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Date Published:
March 2006

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George Brown on

Representation by Population



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This condensed speech, delivered during the session of 1857, on the question of representation by population, is selected for publication chiefly because the case is clearly put on its merits, without any admixture of other current political topics ; and partly because it fairly represents the line of argument invariably adopted by Mr. Brown on what was then the burning political question in Upper Canada.

Mr. BROWN said : At the risk of bringing down on myself the denunciations of the Provincial Secretary, I am about to present to the House another "abstract principle." I am quite sure that if the hon. gentlemen of the treasury benches, with regard to the resolution I have just had the honour of submitting, were under the necessity of yielding to the proposition it enunciated, there is much stronger reason why they should agree to the principle of this. I think that the resolution I am about to place in the Speaker's hands will be acknowledged by every member of this House to be sound in principle. They will say that they approve of it in the abstract, but they do not approve of it when brought into practical operation. This is the main difficulty we encounter in bringing forward this subject, that we are not met fairly by hon. members. They will not say it is wrong abstractly that all persons in the province, whether in Upper or Lower Canada, should be placed on the same level with respect to representation and political rights, but they raise objections to the carrying out of the principle which are far from being just or tenable. 

The first objection is that when, at the time of the union, Upper and Lower Canada were brought together, it was arranged that the two sections should have equal representation in the House of Assembly. But I apprehend that in framing that provision of the Union Act, it was not intended to be for all time. I apprehend that the whole extent of the meaning was, that that arrangement should prevail until the people of Canada desired to change it. It is absurd to say that a time was never to come when a change should be made. No one can say that because the people of Canada at one time formed two separate countries, having now been brought together, they are never to become one, and that the same institutions are not to be applied to the whole country. It must be a mere question of time. Supposing that either section should ever come to have three or four times the population of the other, the most extreme partisan could not assert that it would be just to continue allowing the same representation to each. No one would venture to say so for a moment. If, then, it is a mere question of time, I am prepared to meet hon. gentlemen opposite on that ground, and to say that that time has now arrived. Hon. gentlemen say that at the time of the union Lower Canada had a much larger population than Upper Canada, that a change the other way has only recently taken place, and that it is exceedingly sharp for Upper Canada, so soon as she has a preponderance of population, to ask for a change in the representation. They say that for years, with an inferior population, we enjoyed the benefits of equal representation, and that the moment the system works against us, we turn round and demand a change. I am prepared to show that that argument is not a sound one. Though it is true that Lower Canada at the time of the union had a population greater than that of Upper Canada by 170,000, that has been much more than made up since. And if Lower Canada suffered for a number of years by the arrangement, Upper Canada has suffered by it a greater number of years, since the change in the proportions of the respective populations of the two sections. But the following were the numbers in each year when the cen­sus was taken. In Lower Canada, in 1836, the population was 572,827 ; in 1844, 690,782; in 1848, 770,000; in 1852, 890,262. In Upper Canada, in 1842, the population was 486,055 ; in 1848, 723,292 ; in 1855, 952,002. From a comparison of these figures, it will be seen that Lower Canada doubles her population once in twenty-five years, while in Upper Canada it doubles once in ten years. 

MR. LORANGER : By emigration. 

MR. BROWN : No doubt emigration helps, but whatever be the cause, the fact is as I have stated it. We have had no census since January, 1852. Upwards of five years have elapsed since that period, but if we suppose that the population in each section has progressed in the same ratio of increase since 1852 as previously, the figures will now stand thus. The population will be in Lower Canada, 1,068,314; in Upper Canada, 1,428,006; showing a preponderance in favour of Upper Canada of 259,792-that is, if the ratio of increase during the last five years has been the same as during the previous years. 

HON. MR. CARTIER : In the same way as Toronto was supposed to have 60,000 inhabitants. 

