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KOYAH – Volume IV (1771-1800)

probably d. 21 June 1795


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

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The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

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Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

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The La Fontaine—Baldwin Ministry: The First Responsible Government of the Province of Canada (1848–51)
Original title:  	
            Bibliothèque virtuelle
            L'Acte d'Union (1840) et ses conséquences

Source: Link


As the biography of journalist and politician George BROWN recalls, the creation of the La Fontaine–Baldwin ministry in March 1848 represented the formal recognition of the principle of responsible government in the Province of Canada, only two months after it was introduced in Nova Scotia [see Achieving Responsible Government Elsewhere in British North America]:

“By 1847, when the weak Tory-Conservative ministry failed to improve its position through a reconstruction, the chance for a resurgence of Reform seemed at hand: especially when Britain now accepted the full principle of responsible rule for Canada and sent a new governor general, Lord Elgin [Bruce*], instructed to put that principle decisively into effect.

“In the elections of 1847–48 the Globe trumpeted the Liberal cause once more.… The Reformers swept into power in both sections of Canada, and in March 1848 the La Fontaine–Baldwin government took office as a wholly Reform cabinet embodying the principle of responsible rule.”


Louis-Hippolyte LA FONTAINE and Robert BALDWIN’s return to government allowed for the continuation of the reformist program, particularly the implementation of Baldwin’s education projects:

“His October 1843 bill on the university question died with the government in December [see John Strachan]. Baldwin was determined to settle the issue, to end the connection of church and state in higher education, and to destroy King’s College as a visible symbol of Anglican privilege and class favouritism. Soon after taking office in 1848 he had asserted government control. In July he established a commission of inquiry into the finances of the college, which was supported by public lands. Controlled by reformers, the commission documented financial mismanagement and the need for reform. These findings laid the base for the University Bill of 1849, which Baldwin introduced on 3 April. His measure stripped the Church of England of its power in higher education and eliminated denominationalism at the university. To be called the University of Toronto, it would be secular, centralized, government controlled.”


The increasingly cutting opposition by the Clear Grits, the radical wing of the Reform party, played a central role in the 1851 resignation of Baldwin (in June) and La Fontaine (in September), as referred to in the biography of Pierre-Joseph-Olivier CHAUVEAU, a reform member of the legislature:

“In 1849 the Montreal riots [see James Bruce*] did not shake the Reform party, which Baldwin and La Fontaine controlled with an iron hand. But this strength would not last long. By 1850, the appearance in Canada West of the Clear Grits on the political chessboard heralded the crumbling of the coalition. This new faction demanded secularization of the clergy reserves, the separation of church and state, and elective democratic institutions on the American model. Feeling themselves challenged, Baldwin and La Fontaine handed in their resignations the following year and Francis Hincks and Morin formed a new ministry.”


The biographies grouped in the following lists provide further information on the context in which the ministry was created and dissolved, its initiatives, and its key debates.

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