Archives Awareness Week
There is hardly a topic for conversation that can arouse greater division than politics. So it is, so it will be, and, apparently, so it has always been. Today’s news is often rife with stories about the various levels of government battling each other over jurisdiction and funding. The complications which arise in our multi-tiered governmental system are not unique to the 21st century. As long ago as 1854, the Provisional Council of Grey County found itself being controlled, and perhaps even spied upon, by the then equivalent of the Provincial Legislature. Mistrust and, one would assume, grumbling, were the order of the day. In an effort to correct this situation and make government more accountable to the people being represented, the Municipal Council of the County of Grey, under the leadership of Richard Carney, Warden (and later Mayor of Owen Sound), put the following petition to the province in an effort to end patronage appointments and leave municipal politics to the municipality.
During the Archives Awareness Week Behind-the-Scenes Tour at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday April 8, the original copy of this petition and others, as well as the first Minute Book of Grey County Council, along with other gems from the collection and new acquisitions, will be available for viewing at the Grey County Archives. Come and see history in its original hand!
To the Honourable the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, in Provincial Parliament Assembled:
The Petition of the County Council of the County of Grey in session, assembled, humbly sheweith –
That responsibility of the Provincial Executive Government to the people through their Representatives having been conceded, in the humble opinion of your petitioners, to carry out its principles thoroughly, it should be extended to the administration of County affairs also; that true and unrestricted responsibility to the people may be established throughout the Province, which will be only an extension of the privileges conferred in the right to appoint certain County Officers under the authority of the Municipal Corporations and other Acts, and will be to the perfecting of the system.
Under the present arrangement the Executive retains in its hands the appointments of the principal County Officers, which your Petitioners conceive is not in accordance with the genius of municipal institutions, and is in direct violation of the principle of responsibility to the people; it is in fact maintaining an authority superior to the people in every County, which is often used in direct opposition to the wishes of the majority of the Rate-payers, and is productive of an antagonism, which is injurious to the harmonious working of the municipal system.
Your Petitioners, in illustration, will here relate a case in point, which occurred in the County of Grey, of the antagonism that is produced under the present mode of appointing County Officers, and that under it there will naturally arise a distrust of each other in the two classes of officials: At the Quarter Sessions in April last, when the business was supposed to have been finished, the question having been put, “Is there anything more to bring up?” which was replied to in such a way as led many to believe that there was not, and several of the Magistrates and the majority of the Reeves had retired, when a Magistrate rose and said that “there was another question which ought to be settled, and that was what is the amount of salary the Gaoler is to be paid?” The action of the Quarter Sessions in this matter was protested against, as it appeared to the Reeves then present that it was usurping the prerogative of the County Council, to whom they thought belonged the right to apportion the salaries of all officers not otherwise settled by law; and that from the first passing of the District Council Act, several Councils which were named, had set what the salaries of the Gaolers and Court House keepers were to be: this was overruled by the Bench, the Judge giving it as his opinion that by 32nd Geo. 3rd, chap. 8, sec. 17, the right was with the Justices to set the salary of the Gaoler.
Your Petitioners humbly trust the said sbbject (sic) having been brought under the notice of your Honourable House, that in amending the municipal corporations acts, provision will be made against the inter-meddling by the Quarter Sessions with matters that should belong to the County Councils, otherwise the Councils may, in retaliation, and to bring the question to an issue, do things that would interrupt the County business.
It is also almost a universal complaint that the County Officers being partisan appointments, are in too many cases not only the spies of the Ministry, through whom it is kept posted up with the sayings and doings in the Counties – a system of espionage at variance with free institutions, but they also become active electioneering agents for the ministerial candidates; and throw the weight of their official position in the contest, which has a proportional influence with a great number of the electors. Such conduct only tends to foster antagonism among the local authorities, discontent among the Rate-payers, and ultimate dissatisfaction with the institutions of the country.
Your Petitioners have also witnessed that the higher classes of County Officers who receive their appointments from the Ministry, on entering upon the duties of their office, have superseded the lower class of officers under their jurisdiction who may happen to differ in politics from them and the ministry of the day.
Your Petitions have therefore been forced to the conclusion that to maintain harmony, and to remove all cause of antagonism among the municipal and other authorities, that the appointment to all County Offices should be vested in the County Councils, and thus make County Officers responsible to the PEOPLE; that will only be carrying out the principle to its legitimate length, and giving full management to the people of all local affairs – as yet only partially conceded.
Your Petitioners would also take the liberty to bring under the notice of your Honourable House an article in the London Times, from which it appears that the Home Government propose to terminate the system of giving the patronage to members or others supporting ministers, by removing from the hands of the Ministry all patronage in the Civil Service of the Empire, and “vesting it in certain official trustees, who should be bond (sic) to distribute it without fear or favour.” The article goes on to say that “the realization of a scheme like this would secure several results of the very highest importance; it would remove from the hands of Ministers an instrument, which if not always so abused, was certainly available for purposes of political corruption, and would throw the government of the country for support rather on the sincere conviction of the people than the interested services of partizans;” and “finally, it would provide the State with a class of servants selected especially for their competence, instead of a class appointed, as at present, through clandestine operation of personal or political situations.”
And it would relieve the Ministry and Members from the unpleasant and embarrassing position in which they are very frequently placed, from the solicitations of friends and supporters for the same situations.
Your Petitioners therefore pray that your Honourable House will be pleased to pass an Act to place all appointments to County Offices at the disposal of County Councils, as being the only means of making the municipal institutions of the country work harmoniously, and of keeping up a cordiality, mutual sympathy, and good feeling among the several County authorities and officials, – and, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
RICHARD CARNEY, Warden. GEORGE JAMES GALE, Clerk.
COUNCIL ROOM, Sydenham, October 12, 1854
Grey Roots is also offering FREE admission to Archives researchers from April 7-10 in celebration of Archives Awareness Week.
With thanks to Archives Volunteer, Mike MacLean, for scanning work.