6th Day: 31 January

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Council Chamber, Upper Fort Garry

Monday, 31 January 1870[1]

One o’clock, P.M. — English and French Representatives in session. All the English delegates present.

Roll called: minutes for the previous meeting read and continued.

The Chairman said that at the last meeting only the number of members to be appointed to the local legislature by Canada had been fixed. The other points as to the total number of representatives and the number to be chosen by the people here, had to be decided; and he presumed that that would be the first question to be decided on.

Mr. Riel, after translating the Chairman’s observations into French, moved — That the determination of the number of representatives to be elected by the people of this country, be postponed.

Mr. Thibert seconded the motion,— Carried.

Article 5 of the committee’s report was then put, as follows:

“5. That after the expiration of this exceptional period, the country shall be governed as regards its local affairs, as the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec are now governed, by a Legislature of the people and a ministry responsible to it, under a Lieutenant-Governor appointed by the Governor-General of Canada.”[2]

Mr. Bunn seconded by Mr. D. Gunn moved the adoption of the article.— Carried.

Article 6 was then proposed:—

“6. That there shall be no interference by the Dominion Parliament in the local affairs of this Territory other than is allowed in the other Provinces; and that this Territory shall have and enjoy in all respects, the same privileges, advantages and aid, in meeting the public expenses of this Territory, as the Province of Ontario has and enjoys.”[3]

Mr. Ross suggested that in the last section of the article “Province of Ontario” be expunged and “other Provinces” be inserted.

Mr. Scott suggested that the word “other” before “Provinces,” be expunged. At present we were not talking of going in as a Province.

Both suggestions were agreed to and the article amended accordingly.

Mr. O’Donoghue seconded by Mr. Bunn moved the adoption of the article.

The Chairman said it occurred to him that we have the same privileges as Ontario, when in many respects, in the matter of population for instance, we occupied a far lower level. He supposed the intention of the committee to have been that we should have these privileges, &c. relatively.

Article 6 carried.

The seventh article was put:—

“That while the North-West remains a Territory the Legislature have a right to pass all laws local to the Territory, over the veto of the Lieutenant-Governor, by a two-thirds vote.”

Mr. Bunn moved that the seventh article be struck out for two reasons. I see, he said, no practical advantage in it, and besides it is against the Constitution of Great Britain.

Dr. Bird seconded the amendment, for similar reasons, and for the further one that he should be sorry any law should come into force which was opposed by one-third of the Legislature and the Governor.

Mr. Riel, in French, as interpreted by Mr. Ross, dwelt on the importance of the two-thirds majority triumphing over the one-third, with the Governor. It would be unjust to allow the Governor, with eight out of twenty-four, to over-ride the wishes of the people; and, as we attached great importance to the majority of the people triumphing in this country, we should be careful to do nothing which would endanger this. It was true that hitherto we had been governed by English law. But England chose to neglect us for one or two centuries back, and he did not suppose we were under any very great obligations to respect her laws. He argued very strongly for the right to curb the Governor by the two-thirds vote.

Mr. O’Donoghue — I do not believe that the constituents of any member here would be opposed to this article. The voice of the people, as given through the majority of their representatives, should be respected in preference to the voice of one man. The people, I believe, will find it absolutely necessary to have a bill like this passed. No matter who may come as Governor, he will not be so likely to know and respect the wishes of the people as their representatives.

Mr. Boyd — the veto of the Governor, it must be remembered, is not final. The matter may be brought up next session.

Mr. O’Donoghue — And the Governor can throw out a bill session after session, as often as he chooses.

Mr. Bunn — Such a course is unprecedented.

Mr. O’Donoghue — We have had many unprecedented things lately in the North-West. We have had bogus proclamations and a bogus Governor.[4]

