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Speech in Senate Chamber: Inquiry— Canada's Founding Fathers: Lord Durham— Debate Adjourned

Lord Durham—Inquiry—Debate Adjourned

Hon. Anne C. Cools rose pursuant to notice of March 28, 2018:

That she will call the attention of the Senate to the great nation-building authors of Canada and their constituting statute, the British North America Act, 1867, and to this Act’s single conceptual and comprehensive framework expressed in its section 91, in the words “It shall be lawful for the Queen to make Laws for the Peace, Order and good Government of Canada;” and to Lord Durham, the British Whig diplomat-politician, who was commissioned to British North America to examine and report on the political problems of the still British North American Provinces, and to his famous 1839 Report, The Report on the Affairs of British North America from the Earl of Durham, Her Majesty’s High Commissioner and Governor General of British North America 1839, which ground-breaking Report boldly recommended responsible government for Upper Canada, Lower Canada, and the Maritime Provinces.

She said: Honourable senators, I speak to my Inquiry No. 42 about the great and devoted human beings who built our country Canada and its great constitution, the British North America Act, 1867. I shall speak about John George Lambton, called Lord Durham, the British Whig diplomat-politician, commissioned to examine and report on the rebellions and political problems in the Canadas of the British North American Provinces. I shall speak also to the reunification of Upper and Lower Canada as the United Province of Canada by the 1840 Union Act, with the long title An Act to re-unite the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and for the Government of Canada.

Colleagues, I shall speak about Whig Prime Minister Lord Grenville’s 1807 bill to abolish and outlaw the African slave trade. Drafted by the famous British lawyer-abolitionist James Stephen, this British statute ended the slave trade and its miseries, which included the trans-Atlantic trade and commerce in human persons, the purchase and sale of human persons, and its abominable blasphemy that was the commerce, property, and estate in human life. The barbaric and inhuman journey called the Middle Passage was the voyage from Africa to the Americas and the West Indies. African slavery traversed half the world and three continents, Africa, Europe and America. It was notorious for the barbarous and savage suffering of the African peoples, chained and packed by the slavers like cargo on their slave ships, for their long journey in the famous Middle Passage, wherein several million Africans perished over the centuries of this evil trade. That so many of these Africans survived the Middle Passage and slavery is by itself the true miracle. It is also a tribute to the abiding human characteristic we call the human will to live, that instinct for life which abides in the souls of human persons, forging their unstinting desire and capacity for that powerful and most dominant human characteristic, which is the instinct, will and drive for survival. I shall read Whig Prime Minister Lord Grenville’s famous speech on February 5, 1807 in the House of Lords on his celebrated bill, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, 1807. Cobbett’s Parliamentary Debates Volume VIII report Lord Grenville, at columns 657-664, saying:

In stating to your Lordships, in detail, some of the arguments on which this important measure rests, I hope I shall be excused by your Lordships if I should feel myself obliged, in some instances, to tread over the same ground which has become so familiar to you in the course of a discussion which has lasted for 20 years. . . . I will, however, my Lords proceed to the discussion without further introduction, and in the first place, to state that argument which is the principal foundation of this measure, namely justice. This measure rests upon justice, and calls imperatively upon your Lordships for your approbation and support. Had it been my lords, merely a question of humanity, I am ready to admit that it might then have become a consideration with your Lordships as to how far you would extend or circumscribe humanity. Had it been simply a question involving the interests or welfare of the British Empire in the West Indies, it would then certainly have been a question with your Lordships, how far and in what respect you should legislate. But in this instance I contend, that justice imperiously calls upon your lordships to abolish the Slave Trade. I have heard some opinions urged to the effect as if justice could contain opposite and contrary tenets. Justice, my lords, is one, uniform and immutable. . . . Justice is still the same, and you are called upon by this measure not only to do justice to the oppressed and injured natives of Africa, but also to your own planters; to interpose between the planters of your own islands and their otherwise certain ruin and destruction. . . . But, my lords, when it is considered that this trade is the most criminal that any country can be engaged in; when it is considered how much guilt has been incurred in carrying it on, in tearing the unhappy Africans by thousands and tens of thousands from their families, their friends, their connections, and their social ties and dooming them to a life of slavery and misery, and after incurring all this guilt that the continuance of the criminal traffic must end in the ruin of the planters in your islands, who vainly expect profits from it; surely there can be no doubt that this detestable trades ought at once to be abolished. . . . Let us, my lords abolish this criminal traffic, and we may look forward to the period when the slaves become in a great degree natives of the islands, will feel the benefits of the protection extended to them, and the good treatment they experience, and will evince a corresponding attachment to the country from which they receive those benefits. . . . My lords, the measure now proposed for the abolition of the slave trade is one to which I cannot think that anyone who dispassionately considers the subject, can give a negative. What right do derive from any human institution, or any divine ordinance, to tear the natives of Africa, to deprive them by force of the means of labouring for their own advantage, and to compel them to labour for our profit? If then to do so is gross injustice and oppression, as I contend, it evidently and undoubtedly is, can there be a question that the character of the country ought to cleared from the stain impressed by the guilt of such a traffic, of a traffic by the effect of which we keep Africa in a state of barbarity and desolation? . . . Twice has this measure failed in this house, and if this iniquitous traffic is not now abolished, the guilt will rest with your lordships. We have to lament the loss, in the other house of parliament of some of the ablest and most distinguished advocates for the abolition; we have also to lament in this house, the loss of some of its able and strenuous supporters. Still, however, if your lordships should agree to the abolition of this inhuman trade in blood, as I trust you will feel it due to your own character and to the character of the country to do, it will meet in the other house of parliament with the strenuous support of a person to whom the country is deeply indebted for having originally proposed the measure, and for having followed that proposition by every exertion from which a chance could be derived of success.

