12th Day: 7 February

Previous page: 11th Day: 5 February

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Council Chamber, Upper Fort Garry

Monday, 7 February 1870[1]

Two o’clock, P.M.— Convention in session. Roll called. Minutes read.

The three Canadian Commissioners, Grand-Vicar Thibeault [sic], Colonel DeSalaberry and Mr. Donald A. Smith, were present — having been requested to attend.

The Chairman recounted the circumstances which led to the drawing up of that list, and explained that it did not profess to be a complete list. It did not propose to give in final terms the views of the Convention respecting those points to which the list refers. It must be therefore regarded as somewhat incomplete, not only as regards what it omits, but also respecting what it embraces. But, continued the Chairman, it will, I hope, sufficiently answer the purposes for which it was intended, that of conveying to you, in terms as clear and definite as could be arrived at under the circumstances, the views of this Convention, as representatives of the people, respecting those great matters about which the minds of men in this Settlement are so much occupied.

Mr. Riel, in French,— We ought to welcome all three Commissioners from Canada. We are in a position now to treat them with the utmost fair play and hear what they have to say to us. We are here, as honorable men, to treat fairly — to make known our views honorably,— and to be met, I hope, in the same spirit (cheers).

The List of Rights, which had been presented to Mr. Smith during the forenoon, was read over by the Secretaries in English and French.

In response to a request from Mr. Riel, the three Commissioners addressed the Convention.

Grand Vicar Thibeault rose amid applause, and said in French — I have been sent here with Colonel DeSalaberry to explain matters; and I can assure you I feel my responsibility in this respect. It was part of my commission to come here and explain the action, which was going to be taken by the Government, with Mr. McDougall. But finding Mr. McDougall gone, and having to come to this country, according to my Commission,— I came on; we met the Provisional Government, asked to be heard by them and were heard. When asked what power we had, we said we had the power to consider nothing — we had power to conclude nothing. We were trusted by the Canadian Government to a certain extent (cheers) — and as such we counselled this course — a course which we were sure would be good if the people of the country could adopt it: viz, to send a delegation to the Canadian Government in order to treat with the Canadian Parliament. This delegation should be invested with the necessary power to negotiate for what the nation wants (cheers). I must say, of course, that this is more advice than anything else. But at the same time I am certain that the delegation would be well received by the Canadian Government. Since we have been before the Provisional Government, we have not done anything which would be of interest to repeat at this moment. We have been merely judging of events, and of the proper course of pacifying the people and establishing good order in the country (cheers).

Col. DeSalaberry having been applauded, said — I feel the honor you have done me in calling me before this Convention. I endorse every word which my honorable friend, the Grand Vicar, has said, and have nothing additional to state. We were sent here with no power — but merely to see the people, and give them our opinion as to what result would flow from the proposed change of Government (cheers).

Mr. Riel — Without going further into details, I would like to hear from Mr. Smith what he is in a position to guarantee — what power he has to meet our demands on behalf of the Red River people. At this stage of our proceedings it is important to rely not merely on opinion. We are not to be satisfied with what Mr. Smith thinks, but what he can guarantee. I want some certainty, and not merely an expression of opinion on what we desire. We are now in a position to make demands. How far is the Commissioner in a position to guarantee them on behalf of the Canadian Government?

Mr. Ross — It might facilitate matters if this List of Rights were taken up article by article and Mr. Smith’s reply obtained to each.

Mr. Riel — I would like to hear from Mr. Smith, first, whether, without going into details, Mr. Smith can say that he is in a position to grant us what we want. Is he, as Commissioner, able to guarantee one single article of the list? We have seen his commission. There is no restriction in it. If he can grant us one, he can go further.

Mr. Smith was cheered on rising, and said — From the form in which the question is put, I feel a good deal of difficulty in replying. I believe that while I might have power in regard to some of the articles, to assure you — so far as assurance can be given of anything which has not yet occurred — I could not, at the same time, do so equally in regard to the whole. My Commission, you have had before you, in exact terms. And in addition, before leaving, I had communication with the Government, and know their views generally (hear, hear). I presume this is all the answer the question requires. Were I permitted to explain my views, as to what the Canadian Government would be willing to do for this country, I would have much pleasure in doing so.

Mr. Riel — Is your commission such as to enable you to guarantee us even a single article of the List of Rights?

