Joseph Edmund Collins.

Life and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada online

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ernment took the reins. Two days later parliament was dis-
solved, and the parties went to the hustings, the clear grits with
two shibboleths, " Non-sectarian Schools," and " Representation
by Population." The ministr}- took ground that these ques-
tions were not then expedient, and as a result lost in the con-
test Messrs. Cayley, Spence and Morrison. But the Lower
Canada electors who regarded George Brown as an enemy to
their race, institutions and religion — and it is difficult to see


how they could have regarded him in any other light — and who
were opposed to non-sectarian schools, and somewhat to repre-
sentation by population, though not so zealously as some of our
historians state, returned an overwhelming body of minister-

Among the new members elected to parliament, the most
conspicuous were Thomas D'Arcy tfcGee, Hector Louis Lang-
evin, John Rose, William P. Howland, ( Oliver Mowat and John
Carling. The new parliament assembled in February. The
opposition was in a more tumultuous state than ever, and this
condition was due to the announcement that, on the recommen-
dation of hon. John A. MacdonaM and his colleagues, Ottawa, —
which in these later years has been stylo. 1 by Bystan*
"an Arctic lumber village " — was chosen as the capital. In this
selection the government had evidently defeated their oppon-
ents, though the result was not to be Been for some tin
come, and ended a perpetual source of discontent, by the aid of
geography. Several amendments to the address were moved
by the opposition, by which it was seen, that, while the min-
istry was supported by a considerable majority of the house,
it was in a minority in the Upper Canada section. Mr. Joseph
Thibaudean, member for Portneuf, brought in a motion affirm-
ing the principle of double majorities, but it was met by du-
al most entire force of the ministerialists, who were supported
by George Brown, Oliver Mowat and many other grit members.
Strange to say among those who supported Thibaudeau's mo-
tion was Hector Langevin, the member for Dorchester. \\\-
say this is strange in view of the great statesmanship Mr. Lang-
evin has always displayed through the brilliant and masterly
career which has ever since been bis.

After the ministry had got this troublesome question off its
hands, a resolution and several amendments, disapproving of
her majesty's choice of Ottawa as a capital, were moved by
Messrs. Brown, Thibaudeau, Dunkin, Pichd and others. After
an animated discussion, Mr. Pichd's amendment, setting forth


that, " It is the opinion of this house that the city of Ot-
tawa ought not to be the permanent seat of government for
the province," wu carried by a vote of sixty-four to fifty.
Befoiv the word " carried" had left the speaker's lips, George
Brown's enthusiasm had passed bounds, and he jumped to his
feet The occasion helps us to get the measure of the man.
u The house " he said, as soon as the cheering ceased, ' can have
no doubt that the motion just carried expressed an emphatic
dis app roval of the government policy; and in order to prove
that it means just this, I now move an adjournment of the
house." Tin- premier arose perfectly cool, and informed mem-
ben that he was glad to accept the challenge of the leader of
the opposition " Let the vote on adjournment" he said, witli a
slightly ironical tone, " test whether or not the ministry possesses
the confidence of the house." Mr. Macdonald knew that while
a majority in the assembly was opposed to fixing the seat of
government at Ottawa, there was by no means a majority
disposed to transfer the reini into the hands of George Brown.
When the speaker put the motion to adjourn it was clearly
understood that the fate of the ministry hung on the issue.
Macdonald was not mistaken. Sixty -one said "nay," and only
fifty " yea." An analysis of the vote, however, showed that a
large majority of the Upper Canada section voted with the
yeas. After the house adjourned Mr. Macdonald conferred
with his colleagues on the situation. " Brown," he said, "has
been really doing our work ; and by his indiscreet motion
shows what our duty to ourselves now is." It was then agreed
that the government could strike a decisive blow at the oppo-
sition by resigning. The motion earned by the grits was
equivalent to a censure on her majesty, and the ministry felt
that by resigning they would identify themselves with the
cause of their sovereign. Mr. Macdonald never believed that
Mr. Brown would have a ghost of a chance to form an endur-
ing ministry, though some of his colleagues were timid, and
feared that he would soon gather a number of the " loose fish "