The Chairman — No doubt, the principle involved in this article is one inconsistent with the principles of the British Constitution — or rather with what we have to look to more immediately, the principles of the Confederation into which we propose to be admitted. We profess a desire — and I believe you have a sincere desire — to be admitted into the Confederation on just and equitable principles. Having that desire, it seems reasonable that we should endeavor to include nothing in this list likely to be so objectionable in the eyes of Canada, as to endanger our chance of being admitted into Confederation. With regard to the veto of the Governor, it does look rather a formidable power. But we must not forget that this power is very seldom exercised by the Governor alone (hear, hear). Again, the legitimate object, as I understand it, of this veto power is,— not to enable the Governor to carry out, arbitrarily, any caprice of his own. Its object is two-fold:— In the first place to prevent precipitate legislation; and in the next place, in order that the Lieutenant-Governor,— who is supposed to take a more comprehensive view of the relations of the Colony at the head of which he stands than the Colonists themselves, and is expected to see things which may not appear immediately to the local Legislature,— Imperial interests, for instance,— may check us if they see that we are doing anything likely to give us trouble, or likely to give trouble to our brother Colonists. Now, is it not of some consequence — great consequence indeed — that he should be in such a position as to enable him to come forward and say, stop, stop and think! If we propose to introduce into the constitution of our Legislature a principle plainly inconsistent with the constitution of the Confederation, this is, let me tell you, the danger that will arise;— the danger will be that Canada may come to the conclusion that our minds are set upon having principles applied to the Government of this country which are inconsistent with those applied to any other member of the Confederation,— principles of so vital a character that, if we insist upon them, Canada may be obliged to say that she cannot enter into the compact. From what I have lately seen and heard, I believe it will be of the very best advantage to this country to be incorporated into the Confederation on proper conditions. This is, I believe, a great era in the history of this country; and if we get incorporated into the Dominion, on the conditions which we believe Canada is willing to agree to, this country will be greatly the gainers: for, what is the position in which we now stand? That of deriving at once the benefits of responsible government for the country — a boon obtained in other countries only after years — I may say generations — of toil and trouble and the benefits also of Confederation. This we have offered to us now. And, considering the conflict into which other peoples have been called upon to enter before they obtained even responsible government,— ought we not to be very careful how we risk our prospects? (cheers). Not only is there held up before us the prospect of responsible government but responsible government under conditions more favorable than have been given to any Colony which I can remember (cheers). We are offered responsible government, with the benefit of all the strength, all the influence, all the power and dignity of that great Confederation which, even now, looms large in the eyes of the world. We are not to be left, as most other colonies have been left, to work out our destiny under responsible government. We are not to be left without a helping hand. We are not to be left single-handed to encounter all these difficulties and dangers which belong to the time of youth, whether we regard communities or individuals. But we are to be started upon this splendid career with the shield of this great Confederation over us,— with the hand of the Dominion stretched above our heads, and practically signifying to all the world:— “That people is under the protection of the Dominion; the Dominion is under the protection of the Queen of England. You cannot touch them with impunity: They stand as long as we stand, and never, till we fall, shall they be allowed to fall” (cheers). Are these considerations not grave and important? Are these considerations not valuable? And ought we not to be careful lest we put forward anything so unreasonable as to deter Canada from entering into a compact which would place us in possession of such great advantages,— advantages which would open up to us such prospects — which would give us such prosperity — and elevate this country, as it were with one lift, to a point of importance which, unless we enter into this Confederation, we must struggle long before we can reach (cheers).

Mr. O’Donoghue — The English Constitution, in the colonies at least, is, as I understand it, one which can be set aside or modified according to circumstances. It is not a written Constitution, which requires a special act to do away with, or amend any part of it. The English Constitution is not such as to suit every one of her colonies. It is modified to suit circumstances. And are we to be debarred from doing as other colonies have done? Again, it has been urged that the Governor will have Imperial interests at heart in an especial manner, and therefore ought to have more power than is given him by this article. To that I answer: Imperial interests are looked after by the general government. The action of the Local Legislature and Government is confined to local affairs.

The Chairman having explained,

Mr. Ross said — This is a question on which two sides might very fairly be taken. A good deal might be said for and against it. The principle on which the British law is based is, that there should be three branches of the Legislature, and the consent of all three is necessary in order that a law pass. Of course when any one of the three branches withholds concurrence, it proves fatal. I would say that while I admit at the outset that it is unconstitutional that a two-thirds vote should over-ride the veto of the Governor, because it is unrecognised by the constitution of England or the colonies,— I think on consideration we can find sufficient reasons for taking the position of asking for it. I am sorry in this matter to have to take a position different from our Chairman. I admire his recent speech and the principle, he enunciated, but I think we can justify the course adopted by the committee. I think it possible that though unprecedented in England or the other colonies, this principle is admissible here; and for my part I think that in itself it is desirable. I like the principle of having a check on the Governor. Whenever the time comes that two thirds of the people vote against the Governor, there is a fair presumption that the views of the majority of the people are against the views of the Executive of the country (cheers). It is fair to presume that the views of a majority of the representatives would be favorable to the benefit of the country (cheers). There is just this objection to the principle, that it is without precedent in England or the colonies. But it is not a vital principle; and, under our peculiar circumstances, I do not think Canada would be opposed to conceding it. Then we only ask this, mark you, while we are a Territory. Perhaps when we become a Province, reasons might come up why it should be otherwise. Another thing to be considered is, that the Dominion has a right to review the acts of the local Legislature, and they can veto any inconsistent measure. I am not at all of opinion that we are going to lose our union with Confederation in this question, and for that reason I would not press the opposition to it (cheers).

Mr. Bunn’s amendment was put and lost on a division:— Yeas 15: nays 22.[5]

The article was then adopted.

Article 8 came up:—

“8, A Homestead and Pre-emption law.”

Mr. Bunn, seconded by Mr. Ross, moved its adoption.— Carried.

Article 9:

“That while the North-West remains a Territory, the sum of $15,000 a year be appropriated for schools, roads and bridges.”

Mr. K. McKenzie, seconded by Mr. Cummings, moved its adoption.

Rev. H. Cochrane — Does that article merely refer to the Settlement, or the country in general?

