§ The Earl of Aberdeen
said, that he had hitherto abstained from putting any questions on the subject of Canada, and had avoided entering prematurely upon the consideration of that important topic, from a desire not to embarrass noble Lords opposite in the con- 717 sideration or performance of their duty, but having seen in the Gazette the appointment of a noble Lord to the office of Governor of the Colony, he thought the time had arrived when he might advert to the state of Canada. It was due to the importance of the subject and just to the House and to the country, and a duty which he owed to himself from what had taken place formerly in reference to it and to the pledges lie had given on the matter, to state what was the condition of the question at the time when the late Government resigned office. He also thought it only fair to noble Lords opposite, especially to the noble Lord at the head of the Colonial Department, to afford them an opportunity of stating, so far as they might think consistent with their duty, the course which they proposed to adopt in relation to Canada. Important as the subject was, he was aware that it now excited comparatively little interest in the House, but he was much mistaken, if, in a short time, it would not be pressed upon their notice, he hoped not under circumstances of additional pain and difficulty. He would not detain their Lordships with a minute narrative of the differences existing between this country and Canada, but would only advert shortly to what had taken place in the course of the last year. Early in last year certain Resolutions were passed by the House of Assembly of Lower Canada—twenty-two Resolutions—embodying a number of grievances, and containing various subjects of complaint, comprising much recriminatory matter against the local Government and the Government of this country. These Resolutions came before Parliament, and were in April, last year, referred to a Committee of the House of Commons, which examined the subject and continued their labours for upwards of three months, having before them every document that could be afforded by the Colonial Office, and all the evidence which it was possible to collect. The Committee made their Report on the 3rd of July. In that Report they declared no opinion of their own in reference to the subjects contained in the Resolutions, but lamented that much misconstruction of the measures of Government appeared to prevail in the colony, and referred it to the Government of this country to adopt measures calculated to clear up those misconstructions and restore harmony. From that time till the dissolution of the noble Viscount's Government, he did not think any step had been taken in furtherance or 718 execution of this recommendation. True, a right hon. Gentleman had stated, that on the very day of the dissolution of the Government (the 15th of November) he did address a despatch to Lord Aylmer, in which he informed his Lordship, that he was prepared to send him full instructions on all points at issue on the next day but one—the 17th; but lamented that the dissolution of the Government prevented him from doing so. Now, whatever might have been the opinions and intentions of that right hon. Gentleman, it was impossible that any such instructions would or could have been sent out for some time. When he succeeded the right hon. Gentleman, in the office of Colonial Secretary, he found no vestige of any such instructions— no record of any proceedings on the subject in the Colonial Office. Having entered on a subject entirely new to him, and without the aid of any knowledge of his predecessor's intentions, he lost no time in making himself as conversant with the Question as he could, and after due investigation, and the lapse of a certain period, did address a despatch to Lord Aylmer, in which he announced the intention of Government to appoint a special Commissioner for the purpose of investigating and redressing all the grievances submitted to his consideration; and at the same time he gave the noble Lord a general view of the spirit and tenour of the instructions prepared for the guidance of such Commissioner. That despatch the Governor communicated to the Canadian House of Assembly; it was printed in the provincial papers, had since been copied into the English journals, and probably such of their Lordships as took an active interest in the subject had seen it. He trusted that no blame could attach to the spirit of the measures which the late Government had it in contemplation to adopt. A noble Lord was finally selected for the important office of Commissioner, but when the noble Lord's instructions were far advanced, it became apparent to him (the Earl of Aberdeen) that possibly he might not have to direct the execution of them. Under such circumstances, he might have declined to proceed further, and left the matter as he found it; however he thought it his duty to bring the whole subject to a state of completion, whatever might be the result, and leave it in as complete a state as he could, in order that noble Lords opposite might be able to execute it, if it should not be his own fate to do so. The instructions were completed. Having 719 formed his own judgment upon all points at issue, having received the concurrence of his colleagues in the proposed course of policy, and finally, having obtained his Majesty's consent, he said the instructions were completed and given into the possession of the party who was to execute them in the first week of April. Had his noble Friend (Earl Amherst) proceeded in the execution of his duty under his noble successor in office, he should have been most anxious and ready to take any share of the responsibility for the instructions issued. If any alterations had been necessary, or if any fresh instructions conceived in the same spirit as his own had been suggested by the noble Lord (Lord Glenelg), he should have been most happy to have co-operated with him. However, noble Lords opposite adopted a different course. He would not enter into a detail of the nature and form of the instructions —it was sufficient to say, they were in strict conformity with