around him. " My mind is perfectly easy on the point," said
Macdonald, " I am absolutely certain that he will not be sus-
tained in the house." Now, one would suppose that Mr. Brown,
knowing that a majority was opposed to him, would have
hesitated before grasping at glory which could only turn to
disaster. The apologists of Mr. Brown tell us that he foresaw
his reception in parliament but had faith in the governor
granting a dissolution. We believe he expected nothing of
the kind. The " higher game " for which he had been so long
burning he saw within his grasp, and with the same indiscreet
impetuosity with which he allowed himself to call for a test
vote after the passage of Pichd's resolution, he would now thrust
out his hand for the office within his reach. The fact is Mr.
Brown was mentally incapable of forecast or restraint where
personal interest and ambition were behind urging him on.
But let us see what happened.

The Macdonald-Cartier government resigned, and Sir Ed-
mund Head wrote to George Brown: * * "His excellency
feels it right to have recourse to you as the most prominent
nun il»cr of the opposition, and he hereby offers you a seat in
the council as the leader of a new administration." Mr. Brown
was too jubilant to pause long before replying to this note-
4i Buy me the captain's commission, mother," said the son in the
beleagured city. " The soldiers will be over the wall to-mor-
row my son, and your glory will be short-lived." " I don't care
mother, I want to be a captain." And George Brown was
not concerned that the enemy would to-morrow break over the
wall — that he was in a miserable minority in the house. He
wanted to be a prime minister, to grasp the " high game," so he
wrote : " Mr. Brown has the honour to inform his excellency that
he accepts the duty proposed to him in his excellency's com-
munication, and undertakes the formation of a new ministry."
Had Macdonald been by when Brown sealed this letter he must
have muttered with Antony :



" Now let it work ; mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt. "

On the following day, Sunday, in the afternoon, an aide-de-
camp waited on Mr. Brown and delivered to him a memoran-
dum, which the governor-genera] desired him to submit to his

proposed colleagues. This memorandum stated that his excel-
lency gave "n<> pledge or promise, express or implied, with refer-
ence to the dissolving of parliament," a condition for which Mr.
Brown strongly pressed the governor at a previous interview, re-
ceiving the sain*' answer. The memorandum went on to show
that his excellency was willing to consent to a prorogation with
the understanding that parliament should meet again, " say in
November or December ;" but an intimation was given that a
prorogation would not be granted till " the bill for the reg-
istration of voters, and that containing the prohibition of
fraudulent assignments and gifts by traders" had become law.
"Besides this," his excellency wrote, " any item of supply ab-
solutely necessary should be provided for by a vote of credit,
and the money for the repairs of canals, which cannot be post-
poned, should be voted. * * If parliament merely adjourns
until after the re-election of the members of the government
the case is different and the responsibility is on the house it-
self." Mr. Brown, as we have seen, had been requested by his
excellency to lay the memorandum before his proposed col-
leagues, but the grit chieftain did nothing of the sort. That
was not his way. Being dictator, if he pleased himself, why
need he to trouble about the wishes of his colleagues. So with
hot haste he despatched a note on Monday morning informing
the governor that he had selected the members of his proposed
ministry, and that the latter could not be in a position to discuss
any measures or questions of public policy with his excellency till
they had "assumed the functions of constitutional advisers
of the crown." Partizan writers like Mr. Mackenzie have com-
plained of his excellency's lack of courtesy and frankness to
Mr. Brown, but the discourtesy and lack of frankness, as the


extract last made evinces, were begun by Mr. Brown himself.
His refusal to discuss certain questions with his excellency at
the latter's request, was not alone discourteous, but insulting to
the governor-general. It implied that Sir Edmund either did
not know the bounds and dignities of his position, or that he was,
while putting the latter under foot, trying to entrap the in-
coming ministry into his confidence for some sinister purpose.
Mr. Brown may not have known the duty of one gentleman to-
wards another; but history is bound to take notice of the facts.
Mr. Mackenzie, however, describes the churlish discourtesy of
Mr. Brown on this occasion in language somewhat different
from ours. He calls it a u dignified rebuke to the governor."
About half-past ten in the forenoon of the same day, Mr.
Brown waited on his excellency, and submitted the names of
his colleagues. The latter were sworn in at noon, and wen
follows : —


Hon. George Brown - - Premier and Inep. General.

