Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Baldwin, LaFontaine, Hincks
Chapter IX - The Second LaFontaine-Baldwin Ministry


THE second LaFontaine-Baldwin administration, which extended from the beginning of 1848 until the retirement of the two Reform leaders in the summer of 1851, has earned in Canadian history the honourable appellation of the "great ministry." Its history marks the culmination of the lifework of Robert Baldwin and Louis LaFontaine and the justification of their political system. It is a commonplace of history that every great advance in the structure of political institutions brings with it an acceleration of national progress. This is undoubtedly true of the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry, whose reception signalizes the final acceptance of the principle of responsible government. This fact lent to it a vigour and activity which enabled it to achieve a legislative record with which the work of no other ministry during the period of the union can compare. The settlement of the school system, the definite foundation of the University of Toronto on the basis to which it owes its present eminence, the organization of municipal government, the opening of the railroad system of Canada,—these are among the political achievements of the "great ministry." More than all this is the fact that the La Fontaine-Baldwin ministry indicates the first real pacification of French Canada, the passing of the "strife of two nations warring within the bosom of a single state and the beginning of that joint and harmonious citizenship of the two races which has become the corner-stone of the structure of Canadian government. The ministry stands thus at the turning-point of an era. The forces of racial antipathy, separation and rebellion, scarce checked by the union of 1840, here pass into that broader movement which slowly makes towards Canadian confederation and the creation of a continental Dominion.

Towards the change of national life thus indicated other and more material forces were also tending. The era of the "great ministry" belongs to the time when the advent of the railroad and the telegraph was unifying and consolidating the industrial and social life of the country. Sandwich and Gaspe no longer appeared the opposite ends of the earth. The toilsome journey that separated the chief cities of Upper from those of Lower Canada was soon to become a thing of the past, and a more active intercourse and more real sympathy between the eastern and western sections of the country to take the place of their former political and social isolation. Lord Elgin once said that the true solution of the Canadian question would be found when both the French and the English inhabitants should be divided into Conservative and Liberal parties whose formation should rest upon grounds of kindred sentiments and kindred interests. For this the changes now operative m the country were preparing the way: the old era was passing away and a new phase of national life was destined to take its place. Looking back upon the period we can see that the LaFontaine-Baldwin administration marks the time of transition, the essential point of change from the Canada of the rebellion epoch to the Canada of the confederation.

The result of the election of 1847-8 had made it a foregone conclusion that the Conservative government must retire from office. Lord Elgin called the parliament together at Montreal on February 25th, 1848, and the vote on the election of the speaker showed at once the relative strength of the parties in the assembly. It having been proposed that Sir Allan MacNab. the late speaker of the House, be again elected, Baldwin proposed the name of Morin in Ins stead: while paying tribute to the qualifications of Sir Allan in other respects, he held it fitting that the speaker should be able to command both the French and English languages. A vote of fifty-four to nineteen proved the overwhelming strength of the Reformers. The answer to the speech from the throne, as was of course to be expected, was met by an amendment, proposed by Robert Baldwin, to the effect that the present ministry did not enjoy the confidence of the country. The amendment being carried by a vote of fifty-four to twenty (March 3rd, 1848), the Conservative ministers tendered their resignation, Lord Elgin at once sent for LaFontaine and the latter, ,n consultation with Baldwin, proceeded to form the ministry which bears their names. The ministry as thus constituted (March 11th, 1848) was as follows:—

For Lower Canada: L. H. LaFontaine, attorney-general; James Leslie, president of the executive council; R. E. Caron, president of the legislative council; E. P. Tache, chief commissioner of pub-he works ; T. C. Aylwin. solicitor-general; L. M. Viger, receiver-general.

For Upper Canada: Robert Baldwin, attorney-general; It. B. Sullivan, provincial secretary; F. Hincks, inspeetor-general; J. H. Price, commissioner of Crown lands; Malcolm Cameron, assistant commissioner of public works; W. HI Blake,1 solicitor-general.

