John Stephen Willison.

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those who have had actual experience in politics and
they will tell you what it means to go to Parliament.
If they do not spend and give, they cannot be re-elected ;
if they do, in a few years they are beggared. The people
of Canada get better government than they deserve. We
can reduce the cost of elections. We can do something
to compel publication of all campaign subscriptions.
We can leave the courts no option but to sentence to
imprisonment for giving or taking a bribe. We can
imprison officers and directors of corporations and com-
panies which make improper contributions for political
purposes. But no laws will be effective unless the peo-
ple themselves show unselfish patriotism and feel
responsibility for the cost as well as for the result of
elections. How few of the moral, social and commer-
cial leaders ever appear at a ward meeting or interest
themselves in the nomination of Parliamentary candi-
dates. But the ward meetings and the party conventions
do more to determine the standards of public life and
the character of our institutions than the superior peo-
ple who regard "politics" as mean and sordid.

In the trial of controverted elections the judges have
been impartial and courageous. But we have much
evidence that when they sit upon political commissions
they are as human as other people. Judges, like minis-
ters of the Crown, are underpaid. There is much public
work that they can do, and they are peculiarly fitted for
many public commissions. But they should be disquali-
fied for service on commissions which have to give poli-



tical judgments. At least they should only receive and
report evidence, and should get no additional remuner-
ation in such cases. The people will take law from the
Bench, but on political questions they have no more
respect for judges than they have for laymen. One
thinks of many commissions of judges appointed and
instructed to investigate charges of political corruption,
but in very few cases was the truth revealed or a judg-
ment delivered which satisfied either Parliament or the
country. It is clear that no judge reporting against a
Government by which he was appointed could hope to
be re-employed. Moreover, there is the element of
favour in judicial appointments and promotions.
In the discharge of its regular functions there is
high integrity in the Bench of Canada, and there should
be emoluments adequate to sustain its dignity and
exemption from all services which compromise its

The evils of patronage have been as virulent in
Canada as in any other country. For many years, how-
ever, we have had no absolute application of the spoils
system. It is true that with every change of Govern-
ment many office-holders were removed for political
reasons, and down to twenty years ago public officials
were so active in political contests that they received at
least as much mercy as they deserved. But gradually
civil servants have ceased to be the organizing agents
of party and their tenure of office has become more
secure. Under successive Governments, however,
there were dismissals which could not be defended, as
there was a rigid reservation, as far as the regulations
would permit, of all public places for supporters of the
governing party. There was, too, a system of purchase



of public supplies and distribution of public contracts
which effectually excluded political opponents from
any profitable access to the treasury. The evils of
the system of patronage were illustrated again in the
construction of public buildings, breakwaters, har-
bours, and local railways, not as the public interest
required, but in calculating submission to the importun-
ities of members of Parliament and the demands of
favourable or doubtful constituencies. In all this there
was much waste and not a little corruption. From the
privileged dealers in supplies political subscriptions
were taken, and from many contracts there was a gen-
erous return to the party fund. The whole system was
venal and ugly, vicious in practice and demoralizing in
results. But the tempest of war shook the fabric to its
foundations and a public opinion seems to have been
created which should make its restoration difficult. So
if the people are alert the ascendancy of the traders in
patronage and the civil service should never be re-
established. To the inside service the competitive sys-
tem with judicious modifications has been applied.
Over the outside service the Civil Service Commission,
subject to a preference for war veterans, has independ-
ent jurisdiction. There are, however, groups in Parlia-
ment and in the constituencies eager to recover control
over supplies, contracts and appointments, and unless
the Civil Service Commission displays energy, courage
and wisdom and an active public opinion is maintained
in the country the ground won by long and arduous
fighting may be retaken by the mercenaries. The ex-
perience of other countries demonstrates that the forces
which contend for patronage are never finally con-
quered. But if we are to have efficient and economical



administration of the public services and control and
operate a great national railway system ,the independ-
ence of public servants must be maintained and the
obligation to the State set high over any obligation to