" J. S. MacDOHALD Attorney-General.

" J as. Morris - - - Speaker Legislative Council.
" Oliver Mowat - - - Provincial Secretary
" M. H. Foley - - - Postmaster-General.
" S. CONNOR Solicitor-General.


Hon. A. A. Dorion - - Commissioner of Crown Lands.

L. T. Drummond Attorney-General.

J. E. Thibaudeau - - - - Pres. of the Council.
L. H. Holton - - Commissioner Public Works.

F. Lemieux Receiver-General.

C. J. Laberge - - - Solicitor-General.

Mr. Patrick rose in the house in the afternoon announcing the
names of the new ministers, and likewise stating that he had
been instructed to say that it was the wish of the government


that parliament should be prorogued at an early day. Expla-
nations as to the policy of the government he hoped to be able to
make on the morrow, — but he was indulging in a false hope, if
he was not pretending, for the new cabinet was a mass of con-
trarieties, and there was not the shadow of a possibility that the
administration eould evolve a policy within a day, or a week,
or a month. The house was not please. 1 that it should have
been aaked to vote for the new ministry blindfold. A state-
ment of policy in the most general way would have induced it
\tend the ordinary oourteaiee. When Mr. Patrick sat down,
Mr. Bureau rose and moved the issue of a writ for the election
of a member in Montreal, to replace Mr. Dorion. But on the
motion being put, Mr. H. L. Langevin moved the following
amendment : " That this house, while ordering the said writ,
imi>t, at the same time, state that the administration, the for-
mation of which has created this vacancy, does not possess the
confidence of this house and of the country." This amend-
ment was seconded by Mr. John Beverley Robinson, son of the
chief justice of Upper Canada. A fierce debate began and con-
tinued till midnight, when the ministry was defeated by a majo-
rity ( )t' t*« »rty votes. Thus was the fairf ruit which the reckless pre-
mier plucked in the morning, turned to ashes in his hand before
the beating of the midnight bell. Mr. Langevin and those who
supported his amendment have been accused of violating parlia-
mentary courtesy in condemning a ministry without knowing
its policy ; — but because it did not disclose its policy was one of
the reasons why it was hurled from the eminence upon which
it had rashly seated itself. We admit much is due to the cus-
toms and courtesies of parliament, but certainly George Brown
and his grits who had worried and thwarted the government
through the session in every manner but that of courtesy, de-
served everything at the hands of the house that could be done
within the letter of the constitution. The very vote showed
that the assembly was disposed to rebuke Mr. Brown for his
arrogance no less than his indiscreet haste in rushing into office


when he knew his opponents had a large majority in the
house. " But it reveals a trick," say the Mackenzies. " The
trap was set for Mr. Brown." We answer, if Mr. Brown, or
any other man who sets himself up as the censor and leader
of men, cannot keep out of traps, it is a pity that he should not
go into them. Mr. Macdonald had the right, with the attendant
risks, of resigning, as any prime minister has at any time, for
whatever reason to him seems sufficient; but it did not follow that
Mr. Brown should sacrifice himself to his own unforeseeing and
impetuous ambition. Mr. Macdonald saw he wanted to be in
office, and that the craze for honours had become an over- mas-
tering mania with the man. He resigned, and let him go in.
The parliament indignantly turned him out again. We pre-
sume, without discussing obsolete courtesies, they had the right
to do so.

An analysis of the vote showed that the callow ministry
had been defeated by a majority of votes in both sections of the
province. In the Upper house also a no-contidence resolution
was introduced by Mr. Paton, aud after a hot discussion in
which Mr. Vankoughnet and Col. Prince assailed the ministry
in very able speeches, the motion was carried by a vote of two
to one.