Frequent mention has already been made of most of the above. Leslie, who had for many years represented the county of Vercheres. and Malcolm Cameron, who had been a bitter opponent of Sir F. B. Head and had held a minor office under Bagot, represented the more Radical wing of the Reform party. The name of (Sir) Etienne Tache, twice subsequently prime minister, is of course well known. Taehe had formerly been in the assembly for six years (1841-6), had since held the office of deputy adjutant-general, and was now, along with James Leslie, given a seat in the legislative council. Various other additions were presently made to the Upper House in order to redress the balance of parties therein and more adequately to represent the French-Canadian population.

Lord Elgin, although determined not to identify himself in sympathy with either of the Canadian parties, seems, none the less, to have entertained a high idea of the ability and integrity of his new ministers. "My present council," he wrote to Lord Grey, "unquestionably contains more talent, and has a firmer holder on the confidence of parliament and of the people than the last. There is, 1 think, moreover, on their part, a desire to prove, by proper deference for the authority of the governor-general (which they all admit has in my case never been abused), that they were libelled when they were accused of impracticability and anti-monarchical tendencies." The governor was determined to let the leaders of the ministry feel that they need fear no repetition of their difficulties wilh Sir Charles Metcalfe. In an initial interview with Baldwin and LaFontaine he took pains to assure them of the course he intended to pursue. "I spoke to them." he wrote afterwards, "in a candid and friendly tone; told them I thought there was a fair prospect, if they were moderate and firm, of forming an administration deserving and enjoying the confidence of parliament: that they might count on all proper support and assistance from me."

It was not possible for the ministry to undertake a serious programme of legislation during the session of 1848. Those of the ministers who belonged to the assembly—-including LaFontaine and Baldwin—had of course to present themselves to their constituents for reelection. This proved an easy matter, the elections being either carried by acclamation or by large majorities. But Lord Elgin and his ministers both preferred to bring the session to a close, in order to leave time for the mature consideration of the measures to be adopted on the re-assembling of parliament. The legislature was accordingly postponed from March 23rd, 1848, until the opening of the following year. The parliamentary session which then ensued (dating from January 18th until May 30th, 1849) was unprecedented in the importance of its legislation and the excitement occasioned by its measures. The speech from the throne announced a vigorous programme of reform. Electoral reform, the revision of the ludieature system of both provinces, the constitution of the university of King's College, the completion of the St. Lawrence canals, and the regulation of the municipal system were among the subjects on which the parliament would be asked to legislate. The question of an interprovincial railroad from Quebec to Halifax and the transfer of the postal department from the imperial to the Canadian authorities, were also to be brought under consideration.

Two important announcements were also made by Lord Elgin on behalf of the imperial government. The legislature was informed that the imperial parliament had passed an Act ;n repeal of the clause of the Act of Union which had declared English to be the sole official language of the legislature. With instinctive tact and courtesy the governor-general demonstrated the reality of the change thus effected, by himself reading his speech in French as well as English, a proceeding which drew forth enthusiastic praise from the press of Lower Canada. The other announcement was no less calculated to enlist the sympathies of French Canada. "I am authorized to inform you," said Lord Elgin, "that t is Her Majesty's purpose to exercise the prerogative of mercy in favour of all persons who are still liable to penal consequences for political offences arising out of the unfortunate occurrences of 1837 and 1838, and I have the queen's commands to invite you to confer with me in passing an Act to give full effect to Her Majesty's most gracious intentions."

The debate which followed on the address is notable for the trial of strength that occurred between LaFontaine and Louis-Joseph Papineau, the former leader of the popular party in the days of the rebellion. When the agitation in Lower Canada had broken into actual insurrection, Papineau had fled the country with a price upon his head. For two years he had lived in the United States ; thence he passed to France where he spent some eight years, his time being chiefly passed n the cultured society of the capital. As yet no general law of amnesty had been passed to permit the return of the "rebels" of 1837. But in many individual instances the government had seen fit to grant a pardon. LaFontaine, during his first ministry, had urged upon Sir Charles Metcalfe the wisdom of a general amnesty. Unable to obtain this he had secured from the governor-general the authorization of a nolle prosequi in the case of Papineau. This was in 1843. The ex-leader did not, however, see fit to avail himself of his liberty to return to Canada until the year 1847. Oil lis return m that year he had presented himself m the ensuing general election to the constituency of St. Maurice, and the prestige of his bygone career sufficed for his election. He once again found himself a member of a Canadian assembly.

