LOWER CANADA TO 1837.
Charges Against Judges. -- Even while the war of 1812 was in progress, and while the assembly of Lower Canada were, as Neilson put it, "giving all they had and more than they had" to aid in the defence of the province, they still kept up the attack upon executive abuses. Stuart, who afterwards himself became chief justice of the province, formally impeached the -chief justices, Sewell and Monk, for usurping legislative power. He charged that, on pretence of regulating the practice of the courts, they had increased official fees, thus making law-suits a means of oppression and rendering it difficult for humble suitors to obtain justice. The assembly (1814) sustained Stuart and voted funds to pay his expenses to England to support the charges before the colonial office. The legislative council threw out the item. They also rejected a bill passed by the assembly to appoint a permanent agent for the province in London. This bill was passed almost annually by the assembly and as regularly rejected by the legislative council, who took the ground that the governor was the only proper channel of communication between the province and the home authorities. There was thus a one-sided investigation by the colonial secretary into the charges against the judges, and they were acquitted of all wrong-doing. When a message to this effect was communicated to the assembly by Sir Gordon Drummond, much dissatisfaction was expressed. Drummond thereupon dissolved parliament, with an expression of regret that after the decision of the colonial office the assembly should "again enter on the discussion."
Papineau -- Neilson. -- In 1815 the newly-elected assembly chose as its speaker a young man, twenty-six years old, who was destined to take a foremost place in the history of his province -- Louis Joseph Papineau. He had a hand- some face and a striking figure; and, through his fiery eloquence, he soon became the idol of his compatriots. For many years he had associated with him in the assembly the warm-hearted Scotchman to whom reference has frequently been made -- John Neilson. Papineau was impatient for immediate reform of all abuses. Neilson, equally earnest for reform, had greater political sagacity, and was content to advance step by step. For many years they worked together, until finally, when Papineau declined to accept concessions from the colonial office because they did not, in his opinion, go far enough, Neilson withdrew his support, and Papineau rushed into rebellion.
Sherbrooke Conciliatory. -- In 1816 Sir J. C. Sherbrooke became governor. The elections had resulted in the return of an assembly bent upon attacking official abuses, particularly those connected with the administration of justice. The governor was instructed to dissolve the House again if necessary, but, in preference, to interpose "the firmness and good dispositions of the legislative council." Sherbrooke reported that there was no hope a change. He urged, therefore, that Chief Justice Sewell should be superannuated; that a colonial agent should be appointed; and that Papineau should be made a member of the legislative council. This, he said, would gain for that body some of public confidence. Sherbrooke's policy of conciliation was not entirely adopted, though the elder Papineau and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Quebec were appointed to the legislative council. Attacks upon the judges still continued, and the governor apparently despaired of reconciling the disputes. At his own request he was recalled (1817), and was succeeded by the Duke of Richmond.
The Civil List. -- Meanwhile offices had been multiplied in the province, and the revenues at the sole disposal of the executive were not now sufficient to pay all the officials. When called upon, in 1819, to make up the deficiency, the assembly insisted upon revising the whole civil list, in order, as they said, to see how it was that a deficiency had arisen. They pruned vigorously, and adopted a "Supply Bill" which, if accepted by the legislative council, would have wiped out several sinecure offices. It would also have reduced the salaries of many other officials. The upper chamber, however, rejected the bill upon a ground which sounds strange to us in these days. The assembly, they said, had no right "to prescribe to the sovereign the number and quality of his servants, and what exact wages he should pay to each."
This financial question was for many years the chief bone of contention in Lower Canada. It was no mere theoretic reform the assembly desired. The more the expenses of the executive staff could be reduced, the more would there be available for purposes of public improvement. Year after year they attacked the estimates cutting off here and reducing there, and year after Year the legislative council rejected their bills. It would take too to follow this contest through all its phases. The remedy in hands of the assembly was to refuse supply altogether when their views as to how that supply should be spent were contemptuously ignored. The Duke of Richmond died in 1819. Next year the Earl of Dalhousie came from Nova Scotia to assume the government, holding office until the year 1828. During all this period the financial question was ever to the front. The assembly, indeed, several times refused supplies. In their anxiety to carry their point, they even neglected, at times, their proper legislative functions, and works of public improvement were delayed.
The Union Project of 1822. -- Upper Canada was a loser by this strife. She was entitled to a portion of the duties collected upon goods imported into the lower province, many of which were, of course, simply on their way to the upper. The existing agreement was allowed to expire and no new one could be arrived at. The English-speaking minority in Lower Canada were not slow to attribute the troubles of the province to the French-Canadian majority, representing them as hostile to British immigration and British trade. The ruling minority would have been glad to join hands with the English-speaking inhabitants of Upper Canada. To this end a bill for the union of the two provinces was (clandestinely, it is said) introduced into the British House of Commons in 1822. Though rejected in that year it was apparently the intention to re-introduce it in the following session, and there was in consequence great excitement in Lower Canada. Neilson characterized the bill as most unfair in several particulars. On the basis of population Upper Canada was to be given too large a number of members in the union assembly; the property qualification was too high; and the use of the French language in the proceedings of the assembly was to be abolished. Strange to say, the legislative council by a narrow majority disapproved of the union project. Upper Canada, too, opposed it, and the bill, therefore, was not again introduced.
Financial Legislation in England. -- But, although the Union Bill was dropped, the British parliament came to the rescue of the executive in Lower Canada in a somewhat high-handed way. Several revenue Acts of the provincial assembly, which were about to expire, were continued for five years by an Imperial enactment -- the "Canada Trade Act." The result was that the executive of Lower Canada had at their command all the revenues under these provincial Acts in addition to the other regular revenues. True, they had no right to spend these moneys, as the assembly had passed no appropriation bill, but they did spend them nevertheless. By the Canada Trade Act the division of the revenues between Upper and Lower Canada was also fixed.