the declarations he had formerly made in the House, and embraced the largest possible measure of conciliation, consistent with what was indispensable for the maintenance of the King's dominion in the province. Short of that point, the instructions proceeded on a principle of the utmost liberality. When he talked of large and liberal concessions, their Lordships were not to presume that sacrifices were to be made by this country, for it would be unjust to infer that what was conceded to Canada was lost to England. He could not conceive what interest this country could have in refusing large and liberal concessions—Legislative Assemblies were not to be treated as children, and entirely directed from this country; but should be left to the enjoyment of the utmost freedom, consistent with the maintenance of the King's dominion. Of what use were Legislative Assemblies, if they did not relieve the parent State from the responsibility and difficulty of constant interference in their concerns? Noble Lords opposite, however, did not think it advisable to adopt the course which he was prepared to pursue, and had therefore assumed the entire of that responsibility, which he should have been happy to have shared with them. He must confess, it was not without apprehension that he looked to the consequences of this change of proceeding. If the noble Lord had thought fit to act on his (the Earl of Aberdeen's) decision, much delay would have been avoided, which he feared was now likely to be attended with mischievous 720 effects. Lord Aylmer in consequence of the information, that a Commissioner was going out, convened an extraordinary meeting of the Legislative Assembly for the 30th or 31st of last May. The Assembly would have met by this time, and if the noble Lord (Lord Glenelg) had acted on his predecessor's determination, the noble Earl (Earl Amherst) would have arrived in the province about this time, and entered at once upon a course of conciliation. As matters stood, the Assembly would have met before now, and the Governor would have had no option but to dissolve it, a course which he apprehended could not but be attended with bad effects. He could not help expressing regret that the person intrusted with the important office of Commissioner should have been changed—an observation by which he meant nothing invidious to the individuals now selected for the duty. He had been given to understand that noble Lords opposite expressed themselves desirous that the noble Earl (Earl Amherst) should continue to hold the office to which he had been appointed by their predecessors; if so, he must say, that rather extraordinary means had been resorted to to insure compliance with their wishes, for Ministers had adopted a course which rendered it impossible for the noble Earl to continue in the situation. He thought they could have expected no other result than the noble Earl's resignation, from the steps which they had taken. He begged to say, that the appointment of the noble Earl was not a political step on his part. He had no political connexion, and very little personal communication, with the noble Earl. He believed the noble Earl was a supporter of the Government of which the noble Viscount formed a part; he was certainly a member of his Majesty's household during that Government. He did not mention this as forming, in his opinion, any special qualification of the noble Earl, or any recommendation to his (the Earl of Aberdeen's) favourable opinion—not at all; but what did recommend the noble Earl to him was the knowledge he possessed of the noble Earl's sound judgment and discretion, of his long experience in public life, and the high offices the duties of which he had discharged with great credit to himself and advantage to the country. And, above all, the noble Earl was recommended to him by his amiable character and conciliating disposition. These were the considerations which induced him to select the noble Earl, 721 and after the appointment, in giving his opinion and explaining his views on the subject to the noble Earl, he had seen enough to induce him now to say that he had never been instrumental in any appointment with which he had more reason to be thoroughly satisfied. As to the course now proposed to be taken, the noble Lord (Glenelg) would explain his intentions so far as he thought fit. He saw that a Governor and Captain-general of our North American provinces was appointed, and thence he was naturally led to conclude that there was no intention to send out a Commissioner, for if he could have prevailed on himself to recall Lord Aylmer, he never would have thought of sending out a Commissioner. However, from what he had subsequently heard, a Commission was intended to be sent out; a course which appeared to him not only useless, but worse than useless. It might be a fit thing in this country in moments of timidity, in order to get rid of a difficulty, to appoint a Commission of Inquiry, which he understood the new Commission was to be; but in this case a Commissioner ought to go out ready to act, and a Commission of Inquiry was worse than useless. It was competent to and incumbent on the Government to decide at once on all important matters now at issue in Canada; there were but few, and those trifling matters, on which further inquiry was required. However, he spoke in the dark on this subject, and should be still happy to hear what explanation the Government could offer. He had not brought the subject forward in a feeling of hostility to the Government; he did not disguise his apprehension that the course about to be taken, if he understood it aright, was not so calculated to lead to a favourable result as that which the late Government contemplated; but he still hoped he might be mistaken in his fears, and, in or out of the House, he should never be wanting in any efforts in his power to forward a favourable termination of existing difficulties. In conclusion, the noble Earl moved for a Copy of the Commission by which his Majesty had been pleased to appoint the Earl of Gosford Captain-general and Governor-in-chief of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada.
