HC Deb 13 June 1839 vol 48 cc204-12

The order of the day for the resumption of the adjourned debate upon Canada, and the first resolution,— That it is the opinion of this House, that it is expedient to form a legislative union of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, on the principles of a free and representative government, in such a manner as may most conduce to the prosperity and contentment of the people of the united provinces," having been read,

Lord John Russell

asked for leave to withdraw the resolution which had been read, intending immediately to ask for leave to bring in a bill.

Lord Stanley

said, that his objection the other day was to the mode which had been adopted by her Majesty's Government. His desire was, that no opinion should be given by the House as to the expediency or the practicability of uniting the two provinces of Upper and of Lower Canada, till they saw the details of the bill to effect that object; and as the noble Lord had proposed to withdraw the resolution, which as he (Lord Stanley) thought unnecessarily and improperly pledged the House to the abstract principle, his purpose had been altogether answered. He had no objection to the course now proposed, or to the noble Lord's proceeding by bill; on the contrary, he was most anxious to see the mode in which it was intended to deal with this question, for it was most desirable, not only for this country, but for all persons in Upper and Lower Canada, that the views of her Majesty's Government should be known at as early a period and as distinctly as possible; and he regretted that the noble Lord should think that it was not possible to carry out their intentions during the present Session. The interests involved were so important, that it was desirable that there should be no party discussion; and considering what had passed, and the present condition of the colonies, he thought that it would be better that there should not be any partial debate into which topics of an irritating nature might be introduced upon the present occasion. He would therefore content himself with stating the satisfaction he felt at the course which had been pursued by the noble Lord, and he would abstain altogether from expressing any opinion upon the measure till he was in possession of the bill.

Resolution withdrawn;

Lord John Russell

would proceed to move for leave to bring in two bills, which he stated he would submit when he wished to withdraw the resolution, and, with the noble Lord, he felt that it would be unnecessary now to have any discussion, or to ask for the opinion of the House. After what he had stated the other day in proposing that resolution, as to the general views of her Majesty's Government, it was not necessary for him, nor would it be advantageous, that he should enter into any details on the subject of Canada. He might state generally, that it was their opinion, that upon the whole, it was most advantageous that the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada should be united; but that it would expose such union to great risk, and to a great probability of failure, if they did not previously take all possible means to provide for legislation in Lower Canada, so that no topics of irritation should exist at the first meeting of the Assembly of the united provinces. With this view he proposed, that till the period of the union, efficient and certain powers should be intrusted to the Government of this country, and to the Governor in Canada, for effecting this desirable change in the legislation of that colony. It was stated, that practically there was now an important obstacle to those proceedings which were necessary to avert immediate danger. He, therefore, proposed to introduce a bill for the temporary continuance of the Act of last Session for the suspension of the constitution, so that the colony might be brought to a desirable state before the bill for the union should come into operation. By the new bill he intended to amend the Act of last Session in several particulars. He proposed, in the first place, to alter that clause of the Act in which so much difference of opinion was expressed last Session in that House—a difference of opinion which had extended to the judicial bench in Canada. It had been stated upon high authority, not, indeed, by any person holding any judicial office, but by persons of eminent legal authority, that the bill of last Session did not authorise the Governor to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, or to take other immediate measures to prevent treason. He would now propose to alter the clause which was generally known as Sir William Follett's clause, and to limit its operation to measures affecting the clergy, whether Protestant or Catholic, or affecting the tenures of land. It was stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, that this was the principal object which he had in view, and that whatever the legal effect of the clause might be, he did not intend it to prevent necessary measures of legislation. Another inconvenience which was felt, was the want of a power to impose taxes for strictly local purposes, such as the watching, and the local roads. He proposed, therefore, to alter the clause introduced by themselves, and to give power to impose rates and taxes; these were not to be paid into the public treasury, but to be applicable only for local purposes, for the watching and the roads. He likewise proposed that the powers given under that Act to the Governor and Council should be continued for eighteen months beyond the period at which they would now by law expire. That Act would now expire in November 1840, and he proposed, that with the alteration to which he alluded, it should be continued till March 1842. He did not say, that that was the precise period of extension that was necessary. It might be possible to call together the General Assembly of the united provinces before that time; but it was better to state in the bill a time beyond which it was improbable that it would be necessary to continue the Act. If her Majesty's Government found that it was the general wish and opinion of both provinces, that the united Assembly should meet earlier, the special powers given by this bill might meet at that time. With regard to the other bill for the union of the two provinces, as a consequence of not proceeding to enact a law in the present Session, it might be necessary to change some of the proposed provisions. The bill, however, which he would ask leave to introduce, provided for the establishment of a central district at Montreal and its neighbourhood, in which the government should be carried on, and where the Assembly should meet. The other parts of Upper Canada and of Lower Canada were each to be divided into two districts. It was proposed, that these districts should be formed for the purpose of becoming municipal districts for the imposition of taxes and rates for all local purposes. He need not, then, enter into the reasons which, in his opinion, justified such a proposition. It had been intended to have local commissioners belonging to the former legislative assemblies of Lower Canada and of Upper Canada, to ascertain and fix the districts to return members to the united Assembly; but in consequence of the recent change of intention, it was thought better that the division should be effected by direct enactment by the Imperial Parliament receiving all the local information that could be obtained as to the boundaries and districts. Those boundaries and districts were not defined by the bill, but they were referred to as to be defined in the schedule. He had said, that it was proposed to have a central district, and that there were to be four other districts. Each of these districts was to be divided into nine other divisions, so that there would be in the whole, supposing each such division to return two members, ninety members for the different divisions or electoral districts. In addition to these, he proposed that the four largest towns should each return two members, making ninety-eight members in the whole. He believed, that he had stated on a former occasion, his opinion as to the Legislative Council, and other parts of the bill relating to the local legislature. He would not, therefore, now go into them. It would be better that the House should see the bill itself, and judge of its provisions, rather than that he should enter into any further explanation at present, and he would content himself with moving for leave to bring in a bill to reunite the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada.