Mr. Smith — I believe that the nature of my commission is such that I can give assurances — full assurances — so far as any such guarantee can be given — that the Government of the Dominion would so place the right guaranteed before Parliament that it would be granted. This would be done in some instances —

Mr. Riel — In some instances!

Mr. Smith — As to all the Rights, in the form in which they have been handed me, I certainly cannot answer.

Mr. Riel — So you cannot guarantee us even a single article in that List?

Mr. Smith — I have tried to explain to the Convention that I believe my powers to be sufficient to admit of my guaranteeing,— so far as anything can be guaranteed which is not yet passed by Parliament — certain articles in this List.

Mr. Riel — I like the word “believe,” but would like better “I am certain.”

Mr. Smith — I can say I feel assured. That is a stronger word. There is no certainty in anything which has not yet taken place.

Mr. Riel — So your authority here as Commissioner, has not taken place?

Mr. Smith — My authority as Commissioner has certainly “taken place,” as you term it. But when I left Canada, next to nothing was known of the position here. The Government were consequently not in a position to point out to me certain articles and indicate their policy on them. They did not know what the desires of the people here were, or what they really considered their rights. The List of Rights at first drawn up, came into my hands certainly, but not in Canada. Had that list been in my hands at Ottawa,— had I been able to go over the different articles and say, Here, gentlemen, is No. 1, is that to be granted? I would then have known to a certainty how to pronounce on the several articles.

Mr. Riel — As you left Canada after the Grand Vicar and Colonel DeSalaberry, perhaps you received more authority, as the Canadian Government would then have been better informed of the events in this country. Is your authority as Commissioner greater than that of your two Co-Commissioners?

Mr. Smith — I feel that that it is different from that of the others, to some extent. I may say now, that it gives me the greatest pleasure indeed to meet these gentlemen here as fellow Commissioners. Like them I can have but one wish, and that is, that as soon as possible a settlement should be arrived at, satisfactory to the country and Canada,— believing, as I do, that the interests of both countries are identical (cheers). These gentlemen left Canada before me; but it was intended when I left Ottawa that I should overtake them, and that we should have gone together very much on the way. But a matter of business detained me, so that they arrived here first. I may add, that it was with some reluctance I first undertook this Commission. I recommended others in whom I had every confidence, but had ultimately to accept the position myself.

Mr. Riel — I am glad to hear you say that you believe your Commission contained a little more authority perhaps than that of those two gentlemen. Show, then, that you have more power. They cannot guarantee anything. If your power is greater, you can guarantee something.

Mr. Smith — I will have much pleasure in pointing out so much of the List as I can guarantee.

Mr. Riel — So you can guarantee us some articles in the sense of the word “guarantee.”

Mr. Smith — Yes; but perhaps you would be good enough to explain your idea of the word guarantee.

Mr. Riel — A pledge that the Canadian Government will be ready to sanction by act of Parliament what you say will be granted.

Mr. Smith — The Government will certainly bring the matter before Parliament, but it is the Parliament which must finally decide.

Mr. Riel — You are embarrassed. I see you are a gentleman and do not wish to press you. I see that the Canadian Government has not given you all the confidence which they ought to have put in your hands. At the same time we will hear your opinion, although we are satisfied you cannot grant us, nor guarantee us anything by the nature of your commission.

The Chairman then addressed Mr. Smith as follows:— In your capacity as Commissioner, I believe you will act conscientiously toward the Red River people and the Government of Canada (cheers). We understand fully the difficulty, delicacy and responsibility of your position; and as we feel that you are dealing conscientiously with us, we will not be surprised if, in the face of the strong demands made, you stand still and consider whether your powers enable you to speak with that degree of positive assurance which no doubt would be desired by the Convention (cheers).

Mr. Smith I will now proceed to the List of Rights. I have been up to time, but in the short period allowed me to think over these articles, I have been able to throw together only a few thoughts. Two hours is but a very short time to consider a document which has occupied the time of this Convention some eleven or twelve days. With regard to article one, the Convention has already had a communication to the effect that the Dominion Government had provided by Order-in-Council for the continuance of the present tariff of duties in the Territory for at least two years; and I feel convinced that the Government will be prepared to recommend to Parliament such measures as will meet the views of the Convention as expressed in this article. The article is as follows:—

“1. That in view of the present exceptional position of the North-West, duties upon goods imported into the country shall continue as at present (except in the case of spirituous liquors) for three years, and for such further time as may elapse until there is uninterrupted railroad communication between Red River Settlement and Saint Paul, and also steam communication between Red River Settlement and Lake Superior.”

