The Province of Canada was divided into two parts: Canada East and Canada West.
Canada East was what became of the former colony of Lower Canada after being united into the Province of Canada. It became the province of Quebec after confederation.
Canada West was what became of the former colony of Upper Canada after being united into the Province of Canada. It became the province of Ontario after confederation.
The location of the capital city of the Province of Canada changed six times in its 26-year history. The first capital was in Kingston (1841–1844). The capital moved to Montreal (1844–1849) until rioters, spurred by a series of incendiary articles published in The Gazette, protested the Rebellion Losses Bill and burned down Montreal's parliament buildings. It then moved to Toronto (1849–1852). It moved to Quebec City from 1852 to 1856, then Toronto for one year (1858) before returning to Quebec City from 1859-1866. In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the permanent capital of the Province of Canada, initiating construction of Canada's first parliament buildings, on Parliament Hill. The first stage of this construction was completed in 1865, just in time to host the final session of the last parliament of the Province of Canada before Confederation.
The Governor General remained the head of the civil administration of the colony, appointed by the British state, and responsible to them, not the local legislature. He was aided by the Executive Council and the Legislative Council. The Executive Council aided in administration, and the Legislative Council (now the Senate) reviewed legislation produced by the elected Legislative Assembly.
Sydenham came from a wealthy family of timber merchants, and was an expert in finance, having served on the English Board of Trade which regulated banking (including the colony). He was promised a barony if he could successfully implement the union of the Canadas, and introduce a new form of municipal government, the District Council. The aim of both exercises in state-building was to strengthen the power of the Governor General, to minimize the impact of the numerically superior French vote, and to build a "middle party" that answered to him, rather than the Family Compact or the Reformers. Sydenham was a Whig who believed in rational government, not "responsible government". In order to implement his plan, he utilized widespread electoral violence through the Orange Order. His efforts to prevent the election of Louis LaFontaine, the leader of the French reformers, was foiled by David Willson, the leader of the Children of Peace, who convinced the electors of the 4th Riding of York to transcend linguistic prejudice and elect LaFontaine in an English-speaking riding in Canada West.
Bagot was appointed after the unexpected death of Thomson, with the explicit instructions to resist calls for Responsible Government. He arrived in the capital, Kingston, to find that Thomson's "middle party" had become polarized and he therefore could not form an executive. Even the Tories informed Bagot he could not form a cabinet without including LaFontaine and the French Party. LaFontaine demanded four cabinet seats, including one for Robert Baldwin. Bagot became severely ill thereafter, and Baldwin and Lafontaine became the first real premiers of the Province of Canada. However, in order to take office as ministers, the two had to run for re-election. While LaFontaine was easily re-elected in 4th York, Baldwin lost his seat in Hastings as a result of Orange Order violence. It was now that the pact between the two men was completely solidified, as LaFontaine arranged for Baldwin to run in Rimouski, Canada East. This was the union of the Canadas they sought, where LaFontaine overcame linguistic prejudice to gain a seat in English Canada, and Baldwin obtained his seat in French Canada.
The Baldwin-LaFontaine ministry barely lasted six months before Governor Bagot also died in March 1843. He was replaced by Sir Charles Metcalfe, whose instructions were to check the "radical" reform government. Metcalfe reverted to the Thomson system of strong central autocratic rule. Metcalfe began appointing his own supporters to patronage positions without Baldwin and LaFontaine's approval, as joint premiers. They resigned in November 1843, beginning a constitutional crisis that would last a year. Metcalfe refused to recall the legislature to demonstrate its irrelevance; he could rule without it. This year-long crisis, in which the legislature was prorogued, "was the final signpost on Upper Canada's conceptual road to democracy. Lacking the scale of the American Revolution, it nonetheless forced a comparable articulation and rethinking of the basics of political dialogue in the province." In the ensuing election, however, the Reformers did not win a majority and thus were not called to form another ministry. Responsible Government would be delayed until after 1848.