For Papineau's historic reputation among his compatriots, it would have been better had he never returned to Canada. True, he had been absent from the country but ten years, yet he came back to a Canada that knew him not. The charm of ins personal address, the magniloquence of his oratory were still there, but the leadership of Louis-Joseph Papineau was gone forever. There were some in the province who! could not forget that Papineau had fled from his misguided followers at the darkest hour of their fortunes. There were others- -and these the bulk of his compatriots—-who felt that the lapse of time and the march of events had rendered Papineau and his bygone agitation an issue of the past, an issue that could not serve as a rallying-point for French Canada in the altered circumstances of the hour. Of this great change Papineau himself realized nothing. He was still preaching the old doctrine of 1837. the uncompromising hostility to British rule and the veiled republicanism of his former days. In the brief session of 1848 he had angrily inveighed against the prorogation of parliament ant! had urged, to prevent it, a stoppage of supplies! Now, at the opening of the session of 1849, he rose to utter an impassioned but meaningless attack against the policy of LaFontaine. The great upheaval of European democracy of 1848, of which he had witnessed the approaching signals, had appealed to Papmeau's imagination. It ill sufficed him to live n a country in which there was no ruthless despotism to denounce, no grinding tyranny to oppose, no political martyrdom to attain. In default of a real tyranny he must invent one. He denounced the union of the Canadas, he denounced the legislative council, he denounced responsible government. "The constitution of the country," he cried, "is false, tyrannical and calculated to demoralize its people. Conceived by statesmen of a narrow and malevolent genius, it has had up till the present, and can only have in the future, effects that are dangerous, results that are ruinous and disastrous." Most bitterly of all did he denounce those of his race who had accepted and aided to establish the present system and who, for the sake of office and power, had bartered the proud independence of an unconquered race.

The reply of LaFontaine to Papmeau ranks among his finest speeches. Inferior perhaps to his former leader in the arts of eloquence, he far excelled him in the balance and vigour of his intellect. The utter futility of Papineau's adherence to the old uncompromising doctrines of the past, lie easily exposed. " What," he asked, "would have been the consequences of the adoption of this conflict to the bitter end. that we are reproached with not having adopted it, instead of accepting the offers made to them . . . the representatives of Lower Canada had persistently held aloof, the French-Canadians would have never shared in the government of the country. They would have been crushed. Would you with your system of unending conflict have ever obtained the repeal of the clause of the Act of Union that proscribes our language? ... If, in 1842, we had adopted that system should we now be in a position to solicit, to urge, as we have been doing, the return of our exiled compatriots?"

It might, perhaps, have been more magnanimous on the part of LaFontaine had lie omitted to give his arguments a personal allusion. But the ingratitude of Papineau, who owed it to LaFontaine's efforts and to the system of conciliation which he denounced, that he Was able again to tread the soil of his native country, stung LaFontaine to the quick. He continued: "If we had not accepted office in the ministry of 1842, should we have been in a position to obtain for the honourable member himself, permission to return to his country, to obtain which I did not hesitate, in order to overcome the repeated refusals of Sir Charles Metcalfe, to offer my resignation of lucrative offices I then enjoyed ? Yet, behold now this man obeying his old-time instinct of pouring forth insult and outrage. and daring in the presence of these facts to accuse me, and w ith me my colleagues, of venality, of a sordid love of office and of servility to those in power! To hear him, he alone is virtuous, he alone loves our country, he alone is devoted to the fatherland. . . . But since he bespeaks such virtue, I ask him at least to be just. Where would the honourable member be to-day, if I had adopted this system of a conflict to the bitter end ? He would be at Paris, fraternizing, I suppose, with the red republicans, the white republicans, or the black republicans, and approving, one after the other, the fluctuating constitutions of France!"

