HC Deb 12 February 1845 vol 77 cc339-41
Mr. Roebuck

rose, according to his notice of the previous evening, to ask the Government a question relative to the late elections in Canada. It was one which he put with great reluctance, because the present system of Government could only be looked on as an experiment, and he was unwilling prematurely to express any opinion as to the proceedings which were going on. Circumstances had occurred, however, which now induced him to allude to the subject. During the last year Sir C. Metcalfe dissolved the Parliament of Canada. New elections took place, at which, particularly in Montreal, disturbances had occurred. A Petition had been presented to the Legislature of Canada, complaining of the legality of the election, and impugning the conduct of the Returning Officer, the Sheriff of Montreal. That subject was at the present moment under the consideration of the due and proper tribunals, and what he wanted to know was this—whether Her Majesty's Government had any peculiar circumstances to state or lay before the House, for the purpose of explaining the conduct that had been pursued on the part of the Colonial Secretary, with respect to the Returning Officer of the city of Montreal. He had been given to understand, and he wished to know whether such was the case, that, notwithstanding the complaints that had been made against the Returning Officer, the Secretary for the Colonies had advised that Her Majesty's thanks should be given to him. He wished to know whether the statements that had been made to him were true; namely, that the thanks of Her Majesty had been given to the Returning Officer of the city of Montreal at a time when his conduct was under the consideration of the proper tribunal—the House of Assembly? And if that question were answered in the affirmative, the next question he should wish to put would be, whether there would be any objection to lay before the House the despatch in which those thanks were conferred, so that the House might know the circumstances under which the Colonial Secretary had taken so extraordinary a step?

Mr. G. W. Hope

said, that as the hon. and learned Member had not particularly addressed the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, perhaps he (Mr. Hope) might be permitted to answer the question. With reference to the Election Petition said to be pending, he knew nothing of it, as they (the Colonial Office) got no notice of the proceedings of the Canadian Assembly, except by the transmission of the journals at the termination of the Session, and the Executive did not interfere with these proceedings. What he did know he would state very shortly, and he should be quite ready to produce the papers required. It appeared, that previous to the election at Montreal, an application had been made by the opposition candidate, in which he stated that the stipendiary Magistrate thought it would be advantageous to commence polling under military protection. To this the Returning Officer would not consent, and in no case was military aid resorted to until all other means had failed, and it became absolutely necessary. It was true that preparations were made to prevent any disturbance taking place, large numbers of workmen being expected to interfere. They did come in, the military were in readiness, but they acted upon one occasion, and one only. With reference to these transactions, the stipendiary Magistrate's Report concluded by stating that every effort and arrangement had been made by Mr. Young, the Returning Officer, to secure order and free access to the poll for both parties, and that his efforts were so succesful, that though a disturbance ensued, not a single life was lost. He believed that the access was perfectly free on both sides, the only persons obstructed being the nonvoters from the surrounding districts. In consequence of this report, Sir C. Metcalfe, in his despatch, stated that the preservation of life and property at the election was attributable to the services of Mr. Young, and another gentleman, Captain Wetherall, whom he designated as a most valuable public servant. The Governor expressed his gratification that no life had been sacrificed, and stated that great credit was due to the troops and to the officers, and that, without their assistance, it would have been impossible for the voters to have exercised the franchise freely, in consequence of the intrusion of non-voters. On the receipt of that despatch, which had arrived before the Canadian Parliament had met, and before, therefore, it was pos- sible to ascertain what elections would be petitioned against, the noble Lord at the head of the Colonial Department had felt it his duty to transmit to the Governor of Canada a despatch conveying, not the thanks of Her Majesty, but his own expression of approbation of the conduct of Mr. Young and Captain Wetherall for the efforts which they had so successfully made for the preservation of the public peace; and he had desired that this expression of his approbation should be communicated to those gentlemen. There had been no thanks returned in the name of Her Majesty, and no statement had been made beyond the expression of the approbation of the Executive Government to the Executive Officers for their exertions.

Mr. Hume

thought the House ought to have before them the details of the circumstances which had led to the extraordinary changes which had recently taken place in the public mind in Canada. Great discontent now reigned in the Colony, and if they wished to preserve the Colonies in a state of usefulness to the country, they must govern them according to the wishes of the majority of their population. While Sir Charles Bagot was there unanimity and contentment reigned, but no sooner had a change of Ministry taken place than discontent arose. The Governor dismissed his Executive Council, and for nine months governed without one. This gave rise to dissatisfaction and discontent. Hence had arisen those scenes which had taken place at the elections; and it appeared to him to be necessary that all the documents connected with the subject should be laid before Parliament, so as to enable them to ascertain what had caused those sudden changes.