HL Deb 16 June 1862 vol 167 cc627-9

rose to ask the noble Duke the Secretary for the Colonies, Whether he could give any information respecting a proceeding of an extraordinary nature which had recently occurred in the Canadian Legislature? That act was the rejection by the majority of that assembly of a Government measure for the embodiment of the Colonial Militia. Possibly the rejection of that Bill might be explained; but it appeared to him that this was a strange return for the promptness with which the mother country had sent out troops to Canada to support her interests at a time when they were seriously threatened. He wished to know whether the noble Duke had received any despatches from the Governor General of Canada on the subject, and whether he was prepared to make any statement as to the causes which had produced this extraordinary act, an act that had caused a great sensation in this country.


My Lords, I am not at all surprised that the noble Lord should ask for any information which I may possess on this important subject; but I am not in a position to give any further information than the noble Lord has gleaned from the newspapers, nor is it likely that it should be so, because your Lordships must see that the motives which have produced this result can only be matter of speculation and opinion, and could not well be the subject of a despatch from the Governor General, Lord Monck. I may, however, briefly recapitulate the facts in relation to this matter. It is well known to many of your Lordships that a Militia Bill passed through the Canadian Legislature seven or eight years ago; but owing to certain circumstances the militia force has only existed on paper, the measure not having been carried into effectual working. In consequence of the events of last winter, and of the earnest recommendations forwarded to Canada, a commission was appointed three or four months ago for the purpose of considering the whole of the militia arrangements of Canada with the view of amending them. That Commission consisted not only of Canadians but also of some British officers, who went over with the reinforcements in December, and the result was the introduction of a Bill, which was brought forward in the Legislature of Canada in the beginning of last month. The Attorney General, Mr. Cartier, moved the second reading of the Bill on the 20th of May, and a division was taken almost without discussion, which resulted in the rejection of the Bill by 61 to 54. The Ministers of the Governor General tendered their resignations on the following day, and they were accepted. The Governor General then sent for Mr. Sanfield Macdonald to form a Government, and he has succeeded in forming a new Administration. So far, I believe, the statements in the public prints are correct; but there is one incorrect statement. I have seen it stated in several papers that the result of this course was the dissolution of the existing Parliament. That is not so. Parliament has not been dissolved, so far as I have the means of knowing, and I believe there is no intention on the part of the new Government to recommend the Governor General to resort to that step. The noble Lord says that this event has caused a painful feeling in this country. No doubt of it. And I believe the Canadian people are aware of the unfavourable impression which that act of the Legislature has produced in this country. I cannot distinctly state the reasons which led to this Vote, but I believe they were very mixed—twofold, at least. In the first place, there was an impression among many Members of the Canadian Legislature that the Militia Bill was not one which would be found to work well in that colony. They thought it had too much of the character of a conscription, and that the adoption of the Volunteer principle would be a more palatable and effective measure. I will not express my individual opinion, but to that feeling I believe has been superadded a personal feeling against the late Ministry. I believe that the Vote was regarded as a Vote of want of confidence in the late Government. But, speaking only as an Englishman, and as an ardent friend of Canada, I can but confess my deep regret, that if this was one of the motives which prompted the rejection of this Bill, such an inopportune occasion should have been chosen for manifesting it. I will not say whether such an opinion was justifiable or not; but after the events of last winter, and after the display of noble English feeling on the part of this country in at once sending out troops to Canada, I cannot help regarding this division as most inopportune and most unfortunate. At the same time I by no means despair of the disposition of the Government and Parliament of Canada to introduce and pass another Militia Bill as good and effective as that which has been rejected. Of this I am certain, that the Ministry and Parliament of Canada will not be acting in the spirit of the Canadian people if they do not pass such a Bill, for I am confident that both sections of Canadians—the French equally with the English population—arc most desirous that some measure should be passed before the coming winter for the effectual defence of Canada. So far as I am concerned I shall continue to give my earnest exhortation and advice to the Governor General and the people of Canada, both privately and officially, not to rest till some effective measure for the defence of Canada has been passed.