I cannot conceive any consciousness more truly gratifying than must be enjoyed by that person, on finding a measure to which he has devoted the labour of his life, carried into effect —a measure so truly benevolent, so admirably conducive to the virtuous prosperity of his country, and the welfare of mankind — a measure which will diffuse happiness amongst millions, now in existence, and for which his memory will be blessed by millions yet unborn. My lords, I have to apologize for having troubled your lordships so long; but upon a measure of such importance — a measure, for the completion of which I have been labouring for the last 20 years — the ardent zeal which I felt for the attainment of such an object, will I trust, plead my excuse.

Honourable senators, this is Lord Grenville, after whom Grenville County was named. And what I’ve been trying to show in these speeches is that all of these great British Englishmen who were so involved in the building and creating of Canada were strong abolitionists. Very few people know this but it is a fact of history.

Honourable senators, Lord Grenville’s bill, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, 1807 came into force on January 1, 1808. Soon thereafter, in the 1830s, in Upper and Lower Canada, the great movement for political reform, that had been making itself known, was well under way. Led by the Canadian Reformers, this movement fairly and justly demanded responsible government. The Reformers’ demands were well resisted by the power holding executive, who were disinclined to cooperate with the growing Reform movement.

Colleagues, our next enterprising British constitutional statute was the Act of Union, 1840, that reunited Upper and Lower Canada as the United Province of Canada, being Canada West and Canada East, later Ontario and Quebec. This 1840 act was Britain’s response to Canada’s 1837 political and rebellious turmoil, concerning the ruling class and the official party, the Family Compact, and their rigid resistance to the popular Reformers’ stalwart opposition to Family Compact politics. Further, the population’s demand for change, and the legislative assemblies’ quest for the constitutional powers, known as the control of the public purse and the financial initiatives of the Crown, were pressing hard. These together, with the 1837 rebellion, rendered constitutional and political change, necessary and inevitable. This turmoil led to the British Liberal Whig diplomat Lord Durham’s 1837 mission to the Canadas, and his study of the two Canadas’ political problems. His famous report boldly and courageously recommended responsible government for the two Canadas, to be called Canada East and Canada West.

Honourable senators, Lord Durham’s report was titled The Report on the Affairs of British North America from the Earl of Durham, Her Majesty’s High Commissioner and Governor General of British North America, 1839. Durham presented his Report to the British Parliament’s two houses on February 11, 1839. His famous report was printed in the Canadas by Montreal’s Morning Courier, on St. François Xavier Street. Lord Durham’s Report said, at its page 58, that:

It was upon this question of the responsibility of the Executive Council that the great struggle has for a long time been carried on between the official party and the reformers; for the official party, like all parties long in power, was naturally unwilling to submit itself to any such responsibility as would abridge its tenure, or cramp its exercise of authority. Reluctant to acknowledge any responsibility to the people of the Colony, this party appears to have paid a somewhat refractory and nominal submission to the Imperial Government, relying in fact on securing a virtual independence by this nominal submission to the distant authority of the Colonial Department, or to the powers of a Governor over whose policy they were certain, by their facilities of access, to obtain a paramount influence. The views of the great body of the Reformers appear to have been limited, according to their favourite expression, to making the Colonial Constitution “an exact transcript’ of that of Great Britain;” and they only desired that the Crown should, in Upper Canada, as at home, entrust the administration of affairs to men possessing the confidence of the Assembly.

This is responsible government 1840.