But though routed in debate by LaFontaine and unable any longer to lead the assembly, Papineau was not without a certain following. Some of the more ardent of the younger spirits among the French-Canadians were still attracted by the prestige of his name and by the violence of his democratic principles, and espoused his cause. There began to appear a Radical wing of the French-Canadian Reformers, pressing upon the government a still greater acceleration of democratic progress and a still more complete recognition of the claims of their nationality. The Radical movement was as yet, however, but a more rapid eddy in the broad stream of reform that in the meantime was moving fast enough.

One hundred and ninety acts of parliament were passed during the session of 1819 and received the governor's assent. Many of these—the Tariff Act, the Amnesty Act, the Railroad Acts, the Jud; cature Acts, the Rebellion Losses Act, the Municipal Corporations Act, and the Act to amend the charter of the university established at Toronto8—are measures of first-rate importance. With the two last mentioned the name of Robert Baldwin will always be associated. It will be remembered that during his previous ministry Baldwin had brought in a bill for the revision of the charter of King's College and for the consolidation of the denominational colleges of the country into a single provincial institution. Against this measure a loud outcry had been raised by the Tories, on the ground that it effected a spoliation of the Anglican Church which had hitherto exercised a dominant influence over King's College, and whose doctrines were taught in the faculty of divinity of that institution. The rupture with Sir Charles Metcalfe had prevented the passage of the bill. Mr. Draper had introduced a measure of similar character, but had seen fit to abandon it on account of the opposition excited among his own adherents. The measure, which Baldwin carried through parliament in 1819, creating the University of Toronto in place of King's College, has been said by Sir John Bourinot to have "placed the university upon that broad basis on which it still rests." A former president of the University of Toronto, :n a recent history of the institution,1 has seen fit to disparage Robert Baldwin's Act, drawing attention to the needless complexity' of its clauses, the failure of its attempt to affiliate the sectarian colleges, and to the fact that a revision of its provisions became necessary a few years later (1853). But the great merit of Baldwin's University Act lay, not in its treatment of tin; details of organization but in the cardinal point of establishing a system of higher education, non-sectarian in its character, in whose benefits the adherents of all creeds might equally participate.

The faculty of divinity and the degree in divinity were now abolished, and the control of the university entirely withdrawn from the Church, except for the fact that the different denominational colleges were each entitled to a representative on the senate of the university. The system of government instituted was, indeed, cumbrous. Academic powers and the nominations to the professoriate were placed in the hands of a senate, consisting of a chancellor, vice-chancellor, the professors and twelve nominated members,- -six chosen by the government, six by the denominational colleges. A further body called the caput, or council, made up of the president and deans of faculties, and certain others, exercised disciplinary powers. An endowment board, appointed jointly by the government, the senate, the caput, etc., managed the property of the university. Various other powers were vested in the faculties, the deans of faculties and in subordinate authorities. The elaborate regulation of the whole structure and the lack of elasticity in its organization were in marked contrast to the more simple provisions of 204 the charter of King's College. No religious tests for professoriate and students were to be imposed. It was further enacted that neither the chancellor nor any government representative on the senate should be a "minister, ecclesiastic or teacher, under or according to any form or profession of religious faith or worship."

Provision was made under the Act for the incorporation in the University of Toronto of the denominational colleges. To obtain incorporation they were to forego their existing power of conferring degrees. As the colleges were unwilling to do this unless they were granted a share of the provincial endowment for their own teaching purposes, the scheme of consolidation failed. Victoria and Queen's Universities remained upon their separate and sectarian bases, and thus one of the purposes of Baldwin's Act was defeated. Moreover, a section of the adherents of the Anglican Church refused to countenance the new establishment. Bishop Strachan, who had denounced the godless ieonoclasm of Baldwin's previous University Bill, again headed the agitation against a secular university. Furious at the passage of the measure, he called upon the members of his Church to raise funds for a university of their own, headed the subscription himself with a contribution of five thousand dollars, and, undeterred by his advancing years, betook himself to England to obtain sympathy and help towards the foundation of an Anglican College. The result of his endeavours was the foundation of Trinity College in 1851.