§ Lord Glenelg
offered his acknowledgments to the noble Earl for the moderate spirit and temper in which he had brought forward his motion. This was a most important subject, and one above all party considerations; and he felt bound to admit 722 he had ascertained that the noble Earl, when in office, had undertaken the question in reference to the good of this country and the colony, and not with a view to party considerations. He regretted, in common with the noble Earl, that delay had taken place in the matter. He would not enter into the supposed delay that occurred last year, not wishing to excite any discussion on that subject. His noble friend seemed to be of opinion that, notwithstanding what his right hon. Friend had said, Canada had not formed the subject of any document then in possession of his right hon. Friend.
§ The Earl of Aberdeen
begged to observe, that he had never said that his right hon. predecessor in office had not prepared a document containing his own views on the subject of Canada. His right hon. predecessor had sent out a despatch stating that those views would be submitted to the Cabinet on the 15th of November, and that full instructions would be sent out on the 17th. Now, it had turned out impossible that that promise could be fulfilled.
§ Lord Glenelg
knew that his right hon. Friend had been most anxious to bring the subject under the consideration of the Cabinet, and, in point of fact, he also knew that it would have been immediately brought under their consideration but for events to which he would no further allude. His noble Friend said, that he had formed his opinions on this subject in great liberality. He most cheerfully admitted that the instructions which his noble Friend had prepared for the Commissioner to Canada were drawn up in a liberal spirit. His noble Friend, however, seemed to think that it was possible for the present Government to have taken up the question exactly as he had left it. Undoubtedly it would have been more easy for him to have done so. His first impulse certainly was to adopt the measure of his predecessor in office, and to close every part of the transaction in this country. But, with the noble Earl ready to depart for the Canadas, with a measure to be executed there, of which he must be answerable for the results, he put it to the noble Lord opposite whether he would have acted in a manner befitting the office which he had the honour to hold, supposing that he had adopted the instructions issued by his noble predecessor, and had sheltered himself from all responsibility under the responsibility which attached to his noble Friend for issuing them. Would it have been consistent with his official character to have 723 stated, "I find these instructions ready to my hand, and I will accede to them without examination?" [The Earl of Aberdeen.— Not without examination.] Not without examination? Then there was no blame to be cast on Ministers that they did not proceed immediately, but took some time for inquiry. His noble Friend would undoubtedly have been willing to take his full share of responsibility, but he was sure that no man in his situation would have consented to allow his noble Friend to take a share in any responsibility which did not justly attach to his actions. It, therefore, became his duty to look into the nature of those instructions, and to see whether he could defend the whole of them. No one was more aware than his noble Friend of the vast extent of this question in all its bearings. He did not mean to say that he himself had mastered it. He had, however, looked into it diligently, and had exercised his judgment upon it to the best of his ability. After the most deliberate examination on the part both of himself and of his colleagues in the Government, it had been thought proper to change the instructions drawn up by his noble Friend. His noble Friend said, that he regretted extremely the change of person who had been selected as Commissioner. He (Lord Glenelg) regretted it too, for nothing was more true than that his Majesty's Government wished the noble Earl (Earl Amherst) to retain the situation to which he had been appointed. He was glad to see that noble Earl that evening in his place: and, seeing him there, he appealed to the noble Lord, whether the Ministry were not desirous to obtain for the country a continuance of his services in the Canadas. His noble Friend had said that it was impossible for the noble Earl to give Ministers his services, now that a Commission of three persons had been appointed, instead of a single Commissioner. To that he would only add, in reply, that among the reasons which the noble Earl had given for declining the appointment there was no statement of any disapprobation of the plan laid down by his Majesty's Government. He would not pretend to follow his noble Friend, point by point, through his speech; he must, however, allude to the inquiry made by his noble Friend as to the intentions of his Majesty's Government on this question. Instead of appointing a single Commissioner his Majesty's Government proposed to appoint a Commission consisting of three 724 persons, one of whom was to be the Governor of the Canadas, to inquire into the grievances of those colonies. As far as was consistent with his duty, every information respecting the nature