MR. BROWN : This is no fanciful calculation, like that which assigned Toronto a population of 60,000. At the census of 1852 the population of Toronto was 30,750. If it had last year been 60,000, that would have indicated an increase of 250 per cent, in ten years. But I stated that the population of Upper Canada doubled in ten years, which in four years would give Toronto an addition of about 12,000 inhabitants, as the census shows to be under the actual fact. I believe, however, that at this time Toronto has a population of 50,000, or about 8,000 more than I give it by this calculation. But hon. gentlemen will perhaps say, the ratio of increase in Upper Canada may have been very great in those previous years, but it may not have been so great in the last five years. I apprehend that is an altogether unsound position. We have reason to believe that the ratio of increase has been greater. Large tracts of the country have been rapidly filled up, and in almost every part of Upper Canada there has been a great increase by immigration and otherwise. But let us suppose that the ratio of increase has not been so great. Let us suppose that we have obtained not more than the actual numbers of the increase the previous years. Even on that supposition we are ahead of Lower Canada to the extent of more than 200,000. Let us take the actual numbers of increase in any one year, say between 1848 and 1849, or between 1849 and 1850, and apply those to the five years which have elapsed since a census was taken, and we will find that the population of Upper Canada exceeds that of Lower Canada by over 200,000 souls. But I apprehend the other mode of calculation was the true way to arrive at the correct result. And there is another view which may be taken. At the time of the union the population of Lower Canada was 175,239 greater than that of Upper Canada. In 1849 the preponderance of population turned to be in favour of Upper Canada, so that if Lower Canada had the disadvantage for seven years, Upper Canada has already had the disadvantage for eight years. And Lower. Canada had a disadvantage at worst measured by 175,000, while ours is measured by 359,000. But still further. Suppose we carried this resolution, and a bill founded on it were put in operation as rapidly as possible, other two years must elapse before the equitable system could be introduced, and in the meantime the population of Upper Canada will have grown to be half a million greater than that of Lower Canada. I apprehend, therefore, that as regards population the argument is as clear as it possibly can be, that it is most unjust to the people of Upper Canada that they should be allowed no greater representation than the people of Lower Canada. And I do think that, if ever this country is to occupy the position it ought to hold as a united and homogeneous people, the first step towards obtaining that end is to place the whole people on a like level in the eye of the law. We cannot hope to obtain harmony and good feeling among the people of the whole country until we in Upper Canada feel that we enjoy the same privileges as are possessed by other portions of the community. 

There is another argument equally striking with that derived from numbers. I allude to the financial argument. While we are looked upon as two peoples, in respect to the equal division of power between us, it is not so with the money we contribute. The people of Upper Canada are not required to put the same amount exactly into the public coffers as the people of Lower Canada. Their contributions to the public revenue are enormously greater. I have not had time to go over the public accounts recently brought down, with this view, but have prepared an analysis of those of the previous year, which will fully bear out what I have stated. The total sum contributed to the customs revenue in 1855 was £813,819 11s. 3d. Of this there were collected at the ports of Upper Canada £446,968 15s. 7d.; and at those of Lower Canada £366,850 15s. 8d. —nearly £100,000 less. It is quite clear that all the goods entered at Upper Canada ports were for the consumption of Upper Canada ; no goods are entered here and sent down for consumption below. But it is not so with regard to the goods entered at the ports of Lower Canada. A large part of the duties collected in Lower Canada is paid by the people of Upper Canada. A great many of our merchants enter their imports at Lower Canada custom houses. And in addition to that, a large number of our merchants all over Upper Canada obtain their goods from below. There are large sections of Upper Canada which are entirely supplied from Quebec and Montreal. A very large portion, then, of the goods on which duties are paid at Montreal and Quebec are for Upper Canada. I have taken considerable pains, by inquiries of leading wholesale houses in Montreal, to discover what propor­tion of their goods comes to Upper Canada, and have concluded that they send us two-thirds, if not three-fourths, of their whole sales. The whole of the Ottawa district, the Prescott district, the Kingston district—the whole of Upper Canada, in fact, as far as Cobourg—is almost entirely sup-plied from Montreal and Quebec. And all over Upper Canada, as far west as Hamilton, and London, and Sarnia, you will find Montreal merchants established and supplied with goods on which duty has been paid in Montreal, and which is charged, of course, to those who buy them in Upper Canada. If, then, I take the amount of goods sent to Upper Canada, but entered at Lower Canada ports, at one-half of the whole—I know that I am below the fact, but take it at a half—and we obtain this result with reference to the customs revenue of 1855, that £630,394 was contributed by the people of Upper Canada, and only £183,425 by the people of Lower Canada. I aver that no merchant will deny that this is a fair estimate, that one-half of the duties collected in Lower Canada is paid on goods con­sumed in Upper Canada. 

MR. HOLTON : They are purchased in bond.

MR. BROWN : I am quite aware that that is partially the case now, to a greater extent than formerly, but it cannot be questioned that a large proportion of the goods sold wholesale in Quebec and Montreal are sent to the Upper Canada market. MR. HOLTON : A considerable proportion. 

MR. BROWN : I am quite sure that I am below the mark when I say that one-half of the duties collected in Lower Canada are paid by the people of Upper Canada. 

MR. HOLTON : I doubt it. 