The Senate is the great reserve of patronage for
Canadian Governments. When Confederation was
established three senatorial divisions were created, ( 1 )
Ontario, (2) Quebec, (3) the Atlantic Provinces. To
each of these twenty-four representatives in the Senate
were assigned. The object was to give a guarantee of
constitutional stability and a proportionate balance of
political power to the three great territorial sections.
Later, as population warranted, senators from the West
were appointed until a fourth division with twenty-four
representatives was completed. Only once has the test
of party been ignored in an appointment to the Senate.
In that single instance Sir John Macdonald was the
culprit, and it is believed that he was actuated by a
feeling of personal gratitude. In connection with the
Fenian Raid of 1866, the Conservative leader was
charged with improperly using Secret Service money.
It was a charge he could not absolutely disprove, inas-
much as he could not disclose the purposes for which
the money was expended. Among the members of the
Assembly was Mr. John Macdonald, one of the success-
ful pioneer merchants of Canada, and a Liberal of
moderate opinion. He condemned the attack on the
Conservative Prime Minister as cruel and unjust, since
he was not free to produce evidence in his own defence.
It is known that Sir John Macdonald was grateful for
this unexpected support, and it is suspected that his
gratitude was expressed in Mr. John Macdonald's ap-



pointment to the Senate. But this violation of a sacred
precedent stands alone. Never since has any Canadian
Government admitted a man to the Senate who could
not give the password of the party in office.

The Union Act of 1840 provided for an appointed
Legislative Council and an elected Legislative Assem-
bly. But from the first there was profound dissatisfac-
tion with the constitution and character of the Second
Chamber. There was indeed such constant and intem-
perate criticism of the Council that many of the mem-
bers rarely appeared in the Chamber, and it was often
impossible for the Speaker to obtain a quorum. In
those days there was much of personal rancour in Cana-
dian politics and a savagery both in press and platform
of which we now have rare examples. In Lower
Canada the Council was treated with angry and fero-
cious contempt. In Upper Canada criticism was only
less immoderate. As was said during the Confedera-
tion Debates ,"the nominative system was a standing
grievance in Lower Canada as well as in Upper Can-
ada." The system of nomination was abandoned in
1856 and an elective Council substituted. The act of
1856 defined the districts to be represented and pro-
vided electoral machinery, but there was no summary
removal of life members. There was provision for an
election every two years when twelve members were
automatically retired. At Confederation the Legisla-
tive Council had twenty-one life members and forty-
eight elected members. There is reason to think from
a careful reading of the Confederation Debates that
Parliament was not favourable to a nominated Senate.
Over and over again it was represented that the deci-
sion in favour of nomination was a concession to the,



Maritime Provinces, and a necessary condition to the
project of union. Sir John Macdonald, George Brown,
and Alexander Mackenzie were resolute advocates of
appointment. George Brown, indeed, had opposed the
application of the elective principle to the old Legisla-
tive Council of the Canadas. They held that the Upper
House could be valuable only as a court of revision. A
body of equal jurisdiction with the House of Commons
was not required. By the elective principle operating
to fill both Houses the jurisdiction of both branches of
the Legislature would be co-ordinate.

Sir John Macdonald admitted that the elective prin-
ciple had not been a failure in Canada, but there were
causes, not taken into consideration, when the system
was adopted, why it did not so fully succeed as they had
expected. "One great cause was the enormous extent
of the constituencies and the immense labour which
consequently devolved on those who sought the suffrages
of the people for election to the Council. For the same
reason the expense the legitimate expense was so
enormous that men of standing in the country, emi-
nently fitted for such a position, were prevented from
coming forward. At first, I admit, men of the first
standing did come forward, but we have seen that in
every succeeding election in both Canadas there has
been an increasing disinclination on the part of men of
standing and political experience and weight in the
country to become candidates; while, on the other hand,
all the young men, the active politicians, those who have
resolved to embrace the life of a statesman, have sought
entrance to the House of Assembly." He argued that
the independence of the Upper House would be pre-
served by limitation of the membership. It would be