 . . . It cannot be doubted, however, that there were many of the party who wished to assimilate the institutions of the province rather to those of the United States, than to those of the mother country. . . . .

Honourable senators, the result of the Upper and Lower Canadian labours, the political unrest, and Lord Durham’s great work and instructive report, was that the provinces, Canada East and Canada West, were granted responsible government by the Union Act, 1840, and were reunited as the United Province of Canada. This act’s section III said:

And be it enacted that from and after the Re-union of the said Two Provinces there shall be within the Province of Canada, One Legislative Council and One Assembly to be severally constituted and composed in the manner hereinafter prescribed, which shall be called “The Legislative Council and Assembly of Canada;” and that within the Province of Canada, Her Majesty shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the said Legislative Council and Assembly, to make Laws for the Peace, Welfare and Good Government of the Province of Canada, . . .

Colleagues, these words have been repeated in every Constitution of Canada. Very few Canadians know this fact. The reason why I have put in hundreds of hours trying to record Canada’s history here on the floor is so that people, young and old, when they are surfing on the Internet and looking for stuff or doing research — they tell me they look up my name a lot here — that they will find this material to be valuable many years after I am gone from this place.

Colleagues, in 1840, again, we see that the abiding purpose of the Canadas’ governance was the peace, welfare and good government of the Canadas.

Canada’s governance is for peace, order and good governance. Colleagues, we are not like the Americans. We are not on the pursuit of happiness and other such things.

Honourable senators, twenty-four years after 1840, in 1864, the fine statesmen of our Eastern and Maritime provinces, being the Lower Provinces, had been exploring possibilities for a union of their Eastern provinces. For this, they had planned a meeting for September 1864 in the Prince Edward Island capital, Charlottetown. Simultaneously, Canada West and Canada East had also identified their need for union. That year, from September 1 to 7, the Lower Provinces met at Charlottetown, in their Charlottetown Conference. This historic meeting of eastern and maritime delegates was attended by some delegates from the Canadas. This Charlottetown meeting adjourned early, planning to meet again in Quebec City on October 10, 1864, in a larger meeting of delegates from Canada West, Canada East, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. These future citizens and leaders of the future Dominion of Canada, met from October 10 to 25, 1864, at Parliament House in Quebec City. Their Quebec Conference was a historical and providential assembly of statesmen, who, in their strenuous labours, reached successful agreement. These agreements, as adopted, were recorded as their 72 Quebec Resolutions. These resolutions, as amended and corrected in the next two years, became the text of the British North America Act, 1867, to which Queen Victoria gave Royal Assent on March 29, 1867, and that came into force on July 1, 1867. The names of the newly summoned Canadian senators were included and printed in the Queen’s Proclamation of the 1867 British North America Act.

Colleagues, I must add that very few people know that as well.

Honourable senators, for generations Canadians will continue to be indebted to John A. Macdonald’s faithful friend and biographer, Joseph Pope, for his 1895 book, Confederation: Being a Series of Hitherto Unpublished Documents Bearing on the British North America Act. Therein Joseph Pope recorded copious notes on these successful events by which the Confederation of Canada was agreed to and achieved. We are also indebted to Hewitt Bernard, the brother of John A. Macdonald’s wife, Agnes Bernard, who acted as the Secretary to the Quebec Conference. They took records manually, by hand — a very devoted thing.

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Cools, your time has expired.

Do you wish to ask for five more minutes?

Senator Cools: I don’t even need five.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it agreed, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Cools: As the Secretary to the Quebec Conference, he, Joseph Pope and others manually recorded copious notes on the debates, resolutions and motions voted on at this historical assembly of the Fathers of Confederation, wherein John A. Macdonald, with his clear and well-stocked mind and his exceptional political skills, emerged very early as the primus inter pares, the first among equals.

Pope’s book is a valuable collection of notes on this timely meeting that was the Confederation Fathers’ Quebec Conference. These hitherto unpublished documents are an important part of our constitutional history.

I thank honourable senators for their attention and for listening. If Canada has been as successful as it has been for 150 years — I always hasten to say 150 years in Constitution time is a long time if you compare us to other countries. This is because we were gifted and blessed with a group of men who, at a particular point in history, for many different reasons, were eager and willing to talk, discuss and debate until they could reach agreement.

When you read the debates, when you read these books, you see the eagerness of these men to get to agreement. They would overlook their differences and move on to overcoming the essential problems.

I think, colleagues, we are here because of the existence of these individuals and because they have taught us, after all, that the purpose of all government is for what? You must already know the answer: peace, order and good government. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, if no other senator wishes to speak, this inquiry is considered debated.

(On motion of Senator Martin, debate adjourned.)