Article 2 is as follows:—

“2. That as long as this country remains a Territory in the Dominion of Canada, there shall be no direct taxation except such as may be imposed by the Local Legislature for municipal or other purposes.”

“Article 3. That during the time this country shall remain a Territory in the Dominion of Canada, all military, civil and other public expenses in connection with the general Government of the country, or that have hitherto been borne by the public funds of the Settlement — beyond the receipt of the above mentioned duties,— shall be met by the Government of Canada.”

I have taken these two articles together, as I thought the one answer would apply equally. My answer is this — I believe that the Canadian Government will ask the Dominion Parliament to meet the views of the Convention and their constituents in respect to these articles.

Article 4 of the list is as follows:—

“4. That while the burden of public expense in this Territory is borne by Canada, the country be governed under a Lieutenant-Governor from Canada, and a Legislature, three members of whom, being heads of departments of the Government, shall be nominated by the Governor-General of Canada.”

To this I would say — When I had the honor of conferring with members of the Canadian Government, they assured me of their desire to consult the wishes of the people of the Territory in respect to matters connected with the composition of the Local Legislature; and their intention was, that as soon as the North-West became a part of the Confederation, that at least two-thirds of the members of the Council should be selected from among the residents. I was commissioned to assure the people of this. For the time being, Councillors under the former Government were to retain their seats,— that is, in the Government of the Hudson Bay Company, which at the time I left Ottawa was the only Government known in Canada. It would have been for that Council to have recommended to the Dominion Government any alterations they might deem necessary for placing the Local Government more in accordance with the wants and wishes of the community. These recommendations would be introduced in a bill to be submitted to Parliament.

Mr. Riel, (indignantly) — It is only for the sake of this Convention that I could tolerate the liberty you have taken in making such a statement.

The Chairman — I think there is some misapprehension here.

Mr. Smith — I would regret saying anything to offend; but in my view of it, there is really nothing requiring correction in what I have said, or intended to say. I am speaking of the views of the Government as explained to me — not what I think of the matter at this moment. I am speaking of —

Mr. Riel — What is dead.

Mr. Smith — What instructions I then received, and giving it merely to show my reasons for what I did afterwards.

Mr. Riel — Proceed.

Mr. Smith — I mentioned before that I had a verbal communication from the Government in regards to many matters, and I am trying to act on that.

Mr. Riel — This is a matter of such serious import that we can deal only with your papers as Commissioner. We all believe in the word of a gentleman; but in so serious a case we must have something more definite.

Mr. Smith — The understanding I had with them, as a Government, was very distinct, that the Council here, as in the first instance constituted, would as soon as possible be replaced by a Legislature to be chosen by the people. Bearing this in mind I did not hesitate to give it as my opinion that the Dominion Government will ask Parliament to provide a liberal Government for the country while it remains a Territory. The fifth article says:—

“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 elected by the people, and a ministry responsible to it, under a Lieutenant Governor appointed by the Governor-General of Canada.”

With regard to this, I have the most explicit assurance from the Canadian Government that such will be the case. Article 6 says:—

“6. That there shall be no interference by the Dominion Parliament in the local affairs of this Territory, other than is allowed in the Confederated Provinces; and that this Territory shall have and enjoy, in all respects, the same privileges, advantages and aids, in meeting the public expenses of this Territory, as the other provinces in Confederation have and enjoy.”

For this I believe the Dominion Government will provide in a liberal spirit. Article 7 says:—

“7. 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.”

This article brings up some constitutional considerations, with which it would be unpardonable presumption on my part were I to deal summarily. But I would repeat most distinctly that the Dominion Government will pay the utmost deference to the wishes of the Convention as regards this and all other matters in connection with the Government of the country; and I have full confidence that the decision arrived at, will be acceptable to the people. Article 8 is:—

“8. A Homestead and Pre-emption Law.”

It has already been intimated to me by the Canadian Government, with a view of its being made known to the people of the Settlement, that all property held by residents in peaceable possession, will be secured to them; and that a most liberal land policy in regard to the future settlement of the country, will be adopted,— every privilege in this respect enjoyed in Ontario or Quebec, being extended to this Territory. Article 9 states:—

“9. That while the North-West remains a Territory the sum of $25,000 a year be appropriated for schools, roads and bridges.”