The Municipal Corporations Act of 1849, commonly known as the Baldwin Act, constitutes another of the permanent political achievements of Robert Baldwin. Many years ago the Upper Canada Law Journal remarked of this Act and of the revision of the judicial system, "Had Mr. Baldwin never done more than enact our municipal and jury laws, he would have done enough to entitle his memory to the lasting respect of the inhabitants of this province. Neighbouring provinces are adopting the one and the other almost intact, as an embodiment of wisdom united with practical usefulness, equally noted for simplicity and for completeness of detail not to be found elsewhere." Quite recently Professor Shortt has said,1 "Looking at the Baldwm Act in its historic significance, we must admit it to have been a most comprehensive and important measure, whose beneficial influence has been felt, not merely in Ontario, but more or less throughout the Dominion ... In all essential principles its spirit and purpose are embodied in our present municipal system."

The Baldwin Act represents the culmination and final triumph of the agitation for local self-government that had, for over fifty years, run a parallel course with the movement for responsible government. In the earlier years of Upper Canadian settlement, the government had been very chary of investing the settlers with rights of local management. Townships indeed existed, but these were merely areas plotted out by the surveyor for convenience in the allotment of land, and were not incorporated units of government. Nor was incorporation given to the districts or larger areas into which the province was subdivided. Even the villages and towns had at first no rights of self-government. The management: of local affairs and the assessment of local taxes were left to the justices of the peace, sitting in quarter sessions, these being officers appointed by the governor and representing, of course, the solid cohesion of the governing class. The settlers, many of whom had been used to better things in their New England homes, constantly protested. At times they organized themselves in their townships on a voluntary basis. "Various bills for giving power to the people of the townships, as such, were brought before the legislature, but met with a distrustful rejection at the hands of the governing oligarchy. Only a few unimportant matters—the election of petty officers, such as fence-viewers and pound-keepers—were handed over to the people.

The system thus established proved increasingly unjust and inconvenient: unjust, since it contributed to the privileges of the colonial aristocracy: inconvenient, especially in the growing towns where matters such as markets, fire protection, street-paving, etc., urgently demanded an organized municipal control. The pressure of the situation presently forced the government to grant some rights of self-government to the towns. A severe fire at Kingston in 1812 proved an object-lesson to a population that dwelt in wooden houses. An Act of parliament gave special powers to the magistrates in regard to Kingston, and an Act of a year later put York, Sandwich and Amhertsburg upon the same footing. Belleville was presently granted the right to elect a police board, the first actual use of the democratic principle in town government, Brockville, after a long fight against the government, obtained an Act of parliament which set up the Brockville town board as a body corporate.2 The powers granted were limited, but the Act was a step in advance. A similar limited incorporation was extended to Hamilton, York and other towns (1832-4). Meantime the Reform party had vigorously taken up the cry for local self-government. Durham recommended in his Report "the establishment of a good system of municipal institutions throughout this province." The Draper government, under Lord Sydenham, as has been seen, had endeavoured to enlist popular support by passing a Local Government Act (1841). But the fear of Tory opposition prevented Mr. Draper from doing more than incorporating the districts of Upper Canada with a partially elective government. It remained for Baldwin, in one comprehensive statute, to establish the entire system of local government in Upper Canada upon the democratic basis of popular election.

