CHAPTER XIII. The House of Commons - Canadian gallantry - The constitution - Mr. Hincks - The ex-rebel - Parties and leaders - A street-row - Repeated disappointments - The "habitans" - Their houses and their virtues - A stationary people - Progress and i
One of the sights of Quebec - to me decidedly the most interesting one - was the House of Assembly. The Legislature were burned out of their house at Montreal, and more recently out of a very handsome one at Quebec - it is to be hoped this august body will be more fortunate at Toronto, the present place of meeting. The temporary place of sitting at Quebec seemed to me perfectly adapted for the purposes of hearing, seeing, and speaking.
It is a spacious apartment, with deep galleries, which hold about five hundred, round it, which were to Quebec what the Opera and the club-houses are to London. In fact, these galleries were crowded every night; and certainly, when I was there, fully one half of their occupants were ladies, who could see and be seen. The presence of ladies may have an effect in preventing the use of very intemperate language; and though it is maliciously said that some of the younger members speak more for the galleries than the house, and though some gallant individual may occasionally step up stairs to restore a truant handkerchief or boa to the fair owner, the distractions caused by their presence are very inconsiderable, and the arrangements for their comfort are a great reflection upon the miserable latticed hole to which lady listeners are condemned in the English House of Commons. I must remark, also, that the house was well warmed and ventilated, without the aid of alternating siroccos and north winds. The Speaker's chair, on a dais and covered with a canopy, was facing us, in which reclined the Speaker in his robes. In front of him was a table, at which sat two black-robed clerks, and on which a huge mace reposed; and behind him was the reporters' gallery, where the gentlemen of the press seemed to be most comfortably accommodated. There was a large open space in front of this table, extending to the bar, at which were seated the messengers of the house, and the Sergeant-at-arms with his sword. On either side of this open space were four rows of handsome desks, and morocco seats, to accommodate two members each, who sat as most amiable Gemini. The floor was richly carpeted, and the desks covered with crimson cloth, and, with the well- managed flood of light, the room was very complete.
The Canadian Constitution is as nearly a transcript of our own as anything colonial can be. The Governor can do no wrong - he must have a responsible cabinet taken from the members of the Legislature - his administration must have a working majority, as in England - and he must bow to public opinion by changing his advisers, when the representatives of the people lose confidence in the Government. The Legislative Council represents our House of Peers, and the Legislative Assembly, or Provincial Parliament, our House of Commons. The Upper House is appointed by the Crown, under the advice of the ministry of the day; but as a clamour has been raised against it as yielding too readily to the demands of the Lower House, a measure has been brought in for making its members elective for a term of years. If this change were carried, coupled with others on which it would not interest the English reader to dwell, it would bring about an approximation of the Canadian Constitution to that of the United States.
On one night on which I had the pleasure of attending the House, the subject under discussion was the Romish holidays, as connected with certain mercantile transactions. It sounds dry enough, but, as the debate was turned into an extremely interesting religious discussion, it was well worth hearing, and the crowded galleries remained in a state of quiescence.
Mr. Hincks, the late Premier, was speaking when we went in. He is by no means eloquent, but very pointed in his observations, and there is an amount of logical sequence in his speaking which is worthy of imitation elsewhere. He is a remarkable man, and will probably play a prominent part in the future political history of Canada. [Footnote: This prognostication is not likely to be realised, as the late Sir W. Molesworth has appointed Mr. Hincks to the governorship of Barbadoes. If the new governor possesses principle as well as talent, this acknowledgement of colonial merit is a step in the right direction.] He is the son of a Presbyterian minister at Cork, and emigrated to Toronto in 1832. During Lord Durham's administration he became editor of the Examiner newspaper, and entered the Parliament of the United Provinces in 1841. He afterwards filled the important position of Inspector-General of Finances, and finally became Prime Minister. His administration was, however, overturned early in 1854, and sundry grave charges were brought against him. He spoke in favour of the abolition of the privileges conceded to Romish holidays, and was followed by several French Canadians, two of them of the Rouge party, who spoke against the measure, one of them so eloquently as to remind me of the historical days of the Girondists.
Mr. Lyon Mackenzie, who led the rebellion which was so happily checked at Toronto, and narrowly escaped condign punishment, followed, and diverged from the question of promissory notes to the Russian war and other subjects; and when loud cries of "Question, question, order, order!" arose, he tore up his notes, and sat down abruptly in a most theatrical manner, amid bursts of laughter from both floor and galleries; for he appears to be the privileged buffoon of the House.