Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin (Extraordinary Canadians)
John Ralston Saul
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Canada has no better interpreter than prolific writer and thinker John Ralston Saul. Here he argues that Canada did not begin in 1867; indeed, its foundation was laid by two visionary men, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin. The two leaders of Lower and Upper Canada, respectively, worked together after the 1841 Union to lead a reformist movement for responsible government run by elected citizens instead of a colonial governor.
But it was during the "Great Ministry" of 1848—51 that the two politicians implemented laws that created a more equitable country. They revamped judicial institutions, created a public education system, made bilingualism official, designed a network of public roads, began a public postal system, and reformed municipal governance. Faced with opposition, and even violence, the two men— polar opposites in temperament—united behind a set of principles and programs that formed modern Canada. Writing with verve and deep conviction, Saul restores these two extraordinary Canadians to rightful prominence.
1 (February 2008): 41–44. Roy, Alain. “Le Marché Sainte-Anne, le Parlement de Montréal et la formation d’un état moderne. ” Rapport présenté à l’Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française. Montréal. Schrauwers, Albert. Awaiting the Millennium: The Children of Peace and the Village of Hope, 1812–1889. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993. Siedle, F. Leslie, and Louis Massicotte. Taking Stock of 150 Years of Responsible Government in Canada. Ottawa: The Canadian Study of Parliament Group, 1998. Tucker, Gilbert.
From the Château Clique’s point of view it was about power and money. But their interests were presented as Protestant versus Catholic and English-speaker versus French-speaker. These were the traditional European divisions imported into the colony and presented as symbols of loyalty versus disloyalty. As with the Family Compact in Upper Canada, so with the Château Clique in Lower Canada: their mechanism for the maintenance of power was the governor. From this they concluded that loyalty to the Crown was by definition anti-democratic.
It was a beautiful, even dramatic, spot at the southern entrance of the Rideau Canal and source of the St. Lawrence River. Sydenham had rented for himself a large neoclassical mansion, Alwington House, on a bay just outside town with a view of islands and lake. The new city hospital, right on the edge of Kingston and still standing today, had been gutted and rebuilt as the Parliament, to house the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. Money was liberally spent to create British-style gathering places – wood panelling, large red leather chairs, swaths of heavy curtains.
In February LaFontaine began plotting to send Baldwin off to New York on a holiday. “Otherwise I fear that he will be seriously weakened. ” A month later Baldwin’s gaiety seemed to have returned, then “yesterday he once again had head pains” – a sort of shaking disturbance inside – “he stays home, this morning, he is better, the pain gone; this afternoon the pain is back, he suffers badly; at four o’clock Leslie and I went to see him; he made an effort to be gay, but admits he suffers. As we left, he shook our hands and burst into tears.
The oligarchs in Toronto, Kingston and a few other towns were outnumbered by the farmers, all of whom had the vote and used it. In 1833 a young businessman called Francis Hincks rented a Baldwin house on Yonge Street and quickly became a family friend. He was bilingual, knew something about francophone reform leaders and was full of ideas. He wanted change, had few prejudices, was full of energy and had an optimistic view of what was possible. The 1820s and 1830s were like a pressure cooker with the dial gradually turning up.