"a separate and distinct Chamber, having a legitimate
and controlling influence on the legislation of the coun-
try." He did not believe that it was necessary to grant
the right of unlimited appointment in order to prevent
a deadlock between the two branches of the legislature.
"There would be no use of an Upper House if it did
not exercise, when it thought proper, the right of oppos-
ing or amending or postponing the legislation of the
Lower House. It would be of no value whatever were
it a mere Chamber for registering the decrees of the
Lower House. It must be an independent House, hav-
ing a free action of its own, for it is only valuable as
being a regulating body, calmly considering the legis-
lation initiated by the lower branch, and preventing any
hasty or ill-considered legislation which may come from
that body, but it will never set itself in opposition
against the deliberate and understood wishes of the
people." He held that there would be an infinitely
greater chance of deadlock between the two branches
of the Legislature should the elective principle be
adopted than with a nominated Chamber chosen by the
Crown and having "No mission from the people."

There was much contention to the contrary and
much accurate prophecy of just what has happened.
Mr. Sanborne, far example, during the debate in the
Legislative Council pointed out that members of the
Senate would be chosen not by the Sovereign or the
Sovereign's representative, but by a party Government,
that in the Commons Governments would be defeated,
while the Upper House would have a far more per-
manent character, and since it would be the creation of
party recurrence of deadlocks would be inevitable.
This was the general reasoning of the opponents of the



system of nomination, and, while we cannot know what
results would have developed under an elective Senate,
there is no doubt that throughout its whole history the
nominated Upper Chamber has been at least as devoted
to party as the House of Commons. Mr. Cardwell, the
Colonial Secretary, foresaw the danger in a fixed mem-
bership. In a message to the Canadian ministers he
said: "Her Majesty's Government appreciate the con-
ditions which have influenced the Conference in deter-
mining the mode in which this body, so important to
the constitution of the Legislature, should be com-
posed. But it appears to them to require further con-
sideration whether, if the members be appointed for
life and their numbers be fixed, there will be any suffi-
cient means of restoring harmony between the Legis-
lative Council and the popular assembly, if it shall ever
unfortunately happen that a decided difference of opin-
ion shall arise between them." This and other similar
representations and arguments were not wholly without
effect. It is interesting to trace the proceedings of the
Union Conference in Sir Joseph Pope's Confederation
Documents until we discover evidences of uneasiness
over the arbitrary limitation of appointments to the
Senate. Finally it was provided that in the event of
deadlock the Imperial Government, on application
from the Government of Canada, could grant power to
appoint six additional senators, but that these should fill
succeeding vacancies in order to prevent any permanent
increase of membership. No Government has obtained
power to make these additional appointments, although
the Mackenzie, Laurier and Borden Governments were
temporarily embarrassed by a hostile Senate.

Senate reform has been on the lips of Canadian poli-



ticians for a generation. We had much violent criti-
cism of the Upper Chamber by the Liberal press and
the Liberal leaders during the long ascendancy of the
Conservative party. At the National Liberal Conven-
tion of 1893 it was declared that "the present constitu-
tion of the Senate is inconsistent with the federal prin-
ciple in our system of government, and is in other
respects defective, as it makes the Senate independent
of the people and uncontrolled by the public opinion
of the country and should be so amended as to bring it
into harmony with the principles of popular govern-
ment." But the Senate was not reformed by the Laur-
ier Administration. There were attacks upon the Up-
per Chamber while it was destroying Liberal legisla-
tion and a proposal for joint sessions of the two Houses
in cases of deadlock, but when death had done its work
among Conservative Senators and a Liberal majority
was secured in the Upper Chamber there was a great
acquiescence among Liberals and soon a murmuring
among Conservatives. In what has been called the
Halifax platform of the Conservative party, Mr. Bor-
den demanded "such reform in the mode of selecting
members of the Senate as will make that Chamber a
more useful and representative legislative body." It is
not easy to devise a Senate exactly adapted to the func-
tions which such a body should exercise. We cannot
turn to the system which the United States discarded
a few years ago and perhaps the chief evil of which was
to force national issues into State politics. Already we
have instructive lessons from Australia in the incom-
patibility of two elective Chambers. Once there was a
formidable feeling in Canada for total abolition of the
Senate. But it is gravely doubtful if the country would



