Report on the Affairs of British North America/The Eastern Provinces and Newfoundland

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The Eastern Provinces and Newfoundland.

Inquiries into the other North American Colonies.Though I have stated my opinion that my inquiries would have been very incomplete, had they been confined to the two Canadas, the information which I am enabled to communicate with respect to the other North American Colonies is necessarily very limited. As, however, in these Provinces, with the exception of Newfoundland, there are no such discontents as threaten the disturbance of the public tranquillity, I did not think it necessary to institute any minute inquiries into the details of the various departments of Government. It is only necessary that I should state my impression of the general working of the Government in these Colonies, in order that if institutions similar to those of the disturbed Provinces should here appear to be tending to similar results, a common remedy may be devised for the impending as well as for existing disorders. On this head I have obtained much useful information from the communications which I had with the Lieutenant-Governors of these Colonies, as well as with individuals connected with them, but, above all, from the frequent and lengthened discussions which passed between me and the gentlemen who composed the deputations sent to me last autumn from each of the three Eastern Provinces, for the purpose of discussing the principles as well as details of a plan of general government for the whole of the British North American Colonies. It was most unfortunate that the events of temporary, but pressing importance which compelled my return to England, interrupted those discussions; but the delegates with whom I had the good fortune to carry them on, were gentlemen of so much ability, so high in station, and so patriotic in their views, that their information could not fail to give me a very fair view of the working of the colonial constitution under somewhat different circumstances in each. Letter from Mr. Young.I insert in the Appendix a communication which I received from one of those gentlemen, Mr. Young, a leading and very active Member of the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia, respecting that Province.

Working of the government of these Provinces.It is not necessary, however, that I should enter into any lengthened account of the nature or working of the form of government established in these Provinces, because in my account of Lower Canada I have described the general characteristics of the system common to all, and adduced the example of these Provinces in illustration of the defects of their common system. In all these Provinces we find representative government coupled with an irresponsible executive; we find the same constant collision between the branches of the Government; the same abuse of the powers of the representative bodies, owing to the anomaly of their position, aided by the want of good municipal institutions, and the same constant interference of the imperial administration in matters which should be left wholly to the Provincial Governments. And if in these Provinces there is less formidable discontent and less obstruction to the regular course of Government, it is because in them there has been recently a considerable departure from the ordinary course of the colonial system, and a nearer approach to sound constitutional practice.

New Brunswick.This is remarkably the case in New Brunswick, a province which was till a short time ago one of the most constantly harassed by collisions between the executive and legislative powers; the collision has now been in part terminated by the concession of all the revenues of the Province to the Assembly. The policy of this concession, with reference to the extent and mode in which it was made, will be discussed in the separate Report on the disposal and management of public lands; but the policy of the Government in this matter has at any rate put an end to disputes about the revenue, which were on the point of producing a constant Parliamentary conflict between the Crown and the Assembly in many respects like that which has subsisted in Lower Canada; but a more important advance has been made towards the practice of the British constitution in a recent change which has been made in the Executive and Legislative Councils of the Colony, whereby, as I found from the representatives of the present official body in the delegation from New Brunswick, the administrative power of the Province had been taken out of the hands of the old official party, and placed in those of members of the former liberal opposition. The constitutional practice had been, in fact, fully carried into effect in this Province; the Government had been taken out of the hands of those who could not obtain the assent of the majority of the Assembly, and placed in the hands of those who possessed its confidence; the result is, that the Government of New Brunswick, till lately one of the most difficult in the North American Colonies, is now the most harmonious and easy.

Nova Scotia.In Nova Scotia some, but not a complete approximation has been made to the same judicious course. The Government is in a minority in the House of Assembly, and the Assembly and the Legislative Council do not perfectly harmonize. But the questions which divide parties at present happen really to be of no very great magnitude; and all are united and zealous in the great point of maintaining the connexion with Great Britain. It will be seen from Mr. Young's paper, that the questions at issue, though doubtless of very considerable importance, involve no serious discussion between the Government and the people. The majority of the opposition is stated by the official party to be very uncertain, and is admitted by themselves to be very narrow. Both parties look with confidence to the coming general election; and all feel the greatest reliance on the good sense and good intentions of the present Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Colin Campbell.

Constitution of the Executive and Legislative Councils.I must, however, direct particular attention to the following temperate remarks of Mr. Young on the constitution of the Executive and Legislative Councils:

'The majority of the House of Assembly is dissatisfied with the composition of the Executive and Legislative Councils, and the preponderance in both of interests which they conceive to be unfavourable to reform; this is the true ground, as I take it, of the discontent that is felt. The respectability and private virtues of the gentlemen who sit at the two Council Boards are admitted by all; it is of their political and personal predilections that the people complain; they desire reforming and liberal principles to be more fully represented and advocated there, as they are in the Assembly.

'The majority of the House, while they appreciate and have acknowledged the anxiety of his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor to gratify their just expectations, have also expressed their dissatisfaction, that the Church of England should have been suffered to retain a majority in both councils, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the House, and the precise and explicit directions of the Colonial Secretary. Religious dissensions are happily unknown among us, and the true way to prevent their growth and increase, is to avoid conferring an inordinate power on any one sect, however worthy it may be of respect or favour.'