On the following day Mr. Brown waited upon his excellency
and urged an immediate prorogation with a view to dissolution.
Once again the governor told him, as he had done twice before,
that he could not, from his present light upon the subject, give
any hopes of a dissolution. It was now the governor's turn to
be cautious ; and to guard against misrepresentation he request-
ed Mr. Brown to put in writing the grounds upon which he
based his request. One can fancy a certain kind of document
presented by a newly-fledged county-councillor to the reeve of
his municipality, or a protest made to the chair by a spinster
at a meeting held to put down the use of tobacco ; but this
document sent to Sir Edmund Head by George Brown is uni-
que, we venture to say, in constitutional literature. One of


its strong reasons for asking a dissolution was this: "The
house they [the ministry] believe does not possess the confidence
of the country ; and the public dissatisfaction has been greatly
increased by the numerous and glaring acts of corruption and
fraud by which many seats were obtained at the last general
election." Not satisfied with this the cabinet gives another
reason. As it would be a pity not to reproduce it, here it is :
"For BOme yean past strong sectional feelings have arisen in
the c ountry , which, especially during the present session, have
seriously impeded the carrying on of the administrative and
Legislative functions of the government. The late administra-
tion made no attempt to meet these difficulties or to suggest a
remedy lor them, and thereby the evil has been greatly aggra-
vated. His excelleney's present advisers have entered the
government w T ith the fixed determination to propose constitu-
tional measures for the establishment of that harmony between
(Jpperand Lower Canada which is essential to the prosperity
of the province. They respectfully submit that they have a
right to claim all the support which his excellency can constitu-
tionally extend to them in the prosecution of this all import-
ant object." One might have supposed that these two reasons
were overwhelming, but the main shot still remained in the
locker, an appeal to the pity of the governor. It was as fol-
lows : "The unprecedented and unparliamentary course pur-
sued by the house of assembly — which, immediately after
having by their vote compelled the late ministry to retire, pro-
ceeded to pass a vote of want of confidence in the present
administration, without notice, within a few hours of their
appointment, in their absence from the house, and before their
policy had been announced — affords the most convincing proof
that the affairs of the country cannot be efficiently conducted
under the control of the house as now constituted." There is
more even than absurdity in this ; there is inaccuracy. It was
not true that the assembly had " by their vote compelled the
late ministry to retire." The resignation was voluntary ; but


we must be frank enough to admit that it was not done out of
deference to any principle or to the sense of the majority of
the Upper Canada section of the cabinet. It was simply done
to lure Mr. Brown into a pitfall; and into the pitfall he went,
eyes and mouth wide open.

However, let us see if Sir Edmund's feelings can be wrought
upon like the lady-president of the anti-tobacco club. Before
touching the grounds on which the dissolution is urged, his
llency, among others, gives the following replies: u His
•excellency is no doubt bound to deal fairly with all political
parties; but he has a duty to perform to the Queen and the
people of Canada paramount to that which lie owes to any
one party, or to all parties whatsoever. The question for his
excellency to decide Lb not, ' what is advantageous or fair for a
particular party V but what upon the whole, is the most ad-
vantageous and fair for the people of the province. The resig-
nation of the late government was tendered in consequence of
a vote of the house which did not assert directly any want of
confidence in them.'' His excellency then points out that a
want of confidence in the government bad been emphatically

voted by both branches of the legislature, and adds that he is
asked to dissolve parliament by a ministry "who possesses the
confidence of neither branch of the legislature/ 1 We do not
pretend to have so subtle a knowledge of constitutional mystery
as Mr. Mackenzie, but we have no hesitation in saying that we
think the simple fact last stated was, alone, sufficient ground
on which to refuse a dissolution. This is how the governor an-
swered the wail made about the legislature voting the want of
confidence, an answer all the more effective., because made in re-
ply to a man who boasted of being the advocate of the supre-
macy of the people through their legislatures, and who had in
his memorandum virtually appealed to the governor against the
house of parliament. " It is not the duty of the governor-gen-
eral to decide whether the action of the two houses on Monday
night was or was not in accordance with the usual courtesy of


parliament towards an incoming administration. The two
houses are the judges of the propriety of their own proceedings.
II is excellency lias to do with the conclusions at which they
arrive, providing only that the forms observed are such as to
give legal and constitutional force to their votes." A striking
lecture we repeat from a viceroy to a man who had made so
much newspaper thunder against the iniquity of governors
thwarting, or meddling with, Legislatures. Some of the reasons
put forward by Sir Edmund against granting a dissolution are
as follows : " An election took place only last winter. This fact
is not conclusive against a second election now, but the costs-
and inconvenience of such a proceeding are so great, that they
ought not to be incurred a second time without very strong