have government by a single Chamber, and save by con-
sent of all the Provinces the Senate could hardly be
destroyed. It is not believed that Quebec would favour
abolition, and possibly the three Atlantic Provinces
would also be hostile.

If any revolutionary amendment of the constitution
should be attempted, probably the balance of opinion in
the country would substitute an elected Senate for the
nominated Chamber. But as against the Senate popular
feeling will not easily find effective expression. Nor
can such a vital condition of the compact of union be
rashly disturbed. To abolish the Senate by common
appeal to the people would be as revolutionary as to
abolish French as an official language or to repeal the
guarantee of Protestant schools in Quebec or of Catho-
lic schools in Ontario. Mirabeau said there was no
tyranny like the tyranny of a single Chamber. "I pro-
test," he declared, "that I can conceive nothing more
alarming than the despotic oligarchy of 600 individ-
uals." Since all countries under responsible govern-
ment maintain two Chambers, it is manifest that the
wisest leaders of democracy distrust popular impulses
and unregulated sovereignty. Parliament does not
always express the sober judgment of the people, nor
is it desirable that 235 citizens in the House of Com-
mons should have final and absolute authority under all
circumstances to impose measures upon millions of citi-
zens outside as to which they have not been consulted.
It may be said that any measure is subject to reversal by
the people, but serious confusion and disaster might be
produced before the reversal could be effected. In
Canada the Senate itself, or those responsible for its
character and performances, have furnished the strong-



est available argument for a single Chamber. Substan-
tially, we have had a single Chamber ever since Con-
federation, except for those short periods when the
majority in the Senate was out of accord with the major-
ity in the Commons. In other words, when there was a
Conservative majority in both Houses, the Senate was
substantially the obedient echo of the Commons. So
it was if there was a Liberal majority in both Houses.
But when there was a Liberal majority in the Commons
and a Conservative majority in the Senate, the Upper
Chamber was the echo of the Conservative minority in
the Commons. So with a Liberal minority in the
Commons and a Liberal majority in the Senate, the
Upper House was the agent and mouthpiece of the
minority in the popular Chamber. This is only dis-
tinguishable from government by a single Parlia-
mentary body, because the system is more vexatious and
cumbersome. If, therefore, the Senate should perish,
political practice rather than constitutional defects will
have wrought its destruction.

It is not a fatal objection to the Senate that many
members of the Commons receive promotion to the
Upper Chamber. Such long political training and ex-
perience as many of these possess should be of value in
the Senate. Moreover, the sacrifices inseparable from
service in the Commons often constitute a sound claim
for recognition. Through the Senate we have a system
of superannuation, unrecognized in legislation, but in
many cases justifiable as compensation for those whose
businesses and incomes have been sacrificed in the
public service.

