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The Baldwin—La Fontaine Ministry (1842–43)
Original title:  The first Parliament in Canada, Kingston General Hospital

Source: Link

 

The creation of the Baldwin–La Fontaine ministry in September 1842, which would permit an attempt to apply the principle of responsible government in the Province of Canada, was preceded by intense negotiations, as recalled in Robert BALDWIN’s biography:

“In July [1842], Attorney General William Henry Draper* and Harrison advised Bagot the ministry could not survive: he must bring in the leaders of the French Canadians and that meant inviting Baldwin as well.… Although under instructions from Britain to keep Baldwin and the French out, when the legislature convened in September and it was apparent the reformers had a majority, Bagot had to ignore his instructions and call on La Fontaine. The talks nearly foundered on the governor’s refusal to include Baldwin but he finally conceded. On 16 September, La Fontaine agreed to enter the ministry, with Baldwin.

“Although Bagot and Baldwin would eulogize the triumph of responsible government in what Bagot dubbed his ‘great measure,’ the achievement was considerably less. Six previous ministers were joined by five reformers, but there was no prior agreement on policy and no commitment to cabinet solidarity.”


This excerpt from the biography of his colleague Louis-Hippolyte LA FONTAINE offers a glimpse of their ministry’s initiatives:

“La Fontaine was now in a position to prove that union could serve French Canadian interests. He set to work with a will. In less than a year he secured the repeal or amendment of the measures of the Sydenham régime that had most displeased French Canadians. He had the electoral law modified in order to establish a polling station in each parish, and thus diminish violence during elections. To increase French Canadian influence, he secured the adoption of a new electoral map of Canada East redrawn particularly in the areas of the Montreal and Quebec suburbs. He had the capital transferred from Kingston to Montreal, took the first of numerous steps to obtain amnesty for those condemned in 1837–38, and to restore the use of French as an official language in the records of the legislature and of the courts. La Fontaine paid particular attention to patronage. He knew that through it he could probably best demonstrate to his fellow countrymen that union could serve their interests.”


The differences of opinion between Baldwin and La Fontaine on the one hand, and Governor Sir Charles Theophilus METCALFE, the successor to Sir Charles BAGOT, on the other, on applying the principle of responsible government [see The Colonial Office and British North America, 1801–50] led to the dissolution of the ministry in November 1843, as recalled in Metcalfe’s biography:

“Rupture finally came when each side found the existing relationship intolerable.… [On] 24 Nov. 1843, after Metcalfe had named a tory, Francis Powell, clerk of the peace for the Dalhousie District, La Fontaine and Baldwin formally demanded that the governor not make any appointment without first taking their advice and that he then make it in a manner ‘not prejudicial’ to their ‘influence.’ Two days of fruitless discussions ensued, during which the executive councillors contended that this principle was essential to the operation of responsible government, while the governor claimed that it would result in the virtual surrender of the prerogative of the crown. On 26 November all the councillors except Daly resigned. Five days later, after debate in the Legislative Assembly, the ex-ministers were overwhelmingly supported by 46 votes to 23. The assembly was prorogued on 9 December.”

 

The biographies grouped together below provide further information on the context in which the ministry was created and dissolved, its initiatives, and the debates that characterized it.

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