Responsible government in Canada is the logical sequence of the political struggles, which commenced soon after the close of the war of 1812-15. As we review the history of Canada since the conquest we can recognise “one ever increasing purpose” through all political changes, and the ardent desire of men, entrusted at the outset with a very moderate degree of political responsibility, to win for themselves a larger measure of political liberty in the management of their own local affairs. Grave mistakes were often made by the advocates of reform in the government of the several provinces—notably, as I shall show, in Lower Canada, where the French Canadian majority were carried often beyond reason at the dictation of Papineau—but, whatever may have been the indiscretions of politicians, there were always at the bottom of their demands the germs of political development.
The political troubles that continued from 1817 until 1836 in Lower Canada eventually made the working of legislative institutions impracticable. The contest gradually became one between the governor-general representing the crown and the assembly controlled almost entirely by a French Canadian majority, with respect to the disposition of the public revenues and expenditures. Imperial statutes, passed as far back as 1774-1775, provided for the levying of duties, to be applied solely by the crown, primarily “towards defraying the expenses of the administration of justice and the support of the civil government of the province”, and any sums that remained in the hands of the government were “for the future disposition of parliament.” Then there were “the casual or territorial revenues,” such as money arising from the Jesuits’ estates, royal seigniorial dues, timber and land, all of which were also exclusively under the control of the government. The assembly had been given jurisdiction only over the amount of duties payable into the treasury under the authority of laws passed by the legislature itself. In case the royal revenues were not sufficient to meet the annual expenditure of the government, the deficiency was met until the war of 1812-15 by drawing on the military exchequer. As the expenses of the provincial administration increased the royal revenues became inadequate, while the provincial revenues gradually showed a considerable surplus over the expenditure voted by the legislature. In 1813 the cost of the war made it impossible for the government to use the military funds, and it resorted to the provincial moneys for the expenses of justice and civil government. In this way, by 1817, the government had incurred a debt of a hundred and twenty thousand pounds to the province without the direct authority of the legislature. The assembly of Lower Canada was not disposed to raise troublesome issues during the war, or in any way to embarrass the action of Sir George Prevost, who, whatever may have been his incompetency as a military chief, succeeded by his conciliatory and persuasive methods