Mr. Riel — The whole country. I see one objection to the adoption of the article. It is not enough.

Mr. K. McKenzie, seconded by Mr. Riel, moved that the amount be $25,000.

Mr. Bunn opposed the motion and amendment, on the ground that we would get more without them. One article, passed before this, provided that Canada pay all the expenses of the Territory. Seconded by Dr. Bird, he moved in amendment that the article 9 be struck out.

Chairman — I suppose we are acting on the principle that the higher we aim the better. If we aim at the sun, we will be pretty certain to hit some object higher than the earth (laughter). But let me suggest, before putting the resolution before the chair, that its effect might be injurious to us. Under it we may get a great deal less than we would otherwise obtain.

Mr. Bunn withdrew his amendment.

Mr. McKenzie’s amendment carried, and the article, as amended, was adopted on a division — Yeas 27; nays 9.

Article 10 came up:

“10. That all public buildings be at the cost of the Dominion Treasury.”

Mr. O’Donoghue, seconded by Mr. Sutherland, moved its adoption.

Dr. Bird, seconded by Mr. Boyd, moved in amendment, that the words “while a Territory” be added.[6]

Amendment put and lost.

Article 10 adopted on a division. — Yeas 29; nays 8.

Article 11 discussed:

“11. That a railroad be guaranteed to Lake Superior or Pembina, within five years from the date of our admission into Confederation.”

Mr. Riel, seconded by Mr. Scott, moved that this article be corrected, to make it in accordance with what had already been adopted.

Mr. Bunn moved that this article be added to Article 1, and that the word “Pembina” be inserted instead of “St. Paul,” in Article 1.

The Chairman — The words “St. Paul,” in the first article, really mean “Pembina.” Of course we cannot stipulate that Canada shall build a railway on a soil beyond her control.

Mr. Scott — What would be the use of running a railway to Pembina, if the American road, with which it ought to connect, ran to St. Jo or the Portage?

After debate, Mr. Bunn agreed to change his amendment, by proposing that the two articles should be joined as they stand.

Mr Ross amended the last amendment.

Mr. Scott — One object of the Convention seems to be to force Canada to construct a railroad from here to Fort William within five years. But with the word “or,” in this article, you allow her to get off by building merely sixty miles of road from here to Pembina. I would suggest, as an amendment, that Article 11 read one year instead of five.

Mr. Lonsdale — As far as communication with Lake Superior is concerned, I may say, that from my knowledge of the country I do not think it at all impracticable to have uninterrupted steam communication within five years. As to having direct railway communication within that period, I do not consider it possible.

Mr. Scott, seconded by Mr. O’Donoghue, moved in amendment,

“That Canada guarantee uninterrupted steam communication between this place and Lake Superior within five years, and a railroad between this place and Pembina by November 1, 1871.”

The Chairman — This is asking Canada to build a road to the border, and connect us with the States, before she builds a road to connect us with our brethren.

Mr. Sutherland — I would suggest a proviso, that we have steam communication within five years to Lake Superior; and that immediately on the completion of the American line of railway to Pembina, we have a branch line to the boundary to connect with it.

Mr. Riel — I cannot vote for Mr. Scott’s amendment.

Mr. Scott — If I got the contract I would guarantee to build the road in ten weeks.

Mr. Bunn — It proposes an impracticable scheme. How are we to get the iron to build an unconnected line on this side of the boundary? And if the American line was not finished when ours was constructed, the line would be unconnected. How are we to get locomotives and cars, &c.? A calculation has just been made by a friend of mine, that in the matter of rails alone, it would take 10,000 carts to freight them. Mr. Scott’s statement that he could perform such a contract in ten weeks is absurd.

Mr. Scott — I made the offer on the supposition that the railroad from Abercrombie to Pembina would be completed before that time.

Mr. Scott’s amendment was put and lost.

Ultimately Mr. Sutherland’s idea was adopted, and the article proposed in the following shape: —

Moved by the Chairman, seconded by Mr. Riel, that the following be substituted for Article 11: —

“That there shall be guaranteed uninterrupted steam communication to Lake Superior within 5 years, and also the establishment by rail of a connection with the American railway as soon as it reaches the International line.”[7]

The question being put, a brief debate arose as to a point of order raised by Mr. Ross.

Article adopted.

At half past seven the Convention adjourned till ten o’clock next morning.

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Next Page: 7th Day: 1 February


[1]“Convention at Fort Garry,” New Nation (4 February 1870), 2; HBCA, E.9/1, 8–10.

[2] HBCA, E.9/1, 8 obverse, reads: “by a Legislature of the people under a Lieut.-Governor appointed by the Governor-General of Canada.”

[3] HBCA, E.9/1, 9.

[4] A reference to William McDougall and his proclamation of 1 December 1869.

[5] HBCA, E.9/1, 9 obverse.

[6] HBCA, E.9/1, 10.

[7] HBCA, E.9/1, 10 obverse, reads “communication” in place of “connection.”

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