In respect to this article, it may be better that I should not speak as to any particular sum; but I feel quite certain that an amount even exceeding that here mentioned, will be appropriated for the purposes referred to. I can give an assurance that this will be done.

Mr. Riel — A verbal assurance?

Mr. Smith — As great an assurance as I can give of anything else. The tenth article says:—

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

To that I have to say — That the Dominion Government will defray the cost of all public buildings required for the general business of the Territory, I can safely promise (cheers). Article 11 says:—

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

I do not hesitate to give this assurance, as the works on the Lake Superior route, which have been progressing actively since the early part of last summer, will doubtless be completed much within the specified time. As to the railway to Pembina, shortly after the American line reaches that place, it will certainly be carried out. If I might be permitted a remark with respect to this article I would say, that I would not be loath to make a personal promise. I have seen a number of prominent men, connected with large undertakings in England as well as in Canada. The matters alluded to in this article have been spoken of, and I know all are most anxious to push on with such undertakings, knowing that it will be for their own interest to do so. In this way, I have no doubt that private enterprise will shortly accomplish such undertakings as are here proposed. Shortly before leaving Canada, I myself was in business connection with such men as Mr. Hugh Allan, Mr. A. Allan, of the steamboat line; Mr. King, President of the Bank of Montreal; Mr. Redpath, the owner of one of the most extensive establishments in Canada; and other men of note there. Our object was, to get up a Rolling Stock Company. In the first instance we had, I think, a contract for some 500 cars. And some fine day I hope that the townsmen of Winnipeg will see some of these cars making their way across the prairie (cheers). I hope you will see them coming laden with the manufactures of Canada, and returning laden with the surplus products of the country. Though I have some connection with the Hudson Bay Company, I may also say that I have been largely connected with public enterprises. In connection with some men of standing I have been connected with other enterprises. I have had considerable interest in a large woollen mill in Cornwall. Some of our blankets have already come in here, and no doubt many more will come in, as they are better and cheaper than others. I hope yet to see men come in here, establish such manufactures, use up your wool, and circulate more money in the place (cheers). This they will do, no doubt, as soon as they will find it to their advantage (cheers).

Mr. Riel — I thought Canada was about to speculate on us.

Mr. Smith — It is a matter of business; and I am sure the people here would be very happy to have such people coming among them (cheers). The twelfth article is:—

“12. That the English and French languages be common in the Legislature and Courts, and that all public documents and acts of the Legislature, be published in both languages.”

As to this I have to say, that its propriety is so very evident, that it will unquestionably be provided for. Article 13:—

“13. That the Judge of the Supreme Court speak the French and English languages.”

The answer given to the foregoing, will apply equally here. The fourteenth article says:—

“14. That treaties be concluded between the Dominion and the several Indian tribes of the country, as soon as possible.”

Fully alive to the necessity of doing this, the Dominion Parliament will not fail to take an early opportunity of dealing with this matter with the view of extinguishing, in an equitable manner the claims of the Indians — so that settlers may obtain clear and undisputable titles. The fifteenth article is:—

“15. That we have four representatives in the Canadian Parliament — one in the Senate and three in the Legislative Assembly.” The Convention will not expect me to say definitely as to the number of representatives to be elected in the Territory, for the Canadian Parliament. But I can promise that the circumstances and requirements of the country will be fully and liberally considered in making the allotment. The sixteenth article is as follows:—

“16. That all the properties, rights and privileges, as hitherto enjoyed by us, be respected, and that the recognition and arrangement of local customs, usages and privileges, be made under the control of the Local Legislature.” On the part of the Canadian Government as well as of Her Majesty’s Representative in British North America — and also as coming immediately from the Sovereign — assurances have been given to all, that the properties, rights and privileges hitherto enjoyed by the people of the Territory would be respected; and I feel sure that the Dominion Government will, with pleasure, [accede?] to the Local Legislature, the recognition and arrangement of local customs, usages, and privileges. The seventeenth article says:—

“17. That the Local Legislature of this Territory have full control of all the public lands inside a circumference, having Upper Fort Garry as a centre; and that the radii of this circumference be the number of miles that the American line is distant from Fort Garry.”