An enormous patronage is vested in ministers in
Canada. If the President and Cabinet at Washington



appointed all senators, all judges, local and federal, and
all Governors of the States, one would not easily believe
that the Republic could have free, responsible and
responsive government. That, however, is exactly the
situation in Canada. We are also organizing a national
railway system, with an army of public employees. If
these should have any close political relation to the
Government probably no Administration could be de-
feated unless 65 or 70 per cent, of the unofficial electors
could be consolidated against its candidates. This
apprehension is not supported by the experience of Aus-
tralia, which has a national railway system, and far
more frequent changes of Government than we have in
Canada. But the conditions of Australia are not repro-
duced in this country. In emphasizing these considera-
tions, no attack upon national railways, direct or in-
direct, is intended. The only object is to establish the
necessity for elimination of patronage from the public
services and to illustrate the tremendous reserve of
political power which a Government possesses under
the Canadian constitution. In only a few instances has
the country suffered when the Senate has acted as a
revising or amending body. More often doubtful
measures have been improved or rejected. But whether
the Senate obstructed the measures of the Mackenzie,
Laurier or Borden Governments, the country believed
that the proposals amended or rejected would have been
accepted if they had come down from an Administra-
tion in political sympathy with the majority in the Up-
per Chamber. For this unfortunate impression the Sen-
ate itself cannot escape responsibility. There is a cur-
ious assumption that the Senate should merely register
the decrees of the Commons, but if that is its whole



duty, there is no reason that it should exist. If
the Upper Chamber is open to criticism it is because it
has not exercised its functions. It has a power to initiate
legislation which it could afford to use more freely. Its
constitutional right to reserve revolutionary legislation
for the judgment of the people cannot be challenged.
There is a story that a senator, greatly anxious for the
disappearance of the Liberal majority which embar-
rassed the Borden Government, was greeted by a friend
in the lobby with the cheerful report that another Lib-
eral senator had passed away. "Who," he asked, with
anxious interest. But when the name was furnished,
he said : "Oh h , he died yesterday." Still the pro-
cesses of decay were rapid for the Senate.

In land policy and in railway policy in Canada we
have been prodigally wasteful and grievously short-
sighted. We had in the West such a landed estate as
few countries have possessed. But we wasted with the
irresponsibility of a graceless spendthrift, alternately
fattened and impoverished speculators, squandered
upon political favourites the heritage of a nation, and
developed conditions and problems which even now
perplex Governments and impose heavy obligations
upon the public treasury. Probably the ultimate judg-
ment of history will justify the original contract with
the Canadian Pacific syndicate. For the builders of
the pioneer transcontinental railway committed them-
selves to a tremendous undertaking. Great faith, signal
resource and high courage were required to construct
the road, to overcome reluctant money markets, and in-
veterate and incessant political attack, and to sustain
the enterprise while settlers came slowly, local traffic
was inconsiderable and neither sun nor stars in many



days appeared. In 1895 two men in the West, one a
Liberal and the other a Conservative, both of naturally
confident temperament and extensive knowledge of
Western conditions, and perhaps the very foremost of
its political leaders, told me that they did not believe
the Canadian Pacific Railway could ever earn a living
revenue or the prairies ever be settled with people who
would remain in the country. I like to think that they
could not subdue my optimism, although I was fortified
by faith rather than by knowledge. I declared my faith
in a survey of Western conditions and prospects which
filled two or three pages of The Globe, and of that issue
Sir William Van Home ordered 250,000 copies, and
the Department of the Interior, under a Conservative
minister, 100,000 copies. From that time Van Home
was my friend, and I had many evidences of his regard
and good-will. But occasionally there were differences.
Once The Globe had an article emphasizing the com-
plaints of Western farmers over delay in moving the
wheat crop to market. He pasted the editorial on a
sheet of foolscap and wrote across the page : "Don't you
know that God wouldn't let the farmers do their thresh-
ing until October."

But whether the first transcontinetal railway project
was wisely conceived or not, it is certain that the rail-
way system of Canada is a remarkable product of in-
dividual courage, national confidence, sectional cupid-
ity and political necessity. It was perhaps unfortunate
that the federal Government ever undertook to subsid-
ize local railways. There could be no other result than
competition between provinces, between constituencies
and between parliamentary candidates for largess from

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Online LibraryJohn Stephen WillisonReminiscences, political and personal → online text (page 20 of 25)