Crisis of 1827. -- The financial battle went on, session after session, with little yielding on either side. In 1827 there came a crisis; the assembly refused all supply, and Dalhousie dissolved parliament with strong expressions of disapproval. The elections, conducted amid much excitement, proved disastrous to the executive. By an overwhelming majority Papineau was again chosen by the new House as its speaker, though his opponent was a French-Canadian friendly to reform. Dalhousie declined to recognize the assembly's choice. The assembly insisted and was at once prorogued. Public meetings were held and committees appointed in every district to procure signatures to petitions to England. The executive, in a vain attempt to stop the agitation, resorted to those oppressive measures--dismissals of militia officers and press prosecutions--referred to in a previous chapter. They also procured counter-petitions from the Eastern Townships, signed by about ten thousand persons, who complained (1) of the want of courts within their own limits, as a result of which they were obliged to go for legal redress to Quebec, Three Rivers, or Montreal where French law was administered in the French language; (2) that they had not as many representatives in the assembly as their territorial extent should entitle them to send to that body; and (3) that the roads to the townships were bad through the fault of the assembly, who did not want to encourage British settlers. Their prayer was for union with Upper Canada.
Inquiry Before the British Parliament. -- In 1828 a committee of the British House of Commons inquired into the grievances set out in the petitions on both sides. As to the complaint that French law was administered in the Eastern Townships, the committee reported that ever since 1774 there had been great uncertainty as to the real estate law there. An Imperial Act need in 1826 ("The Canada Tenures Act") had finally deter- mined that English law should govern lands held "in free and common socage." In the opinion of the committee, it was desirable that local courts should be established in the townships to enforce that law. Every facility, too, should be given to those who desired to change the tenure of their lands from the seigneurial to the English freehold system, and to this end the rights of the Crown in seigneurial estates should be relinquished. At the same time, the committee strongly disapproved of all attempts to deprive Canadians of French extraction of their laws and privileges, as secured to them by British Acts of parliament.
Representation. -- Upon the question of representation in the assembly, the committee reported in favor of the petitions from the Eastern Townships. The double basis, of population and territory, was, in their opinion, best suited to a young country where various districts, as yet sparsely settled, were being rapidly filled up. They pointed out that this system was in operation in Upper Canada, and worked well there, as it gave the new settlers a larger voice in public affairs.
Roads. -- In reference to the complaint as to roads, the committee supported the provincial assembly. Large tracts of land in the Eastern Townships had been granted to officials in the province, who had bound themselves to provide for their cultivation, but had entirely neglected to do so. The legislative council had persistently rejected bills passed by the assembly to lay a tax on these lands to aid road-making in the townships. The assembly had, in fact, Neilson said, voted nearly £100,000 since the war of 1812 for road improvement, but "it all did no good." "The road commissioners," he added, "constructed useless roads, all since grown over, and roads to benefit their own large grants. The executive had the spending of the money, and no account was properly kept. Some of these roads back into the townships might have done some good had it not been for the reserves and the absentee owners preventing settlement." Neilson somewhat warmly denied that the assembly desired to prevent British subjects from settling in the province.
Charges against the Family Compact. -- The other petitions were signed by about eighty-seven thousand persons, resident in the seigneuries -- largely, of course, French-Canadian, though by no means entirely so. They complained of the arbitrary conduct of the governor, of his having applied public money without legal appropriation, and of his violent prorogations and dissolutions of the assembly. Above all, they complained that the Family Compact of Lower Canada had, through the legislative council, persistently rejected useful measures passed by time assembly. A short statement of the bills rejected will serve to show the various measures of reform for which the assembly had contended, thus far unsuccessfully. These were (besides numerous supply bills) bills for education; for municipal government; for law reform -- particularly as to juries; for increasing the representation; for securing the independence of the judges; for the trial of delinquent officials "so as to insure a just responsibility m high public offices within the province ;" and, lastly, for appointing an agent for the province in London.
A Favorable Report. -- The committee, in their report, did not attempt to deal with the merits of the various bills rejected by the legislative council. They struck at once to the root of the matter by earnestly recommending (1) that the second chamber should be reformed and made independent of the executive; (2) that all the revenues of the province (excepting the casual and territorial) should be placed under the control and direction of the assembly. That body, however, should first vote a permanent Civil List for the governor, the members of the executive council, and the judges, so that these officials should have fixed salaries assigned them, and not be dependent upon annual votes. The action of the executive in spending moneys without legal appropriation was severely criticised.
Attitude of the Assembly. -- Upon this report nothing was done by the Imperial parliament, but the colonial office evidently tried to carry out its spirit. Dalhousie was transferred to India, and Sir James Kempt came from Nova Scotia to take his place. The press prosecutions were stopped. The dismissed militia officers and magistrates were restored to their positions. Papineau's election as speaker was recognized. To crown all, the assembly was informed that control of the revenues would be given them upon the terms mentioned in the report. This last measure of reform could only be effected by an Imperial Act, and, pending such legislation, the Lower Canadian assembly passed an address to the British parliament asking that various other reforms should be granted before they should be called on to vote a permanent Civil List even for the officials mentioned. In the meantime comparative harmony reigned, and many useful laws were passed (1829-1830). The representation in the assembly was increased was recalled. Three commissioners -- Lord Gosford (governor), Sir Charles Grey, and Sir James Gipps -- were sent out to investigate and report upon the state of the province. Some reform in details was effected by the new governor; some officials were dismissed ; and some appointments to office were made front among the more moderate reformers. But the assembly decided to await the commissioners' report, and declined to grant supplies for more than six months. Should the commissioners' report be unfavorable to the views of the extremists, a crisis seemed inevitable.