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Banner: First Among EqualsJohn Joseph Caldwell Abbott

Speech before the Senate, June 17, 1891


[page] 96

. . .

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: I am sure it will not be within my lips to find fault with the departure from the ordinary custom into which this House has fallen this evening. The remarks which have been made with regard to the Senate I sympathize with most cordially. I think it is an advantage

[page] 97

to the Senate to have in it members of the Cabinet who are able with authority to communicate to this House the views and the principles which actuate the Government in carrying on the business of the country. With reference to the number of them, and with reference to the diminution in that number, and to the nature and extent of the business which the Senate has recently been doing, I think there is much to be said and thought of that the Senate has not yet fully considered. To my mind, the Senate to some extent is in a transition state. At first its functions were not, perhaps, thoroughly well understood. We had Ministers here who ruled over large spending departments, and who were obliged to seek their resources from the people by the medium of deputies, or agents, or representatives in the other House, not being in a position to speak directly to those who held the purse, and give the requisite information as to what they proposed to do with the money. I do not feel at all satisfied that this House is the proper place for those who rule over the great spending departments. I think that is very doubtful, and that this House has functions which have not yet been by any means exercised to the utmost. It is, as every one may see who has heard what has been said this evening, free from all rancorous party feeling; it is animated by a desire for the progress and success of the country, and altogether guided by a wish to perform its duty in directing and carrying forward legislation in the best possible form in the interests of the country. That seems to me to be recognized as one of the truly important functions of the Senate. It has the right of inquiry, like the other House, and it has been using of late that right of inquiry by prosecuting investigation into matters of the greatest importance to the country. That is another of the important duties of the Senate, and one that can be exercised by us, apart from the influence of that kind of party feeling which must necessarily to some extent, attach to almost every step in a House largely governed by party considerations. As to its legislation, we have already on a former occasion discussed that subject at considerable length and I think every hon. member has recognized that this Houses possesses a wide field for its labours in legislation. Its seats are garnished by men from every profession and business in the Dominion, and from the most experienced men among them in every section of Canada, and if valuable opinions on banking, law, and business of all kinds, are required in any detail of legislation  --  and they are invariably needed, as everyone knows  --  they can be found on the benches of this House, I venture to say, in as great perfection and efficiency as in any assembly in this Dominion. It appears to me, therefore, that with these two great functions and others analogous to them, this Senate has plenty of work before it. I never despaired of the Senate; never thought there was any danger of its functions not being appreciated by the people, if it were only true to itself; and what we have to do now, as I think we are emerging from our state of transition, is to prove to the people that we possess powers equally important and exercise them in a manner equally beneficial to the country in our own departments to those that are possessed and exercised by other branches of the Legislature in theirs.

Now, with reference to myself, I feel the greatest difficulty in remarking at all upon what has been said by hon. gentlemen in this House. I feel grateful to my hon. friend from Halifax for the tribute  --  the very kindly tribute which he paid to the character, standing and ability of my hon. friend the Minister of Agriculture, and on this occasion I cannot stop to think for a moment of the little good-natured criticism which he made on the motive which he thinks led to my hon. friend being in this House. That I dispense with remarking upon, and I am glad to think that my hon. friend is properly appreciated. With regard to myself  --  and now I come to the most delicate portion of what I have to say  --  I would recall to the minds of hon. gentlemen that about four years ago, when I came here, I was entirely unacquainted, or nearly so, with the procedure of the Senate, and was not intimately known to a great many of its members. I came here determined to do my duty as far as it was possible for me to do it, and I have laboured in that direction as well as I could during the time I have had the honor of occupying a seat in this House, and of holding the high and honourable position of leader for the Government here; and hon. gentlemen, I wish you to know at this moment, and to be persuaded, as it is true, that I never aspired to, never

[page] 98

looked for, never wished for, any position higher than that which I occupied prior to the occasion of this discussion. The kindly feeling, the unduly warm appreciation which my small labours have met with in this House, have won from me a regard for the House and its members, and its business, and reputation, that would lead me and carry me to the greatest extremity of my powers possible, in order to further its reputation and its usefulness, and to assist my hon. friends in this House, all of whom are always ready to work in the same direction, in placing it in the position before the country that I think it deserves, and that it ought to have and will have. But the position which I tonight have the honor to occupy, which is far beyond any hopes or aspirations I ever had, and I am free to confess beyond any merits I have (cries of no, no), has come to me very much probably in the nature of compromise. I am here very much because I am not particularly obnoxious to anybody.

Hon. GENTLEMEN: No, no.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: Something like the principle on which it is reported some men are selected as candidates for the Presidency of the United States: it is not that they are so able, it is not that they are so wonderfully clever, or such great statesmen, but it is that they are harmless, and have not made any enemies. I am inclined to think that sentiment has had a great deal to do with the position in which I am placed.

Hon. GENTLEMEN: No; no.

Hon Mr. ABBOTT: I do not feel at all conscious of any ability to conduct the affairs of this great country in the way that they should be conducted, and I am ten times more overwhelmed with the responsibility I have assumed when I reflect on the great man whose place I am supposed to fill in this Government. However, I felt, as you may suppose, greatly honoured in being asked to undertake the task of forming a Ministry, and although I assumed it with reluctance, I tried to do it, as I try to do everything to which I put my hand, to the best of my ability and energy; and I shall endeavour to continue to do my duty in this position with all the ability and industry, whatever it may be, that I possess. That is all I can promise. I cannot promise that my services shall be of great account, or that I shall render great service to my country. I can promise that my whole strength of mind and talent, whatever it is, shall be devoted to its interests. To the members of the Senate who have spoken this evening, and who have overwhelmed me with praise, which I cannot claim to deserve, which I know I owe more to their friendly feeling towards me than to any merits I possess: to those members, I can only say: hon. gentlemen, I thank you most cordially and sincerely for the kind sentiments you have been pleased to express towards me, and my greatest hope in what little time is left me of my career, is that I may be able to deserve them in some small degree.


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Source: Canada. Parliament. Senate. Debates of the Senate of the Dominion of Canada. 7th Parliament, 1st Session (May 1, 1891: September 30, 1891). Ottawa: Holland Bros., 1891. Pages 96-98.


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