‘Canada’s Forgotten Independence Day’

“Our neglect of our history being what it is, March 11 won’t signify much to most Canadians. It’s March 17 that gets all the notoriety and all the boozing. But while there’s no problem with raising a glass to the patron saint of Ireland, Tuesday’s date should be a greater day of celebration in this country.”

March 11, 1848, was the day when Canada’s united colonies got responsible government. You might go so far as to call it our independence day – the day real democracy arrived.

“It followed decades of struggle against British rule, the rebellions of 1837 and 1838 being foremost examples. Power passed from colonial elites to citizens when a ‘Reform’ government headed by Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin was sworn in that day by governor-general Lord Elgin. The ‘Reformers’ had won an election over conservative forces aligned to the monarchy.

“Baldwin and LaFontaine, leaders of the territories now known as Ontario and Quebec, convinced their colonial masters that allowing power to reside with an elected assembly, instead of a governor’s appointed executive council, was the only way to stave off anarchy.

“In the context of the times, of so many countries seeking and failing to establish democratic systems, it was a remarkable achievement… While you probably wouldn’t want to high-five our democracy today, given what it has become, we were trailblazers back then.

“Europe-wide democratic revolutions marked 1848. Counterrevolutions followed shortly thereafter, and one was ignited in Canada.

“In 1849, reactionary mobs burned down the parliament buildings, then located in Montreal. But LaFontaine and Baldwin handled the crisis in a spirit of conciliation and compromise, as they had in bringing their culturally-divergent provinces into union years earlier.

“No such spirit prevailed in the United States, which was on the road to civil war, or in European jurisdictions where upheaval would mark the road to democratic legitimacy and world wars would be triggered.

“The model put in place in our colonies was sound enough to endure through time with minimal politically-inspired violence and bloodshed. The Baldwin and LaFontaine ministry decentralized power, establishing municipal governments. It brought in a modern legal and jury system, and established secular public universities.

“John A. Macdonald became our nation maker, as biographer Richard Gwyn calls him, but these men put in place the foundation. Lawyers by profession, they were not your typical win-at-all-costs politicians. Baldwin was a soft-spoken man who went about his work with a sunken heart. The pain at the loss of his adored wife at a young age never escaped him. But inescapable, too, was his devotion to the principles of democracy, social equity and justice. LaFontaine had that same commitment. He overcame strident opposition from Francophone leaders in realizing his vision of a democratic union of the two cultures.

“Not to be overlooked is Nova Scotia’s Joseph Howe, who secured responsible government for Nova Scotia two months earlier than Ontario and Quebec. His philosophy of governance paralleled that of Baldwin and LaFontaine.

“The only questions I ask myself are, What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?”
he said.

“That’s a credo today’s political leaders would do well to heed. The responsible government fashioned in 1848 was primitive in many ways, but the form of democracy, in which the executive was controlled by the elected assembly, was a purer one than now. Now, the system is more akin to what existed prior to March 11, 1848, when the governor had all the power.

“It’s all the more reason to remember that date, but we don’t. Academic David E. Smith notes in his book, “Across the Aisle“, that Canada’s contribution to responsible government used to be “a venerable theme in Canadian high school classes”. Sadly, he notes, that’s no longer the case.”

–‘Canada’s forgotten independence day’,
Lawrence Martin, Toronto Globe and Mail, Mar. 11 2014 (Updated May 12, 2018)

COMMENT: “It’s all the more reason to remember that date, but we don’t. Teaching Canadian history as a required high school course in only 4 provinces doesn’t help.”
“Mr. Martin forgets Nova Scotia was the first of the colonies that would become Canada to achieve responsible government, as the plaque inside the House of Assembly states:
First Responsible Government in the British Empire.”
“The first Executive Council chosen exclusively from the party having a majority in the representative branch of a colonial legislature was formed in Nova Scotia on 2 February 1848. Following a vote of want of confidence in the preceding Council, James Boyle Uniacke, who had moved the resolution, became Attorney General and leader of the Government. Joseph Howe, the long-time campaigner for this “Peaceable Revolution“, became Provincial Secretary. Other members of the Council were Hugh Bell, Wm. F. Desbarres, Lawrence O.C. Doyle, Herbert Huntingdon, James McNab, Michael Tobin, and George R. Young.”
“Perhaps February 2nd should be our independence day?!”

See also:
How We Teach History Matters Most’:
“Canada’s most prolific living historian, on the falsification of Canadian history:
“…to anyone with eyes to see, Canada is not a failure, but an overwhelming success. What is happening in our schools is political indoctrination, grounded in unbalanced historical nonsense.”

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