The text of the Baldwin Act fills some fifty pages of the statute-book; but its ground plan is excellent in its logic and simplicity, and can be explained in a few words. The districts are abolished as areas of government in favour of counties with townships as their subdivisions. The township now became an incorporated body with power to construct highways, school buildings, etc. Its inhabitants elected five councillors, who appointed one of their number to be '"reeve" of the township, and, in townships having a population of more than five hundred, another to be deputy-reeve. The reeves and deputy-reeves of the townships constituted the county council and elected from among themselves the "warden" of the county. The county council thus incorporated had authority over county roads, bridges and grammar schools, with other usual municipal powers. Within the area of the county the Act recognized also police villages, incorporated villages, towns and cities, representing an ascending series of corporate powers and a correspondingly increasing independence from the control of the county council. The police village was merely a hamlet to whose inhabitants the county committed the election of police trustees who should take steps to prevent fires, etc. An incorporate village was a body corporate with an elected council and a reeve, and practically on the same footing as a township. Still further powers were given to the town, with an elected council and a mayor and reeve chosen thereby. At the apex of urban government were placed the cities, Toronto, Hamilton and Kingston, and any others whose population should reach fifteen thousand. The city, with a mayor, aldermen and common councillors, constituted a county in itself, special powers being also delegated to it. Taken as a whole the Act is uniform in plan, excellent both in its fundamental principle and in the consistency of its detail; though frequently amended, it remains as the basis of local self-government in Ontario at the present day.

In addition to the University and Municipal Acts, Baldwin was also largely responsible for the Acts revising the judicial system of Upper Canada, creating a court of common pleas and a court of error and appeal, and freeing the court of chancery from the delays which had hitherto impaired its utility, by altering its procedure and increasing the number of its judges from one to three.

The allotment- of legislative business among the leaders of the Reform party proceeded on the same lines as during the former ministry. While the political legislation was entrusted to Baldwin and LaFontaine, Hincks undertook the preparation of commercial and economic measures. These at the moment were of especial importance. The adoption of free trade by England had involved the loss of the preference enjoyed under earlier statutes by Canadian agricultural exports to the mother country. This had precipitated in Canada a severe commercial depression: the winter of 1848-9 had been a winter of discontent, and Lord Elgin had written home of the "downward progress of events." A vigorous policy was needed in order to revive the industries of the country, and to this Hincks addressed himself with characteristic energy. Already various charters had been granted for the construction of railways in Canada, the road from LaPrairie to St. Johns1 (Quebec) had been built as early as 1837, and by the year 1848 a part of what afterwards became the Grand Trunk line from Montreal to Portland was already constructed, while work had been begun upon the Great Western and Northern Railways. Hincks, realizing the importance of the development of the Canadian transportation system, now inaugurated a policy of active governmental aid to railway construction. An Act of parliament guaranteed, for any railway of more than seventy-five miles in length, the payment of six per cent, interest on half the cost of its construction. Anxious at the same time to stimulate trade with the United States in order to compensate the country for the loss of its commercial privileges with Great Britain, Hincks endeavoured to bring about a system of reciprocal free trade in natural products between Canada and the republic. An Act of the legislature accordingly declared all duties oil this class of imports to be removed as soon as the congress of the United States should take similar action. Unfortunately the opposition of the American senate interposed a long delay, and it was not until five years later that an international treaty at last brought the system of reciprocity into effect. Meantime the Customs Act of 1849 revised existing duties, altering many of them to an ad valorem basis and placing the average duty at about thirteen and one-quarter per cent.

The legislative measures that fell to the share of LaFontaine were the political bills relating to Lower Canada. Here also the judicial system was amended, a court of queen s bench being established with four judges of its own, and the superior court also undergoing a revision. A 802 general law of amnesty gave effect to the intention of the Crown. An attempt to carry a bill for redistributing the seats in the legislature failed of its purpose. It was LaFontaine % object to give to each province seventy-five instead of forty-two members, in order to permit a subdivision of the larger constituencies: the equality of representation between the two provinces was to be retained, although it was now evident that Upper Canada would soon surpass in population the lower section of the province. For a measure of this kind a majority of two-thirds was necessitated by the Act of Union. The opposition to the bill came from the Upper Canadian Tories and from Papineau and certain other French-Canadian Radicals, who insisted on carrying the democratic principle of equal representation to its full extent, even against the interests of their own nationality. LaFontaine's measure fell short of the required two-thirds by one vote. Of far more importance was a measure now before parliament for whose introduction IiaFontaine was responsible, and whose passage almost threatened to bring the country to a civil war. The Rebellion Losses Rill is, however, of such importance as to require a chapter to itself.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus