections gave a “small majority to the conservatives, chiefly it was said, to the “exertion of his personal influence ; but the success was purchased at “a ruinous cost, for he was now in the position, fatal to a Governor, “of a party man.” Lord Elgin was the first Governor-General who determined to govern through his constitutional advisers having the confidence of parliament, and even in his case it was not difficult sometimes to discern traces of his influence over his council; but that influence, though greater than usual, was a legitimate influence. “I “ believe that there is more room for the exercise of influence
on the part of the Governor under my system than under any that ever
was before devised. On certain questions of public policy, especi“ally with regard to church matters, views are propounded which do “not square with my preconceived opinions, and which I acquiesce in “ so long as they do not contravene the fundamental principles of “morality.”—(Vide letter to Mr. C. Bruce). Lord Elgin did materially influence his council on the settlement of the clergy reserve question.
Mr. Brown arrived in Canada in time to participate in the renewed battle for popular rights. This battle had, in a sense, been fought, and in a manner won, but the enemy had not been followed up. They were allowed to rally and again get possession of the defences. The fruits of victory were only partially realized by the victors, and now their opponents were in the field headed by the Governor-General in person.
He had by his unconstitutional conduct made himself a mere party leader. Hitherto, under the name of the new system, leading men among reformers did not hesitate about accepting office with men belonging to the opposite party without any security that their responsibility to parliament should take precedence of their obligations to the representative of the Crown. The untimely death of Lord Sydenham, and the illness and short reign of Sir Charles Bagot, eft them little time for ascertaining the views of the people or their