Prince Edward's Island.The political history of Prince Edward's Island is contained in the system pursued with regard to its settlement, and the appropriation of its lands, which is fully detailed in the subsequent view of that department of government in the North American Colonies; and its past and present disorders are but the sad result of that fatal error which stifled its prosperity in the very cradle of its existence, by giving up the whole Island to a handful of distant proprietors. Against this system, this small and powerless community has in vain been struggling for some years: a few active and influential proprietors in London have been able to drown the remonstrances, and defeat the efforts of a distant and petty Province: for the ordinary evils of distance are, in the instance of Prince Edward's Island, aggravated by the scantiness of its population, and the confined extent of its territory. This island, most advantageously situated for the supply of the surrounding Colonies, and of all the fisheries, possesses a soil peculiarly adapted to the production of grain; and, from its insular position, is blessed with a climate far more genial than a great part of the continent which lies to the southward. Had its natural advantages been turned to proper account, it might at this time have been the granary of the British Colonies, and, instead of barely supporting a poor and unenterprising population of 40,000, its mere agricultural resources would, according to Major Head, have maintained in abundance a population of at least ten times that number. Of nearly 1,400,000 acres contained in the island, only 10,000 are said to be unfit for the plough. Only 100,000 are now under cultivation. No one can mistake the cause of this lamentable waste of the means of national wealth. It is the possession of almost the whole soil of the island by absentee proprietors, who would neither promote nor permit its cultivation, combined with the defective government which first caused and has since perpetuated the evil. The simple legislative remedy for all this mischief having been suggested by three successive Secretaries of State, has been embodied in an Act of the local legislature, which was reserved for the Royal Assent; and the influence of the proprietors in London was such, that that assent was for a long time withheld. The question was referred to me during my stay in Canada; and I believe I may have the satisfaction of attributing to the recommendation which I gave, in accordance with the earnest representations of the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Charles Fitzroy, the adoption at last of a measure intended to remove the abuse that has so long retarded the prosperity of this Colony.

Backward state of these Colonies.The present condition of these Colonies presents none of those alarming features which mark the state of the two Canadas. The loyalty and attachment to the mother country which animate their inhabitants, is warm and general. But their varied and ample resources are turned to little account. Their scanty population exhibits, in most portions of them, an aspect of poverty, backwardness and stagnation; and wherever a better state of things is visible, the improvement is generally to be ascribed to the influx of American settlers or capitalists. Major Head describes his journey through a great part of Nova Scotia as exhibiting the melancholy spectacle of 'half the tenements abandoned, and lands every where falling into decay'; 'and the lands,' he tells us, 'that were purchased 30 and 40 years ago, at 5s. an acre, are now offered for sale at 3s.' 'The people of Prince Edward's Island are,' he says, 'permitting Americans to take out of their hands all their valuable fisheries, from sheer want of capital to employ their own population in them.' 'The country on the noble river, St. John's,' he states, 'possesses all that is requisite, except "that animation of business which constitutes the value of a new settlement." 'But the most striking indication of the backward state of these Provinces, is afforded by the amount of the population. These Provinces, among the longest settled on the North American Continent, contain nearly 30,000,000 of acres, and a population, estimated at the highest, at no more, than 365,000 souls, giving only one inhabitant for every 80 acres. In New Brunswick, out of 16,500,000 acres, it is estimated that at least 15,000,000 are fit for cultivation; and the population being estimated at no more than 140,000, there is not one inhabitant for 100 acres of cultivable land.

Comparison with the United States.It is a singular and melancholy feature in the condition of these Provinces, that the resources rendered of so little avail to the population of Great Britain, are turned to better account by the enterprising inhabitants of the United States. While the emigration from the Province is large and constant, the adventurous farmers of New England cross the frontier, and occupy the best farming lands. Their fishermen enter our bays and rivers, and in some cases monopolise the occupations of our own unemployed countrymen; and a great portion of the trade of the St. John's is in their hands. Not only do the citizens of a foreign nation do this, but they do it with British capital.' Major Head states, 'that an American merchant acknowledged to him that the capital with which his countrymen carried on their enterprises in the neighbourhood of St. John's, was chiefly supplied by Great Britain; and,' he adds, as a fact within his own knowledge, 'that wealthy capitalists at Halifax, desirous of an investment for their money, preferred lending it in the United States to applying it to speculation in New Brunswick, or to lending it to their own countrymen in that Province.'

I regret to say, that Major Head also gives the same account respecting the difference between the aspect of things in these Provinces, and the bordering State of Maine. On the other side of the line, good roads, good schools, and thriving farms afford a mortifying contrast to the condition in which a British subject finds the neighbouring possessions of the British Crown.

Newfoundland.With respect to the Colony of Newfoundland, I have been able to obtain no information whatever, except from sources open to the public at large. The Assembly of that Island signified their intention of making an appeal to me respecting some differences with the Governor, which had their immediate origin in a dispute with a Judge. Owing, probably, to the uncertain and tardy means of communication between Quebec and that Island, I received no further communication on this or any other subject, until after my arrival in England, when I received an Address expressive of regret at my departure.

I know nothing, therefore, of the state of things in Newfoundland, except that there is, and long has been, the ordinary colonial collision between the representative body on one side, and the executive on the other; that the representatives have no influence on the composition or the proceedings of the executive government; and that the dispute is now carried on, as in Canada, by impeachments of various public officers on one hand, and prorogations on the other. I am inclined to think that the cause of these disorders is to be found in the same constitutional defects as those which I have signahzed in the rest of the North American Colonies. If it be true, that there exists in this island a state of society which renders it unadvisable that the whole of the local government should be entirely left to the inhabitants, I believe that it would be much better to incorporate this Colony with a larger community, than to attempt to continue the present experiment of governing it by a constant collision of constitutional powers.