Sir Robert Peel

concurred with his noble Friend, in thinking that in a matter of so much importance, it would be better to postpone all discussion upon the bill till they had an opportunity of examining the provisions. He wished, however, to ask the noble Lord one or two questions. The noble Lord had said, that he had stated his views with respect to the Legislative Council, and, as he understood the noble Lord, that council ought to remain constituted upon the same principle as at present. Upon a matter of so much importance, without meaning to provoke any discussion, he would ask the noble Lord to explain the principle on which the council would be constituted? The other question which he wished to ask was, whether the elective franchise for the five districts for constituting municipal bodies, having power to impose local rates and taxes, was to be identical with the elective franchise in the counties?

Lord John Russell

replied, with regard to the first question, that what he had stated upon a former occasion was, that he did not propose to depart from the principle that the Legislative Council should be named or proposed by the Crown, but that some care should be taken, pursuant to the resolution of that House, to select men of some mark on whom the confidence of the Crown had been bestowed, or who were entitled to confidence in consequence of the elections of the people. He would provide, therefore, that the Council should be composed of persons who had either held some office of consequence or importance, or of well-known authority, or of Members of the Assembly. Certain qualifications, therefore, were to be insisted on, and the selection was not to be left to the caprice of the Governor, who could not, for the future, appoint persons unknown in, or not belonging to, the province. The Members of this Council, too, were not to be appointed for life, but were to hold office for eight years only. With regard to the franchise, the right of election was to be the same for the municipal and the general elections.

Sir R. Peel

inquired whether, at the end of the eight years, it was to be in the power of the Crown to re-appoint the parties?

Lord, J. Russell

answered, that the Crown was to have power to re-appoint.

Leave given to bring in the bill.

Lord J. Russell

next moved for leave to bring in a bill to continue and amend the act 1 Vict. c. 9, for making temporary provision for the Government of Lower Canada.

Mr. C. Buller

would not allow to pass through a single stage, without giving to it his strenuous opposition, a bill to continue the present system of provisional government, were it not that the bill not merely continued the present system, but it also gave to the Special Council a power which they did not at present possess. His experience, however, of Canada, convinced him that, leaving the Special Council with its present limited power, would be leaving the colony without any legislative power at all. A bill, therefore, having for its object to give to the Council further powers, ought to pass in some form or other, though he would oppose, in the most strenuous manner, any attempt to continue, unaltered, the present provisional and arbitrary power in Lower Canada.

Sir C. Grey

would venture to say, with reference to what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard, that the best thing the Government or that House could do, under present circumstances, was, to continue the powers of the Governor and Council. The only other remark he had to offer, related to a statement which he had heard made, that neither the Government nor the Imperial Legislature had done anything to extricate the province of Lower Canada from the difficulties in which it was placed. That was an erroneous view of the case; and if hon. Members would look back, they would find that much had been done, and that they were now in a situation which rendered them more capable of dealing with the difficulties which they had to encounter, than they were five years ago. They had made two very important steps. They had suspended the Constitution, a proceeding which he considered absolutely necessary for the final settlement of the Government, and they had got into their hands those revenues which were absolutely necessary for carrying on the government. The revenue of the colony was more than double what was necessary for carrying on the government. He should not trouble the House further at that time, but reserve his remarks until the bills which it was proposed to introduce were laid upon the Table.

Leave given.