"The business before parliament is not yet finished. It is
perhaps true that very little which is absolutely essential for
the country remains to be done. A portion, however, of the
«->ti mates, and two bills, at least, of great importance, are still
before the legislative assembly, irrespective of the private bus-

" In addition to this, the resolutions respecting the Hudson
Bay territory have not been considered, and no answer on that
subject can be given to the British government.

"The time of year and state of affairs would make a general
election at this moment peculiarly inconvenient and burthen-
some, inasmuch as the harvest is now going on in a large por-
tion of the country, and the pressure of the late money crisis
has not passed away."

These, however, were reasons outside of those in answer to
Brown's memorandum. The governor's reply to the points in
the ministerial paper are worth reproducing. We consider
them overwhelming ; but Mr. Mackenzie says they were only
" carping criticism."

■ The following considerations are strongly pressed by his
excellency's present advisers as reasons why he should author-


ize an appeal to the people, and thereby retain their services
in the council.

" (1.) The corruption and bribery alleged to have been prac-
tised at the last election, and the taint which on that account
is said to attach to the present legislative assembly.

" (2.) The existence of a bitter sectional feeling between Up-
per and Lower Canada, and the ultimate danger to the union as
at present constituted, which is likely to arise from such feel-

" If the first of these points be assumed as true, it must bo
asked what assurance can his excellency have that a new elec-
tion, under precisely the same laws, held within six or eight
months of the last, will differ in its character from that which
then took place? If the facts are as they are stated to be
they might be urged as a reason why a general election should
be avoided as long as possible; at any rate until the laws are
made more stringent, and the precautions against such evilfi
shall have been increased by the wisdom of parliament. Until
this is done, the speedy recurrence of the opportunity of prac-
ticing such abuses would be likely to aggravate their character
and confirm the habit of resorting to them.

"The second consideration, as to the feeling between U])] hi
and Lower Canada, and the ultimate danger of such feelings to-
the union,is one of a very -rave kind. It would furnish to his
excellency the strongest possible motive for a dissolution of
parliament, and for the retention of the present government at
all hazards, if the two points were only conclusively established,
that is to say, if it could be shown that the measures likely
to be adopted by Mr. Brown and his colleagues were a specific,
and the only specific for these evils, and that the members
of the present council were the only men to allay the jealousies
so unhappily existing. It may be that both these propo&itions-
are true, but, unless they are established to his excellency's
complete satisfaction, the mere existence of the mischief is not
in itself decisive as to the propriety of resorting to a general


election at the present moment. The certainty, or at any rate
the great probability, of the cure by the course proposed, and
by that alone, would require to be also proved. Without this,
a great present evil would be voluntarily incurred for the
chance of a remote good." In conclusion, his excellency de-
clined to grant • dissolution.
We need not refer to the plea recapitulated under "(1.)" as

the governor thoroughly illustrates its absurdity ; but the con-
tention of "(2. ," in which dissolution is urged <>n the ground
that " bitter sectional feeling exists between Upper and Lower
Canada." and that George Brown should be given' an oppor-
tunity to establish peace and unity there, can scarcely be n-
trarded in a serious li^ht, when we remember that the breach
between the two actions was in a great measure the work of
Brown himself, and that his great aim through his newspaper
and in the legislature seemed to be to create discord between
the French and English. And as proof of how strong a sense
of his nefarious course rankled in the minds of the French
Canadian members, on the non-confidence resolution he received
but four Lower Canada votes. There was now only one course

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 17 of 57)