With regard to this article, my knowledge of the country and of the extent to which this concession might affect public works &c. is too limited to admit of my expressing any decided opinion on the subject further than that full and substantial justice will be done in the matter. The eighteenth article:

“18. That every man in this country except uncivilized and unsettled Indians, who has attained the age of twenty-one years, and every British subject, a stranger to this Territory, who has resided three years in this country, and is a householder shall have the right to vote at the election of a member to serve in the Legislature of the country, and in the Dominion Parliament; and every foreign subject, other than a British subject, who has resided the same length of time in the country, and is a householder, shall have the same right to vote, in condition of his taking the oath of allegiance — it being understood that this article be subject to amendment exclusively by the Local Legislature.”

Without entering into the details of the article, I would say, that the franchise will be so adjusted as to be altogether satisfactory to the public, both native and emigrant, and in a manner which will conduce to the general welfare. The nineteenth article says:—

“19. That the North-West Territory shall never be held liable for any portion of the £300,000 paid to the Hudson Bay Company, or for any portion of the public debt of Canada, as it stands at the time of our entering the Confederation; and if thereafter we be called upon to assume our share of said public debt, we consent only on condition that we first be allowed the amount for which we shall be held liable.”

My belief is that the Canadian Government has no intention of imposing on the North-West Territory the payment of any portion of the £300,000; and I have so much confidence that they will be [illegible: possessed?], in every respect, by wise and just motives, that in arranging for the distribution of the public debt of Canada, the North-West Territory will not be held liable for anything unfair; in short, that here, as in every other particular, substantial justice will be done (cheers). Having gone through the articles, may I now be permitted to say a few words? Your list is not only long, but contains many things of great importance. In coming here first, I had no idea of it! Nor had the Canadian Government. However I was authorized by them, as Commissioner, to do what in my judgement might appear best in the state of public affairs here. It was thought, at the same time, that there might be some points raised which I really could not deal personally with any satisfaction to the people of the country. This being the case, and looking at the suggestion put forward by the Very Reverend the Grand Vicar, with reference to a delegation from this country to Canada,— I have now on the part of the Dominion Government — and as authorized by them — to invite a delegation of the residents of Red River, to meet and confer with them at Ottawa (cheers). A delegation of two or more of the residents of Red River — as they may think best — the delegation to confer with the Government and Legislature, and explain the wants and wishes of the Red River people, as well as to discuss and arrange for the representation of the country in Parliament (cheers). I felt that, this being the case, it was less necessary for me to deal very particularly with these matters. On the part of the Government I am authorised to offer a very cordial reception to the delegates who may be sent from this country to Canada (loud cheers). I myself feel every confidence that the result will be such as will be entirely satisfactory to the people of the North-West. It is, I know, the desire of the Canadian Government that it should be so (cheers).

Mr. Riel in French, as translated by Mr. Flett, said — Since we have met, this may be said, in certain measure, to be the first work we have accomplished. And it would be too bad to leave it to stand alone, when so much ought really to follow from it. I did not wish to interrupt Mr. Smith, but there was plenty of room for discussing what he had been saying. There is a great deal to be done yet, and I hope the Convention will not tire until everything has been done which ought to be done. I cannot but look on the Commissioners with great respect, and especially Mr. Smith, who came pretty near to our desires, and has invited a delegation to go to Canada with the assurance that they would be cordially received, and that they could make a final arrangement when they went there. A great part of our own work, let me again remind you, has to be performed, and that is, the establishment of order, peace and security in the country (cheers).

The Chairman — I believe you will all concur with me in expressing a sense of satisfaction at having had the pleasure and honor of meeting here the three gentlemen who have favored us with their presence, the Grand Vicar, Mr. Smith and Colonel DeSalaberry (cheers). I think I might take the meeting in my own hands to the extent of telling the three gentlemen how much we are indebted to them for their interview, and for having afforded us the explanations which have been laid before us — more particularly as we feel, from the manner in which their statements have been made, that there seemed to be, on the part of all three, a simple, honest desire to deal in a frank, fair, friendly spirit with us. Therefore (addressing the Commissioners) I desire on the part of the meeting to offer each of you, gentlemen, our respectful acknowledgements.

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

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Next page: 13th Day: 8 February


[1] “Convention at Fort Garry,” New Nation (11 February 1870), 4, 3; “Convention at Fort Garry, Twelfth Day, Continued,” New Nation (18 February 1870), 1.

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