of that Commission should be afforded to their Lordships. He was sure that their Lordships would recollect that last year the House of Assembly in Canada sent over a petition to this country complaining of various grievances. That petition was referred to a Committee of the House of Commons, but nothing had been done as to the Canadas since then. With regard to the question as it now stood, he thought that all the noble Lords opposite would agree with him that it was impossible to pass by that appeal from Canada to England without examination. Then, as the House of Assembly had complained of grievances, there were only three modes of acting with respect to them. You might object instantly to all their complaints, and reject them entirely; or you might reject them in part, and concede them in part; or you might grant an inquiry into them with a view of redressing the grievances, if they were found to exist. Now, to reject their complaints instantly and entirely without inquiry would of course have been an improper line. It would have been deemed most objectionable even by the people of England. The petitioners had presented a petition complaining of grievances. A Committee of the House of Commons had heard their evidence, but had resolved that it ought not to be made public. All the Report which that Committee had made consisted of a recommendation to the Government to take such measures as they should deem proper to redress the grievances complained of. The petitioners would therefore have a right to say—"You suppressed the evidence which we gave; from that time we have been precluded from coming before you—and now you pronounce the entire and instant rejection of our claims." That course he thought was one which none of their Lordships would recommend. But if it were determined partially to reject and partially to grant the demands of the petitioners, that was equally open to objection. That could not be done without offending two parties, both those who assented to and those who denied the existence of grievances. There were at present in this country two deputies from Montreal and Quebec, specially delegated from Canada, claiming to be heard in 725 their own persons before Parliament on this subject. Those persons would have a right to complain if any concessions were to be made which they might deem injurious to those whom they represented, without their being heard upon the subject. If, then, an inquiry was to be instituted, the only question left for consideration was, where should that inquiry take place? He thought that there could be little doubt that the proper place for such inquiry was the country in which the people resided who were affected by the alleged grievances, and in which remedies to those grievances must be applied. It had been asked by his noble Friend what reason there was for sending out more Commissioners than one. Now, it struck him that if a real and a searching inquiry was to be instituted, more than one Commissioner would be wanted to conduct it. The vast field of inquiry into which it would be necessary to enter in Canada would be beyond the powers of any single individual to undertake. Not only political questions but fiscal questions and judicial questions and legal questions of great importance, must come under the examination of the Commission, and it was therefore no disparagement to any individual, let his talents be what they might, to say that he would scarcely be able to grapple single-handed with the whole extent of the various subjects which must come under his consideration. It was not by receiving information at this distance from the Canadas that the best means of conciliating their inhabitants could be devised. If he wished to ascertain their grievances, and to learn what were the best practical remedies for them in the opinion of sober-minded men, the best mode of acquiring that knowledge was by mixing personally with them, and obtaining from their own mouths a knowledge of their feelings. If the Legislature received the delegates from the Canadas, and took their testimony, it ought not to forget that those delegates must be the representatives of extreme opinions, and the best advocates of their respective causes. If, therefore, the Legislature wished to obtain the best information, it must be sought by personal inquiry among the inhabitants of the country, who were most competent to afford it. The noble Lord, concluded by thanking their Lordships for the indulgent attention with which they had listened to his observations.
§ The Earl of Aberdeen,
in reply, stated that he did not blame the Government for 726 the course which it had adopted; he only regretted that they had not deemed it expedient to pursue the same line which the late Government had chalked out for itself. If, however, in consequence of the adoption of a less liberal course than that which he had intended to pursue, the result should be less favourable than their Lordships all wished, he should then, if he found that there was any likelihood of our being obliged to resort to other measures, consider it to be his duty to move that a copy of the instructions which he had prepared should be laid before their Lordships, in order that they might see what would have been the consequences had a different policy been adopted.
§ Motion agreed to.