MR. BROWN : If we only said three-eighths, or one-third, we would still find that the proportion contributed by Upper Canada is enormous as compared with the contributions of Lower Canada. Taking it at one-half, however, it will be found that Upper Canada contributes £630,594, and Lower Canada only £133,425 ; that for every £1 contributed by Lower Canada, Upper Canada contributes £3 8s. 9d.; that the amount per head contributed by Lower Canada is 4s. 1d., and in Upper Canada 13s. 3d. It is often urged by honourable gentlemen opposite—who feel that the injustice we complain of is undeniable, but must find some excuse for the vote they intend to give in this way—we cannot tell what the numbers may be ; it may turn out by the census that the position of the two coun­tries has altogether changed ; that Upper Canada has become the slow country and Lower Canada the progressive one ; we know that at the last census the population exceeded that of Lower Canada by only 62,000; let us see a little further, and wait till another census is taken before we make a change. Now, Mr. Speaker, I apprehend that if we seek to make the union permanent, we must adopt representation by population before the disproportion is very great, and not afterwards. It is clear that if we take the view of those hon. gentlemen, and wait till a census is taken, we cannot hope to carry representation by population ; but so sure as you wait till that time, you will have a dissolution of the union. But we may carry the measure now, dependent on a census hereafter to be taken ; we may adopt the principle, and legislate upon it. But if we wait till hon. gentle-men opposite have a census taken in 1862, which will be printed in 1864 —any bill founded on it coming into operation in 1866, nearly ten year s hence—I apprehend the population of Upper Canada will be then three millions, and that of Lower Canada little over a million and a half ; the population of Upper Canada to that of Lower Canada will be as two to one. And if the House was then for the first time asked to pass a bill to give Upper Canada a representation double that of Lower Canada, it would be next to impossible to carry it. I believe it is only now, before the disproportion is very great, that we can hope to carry out this measure with any degree of harmony. But every hon. member must see that the change is going on so rapidly that it is high time the difficulty were faced. Every day you put it off you increase the evil. Hon. gentlemen from Lower Canada cannot expect that the people of Upper Canada will always be con-tent to remain in this position. Were they in this position, having 350,000 of a population greater than ours, would they consent to having only the same number of representatives? And if they paid three-fourths of the whole taxation, while Upper Canada only contributed one-fourth, would they not feel the grievance to be still more intolerable? How then can they expect that our people, placed in those circumstances, can submit to have only the same amount of representation? It is clear that the people of Upper Canada cannot allow the matter to rest in its present position. The demand is one of such obvious justice that it is astonishing that any one can refuse it. But I am bound to say that I have never heard a member from Lower Canada getting up and saying that the present system is just. Unfortunately, it has been from Upper Canada members that we have heard the strongest objections to the measure. I can understand Lower Canada members saying, Oh ! we have the advantage, we do not feel there is any occasion for a change, and you will only get it by forcing it upon us. But I am sure no Lower Canadian member will rise and say that if his constituents were placed in that position he would submit to such a state of things. 

MR. LORANGER : We did submit to it for a long time. 

MR. BROWN : If the hon. gentleman will consider, he will see that Lower Canada never submitted to the same degree of injustice as is now inflicted upon Upper Canada. They started at the union with an excess of population of 175,000, but it took a very few years to turn the preponderance the other way, and now Upper Canada has an excess of population of 359,000. I put this as a demand of simple justice to the people of Upper Canada. If we were to demand representation in proportion to what we contribute to the revenue, as we pay £3 to £1 that Lower Canada pays, we would have three representatives to their one. But all we ask is that we stand on the same footing, man for man. We ask no more than representation strictly according to population, man for man. How can we expect to go on harmoniously—how can we hope to have the people of this country grow up a vigorous, enlightened, self-governed nation, with institutions such as will do credit to a great people, if we are ever to maintain these distinctions between the two sections of the province? Is it not clear that, if ever this country is to take that position which it ought to do among the nations of the world, it must be by our legislation being for the whole people as one, and by sweeping away those absurd distinctions which thrust themselves into every matter of legislation ? We have one government for Upper Canada and another for Lower Canada. Our division of the public money is made on the same principle. So it is with the measures of the government. One day they bring forward something to please Lower Canada, on another day something to please Upper Canada. Instead of our getting quit of those prejudices and sectional feelings, every year is strengthening them more and more. We are asking at the present moment to have a vast new territory added to our borders. Are we to carry out the same principle in reference to this ? Are we to say that one half of it shall be for Upper Canada and one half for Lower Canada ? Is not this the time when we ought to make our institutions such as will adapt themselves to any future position in which we may be placed ? With a view to those great intercolonial questions which are coming up, and those important changes that are being mooted, should we not see that we are prepared for them by having a constitution founded on principles of justice, and fitted to build up a great and prosperous people? Every day furnishes additional proof of the necessity of our adopting this reform without any delay ; and I shall therefore put my resolution into your hands, in the hope that it will be fairly met, and that in dealing with it honourable members will not suffer themselves to be influenced by sectional feelings and prejudices, whether pertaining to Upper or Lower Canada. I move that it be “Resolved—That in the opinion of this House the representation of the people in parliament should be based upon population, without regard to a separating line between Upper and Lower Canada."

[On Representation by Population, consult this page found elsewhere at the site]

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Source: George Brown, "Representation by Population", in Alex. MACKENZIE, The Life and Speeches of Hon. George Brown, Toronto, The Globe Printing Company, 1882, 381p., pp. 262-267.

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