Cathcart had been a staff officer with Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars, and rose in rank to become commander of British forces in North America from June 1845 to May 1847. He was also appointed as Administrator then Governor General for the same period, uniting for the first time the highest Civil and military offices. The appointment of this military officer as Governor General was due to heightened tensions with the United States over the Oregon boundary dispute. Cathcart was deeply interested in the natural sciences, but ignorant of constitutional practice, and hence an unusual choice for Governor General. He refused to become involved in the day-to-day government of the conservative ministry of William Draper, thereby indirectly emphasizing the need for Responsible Government. His primary focus was on redrafting the Militia Act of 1846. The signing of the Oregon Boundary Treaty in 1846 made him instantly dispensable.
Elgin's second wife, Lady Mary Louisa Lambton, was the daughter of Lord Durham and niece of Lord Grey, making him an ideal compromise figure to introduce Responsible Government. On his arrival, the Reform Party won a decisive victory at the polls. Elgin invited LaFontaine to form the new government, the first time a Governor General requested cabinet formation on the basis of party. The party character of the ministry meant that the elected premier — and no longer the governor — would be the head of the government. The Governor General would become a more symbolic figure. The elected Premier in the Legislative Assembly would now become responsible local administration and legislation. It also deprived the Governor of patronage appointments to the civil service, which had been the basis of Metcalfe's policy. The test of Responsible Government came in 1849, when the Baldwin-Lafontaine government passed the Rebellion Losses Bill, compensating French Canadians for losses suffered during the Rebellions of 1837. Lord Elgin granted royal assent to the bill despite heated Tory opposition and his own personal misgivings, sparking riots in Montreal, during which Elgin himself was assaulted by an English-speaking Orange Order mob and the Parliament buildings were burned down.
The appointment of Walker Head (cousin of Sir Francis Bond Head whose inept governship of Upper Canada led to the Rebellion of 1837) is ironic. Some have argued that the Colonial Office meant to appoint Walker Head to be Lt. Governor of Upper Canada in 1836. The difference would have meant little. Both men were Assistant Poor Law Commissioners at the time. Walker Head's appointment in Wales led to the Chartist Newport Rising there in 1839. It was under Head, that true political party government was introduced with the Liberal-Conservative party of John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier in 1856. It was during their ministry that the first organized moves toward Canadian Confederation took place.
It was under Monck's governorship that the Great Coalition of all the political parties of the two Canadas in 1864. The Great Coalition was formed to end the political deadlock between predominantly French-speaking Canada East and predominantly English-speaking Canada West. The deadlock resulted from the requirement of a "double majority" to pass laws in the Legislative Assembly (i.e., a majority in both the Canada East and Canada West sections of the assembly). The removal of the deadlock resulted in three conferences that led to confederation.
Thomson reformed the Executive Councils of Upper and Lower Canada by introducing a "President of the Committees of Council" to act as a chief executive officer for the Council and chair of the various committees. The first was Robert Baldwin Sullivan. Thomson also systematically organized the civil service into departments, the heads of which sat on the Executive Council. A further innovation was to demand that every Head of Department seek election in the Legislative Assembly.
The Legislative Council of the Province of Canada was the upper house. The 24 legislative councillors were originally appointed. In 1856, a bill was passed to replace the appointed members by election. Members were to be elected from 24 divisions in each of Canada East and Canada West. Twelve members were elected every two years from 1856 to 1862.
Canada West, with its 450,000 inhabitants, was represented by 42 seats in the Legislative Assembly, the same number as the more-populated Canada East, with 650,000 inhabitants.
The Legislature's effectiveness was further hampered by the requirement of a "double majority" where a majority of votes for the passage of a bill had to be obtained from the members of both Canada East and West.
Each administration was led by two men, one from each half of the province. Officially, one of them at any given time had the title of Premier, while the other had the title of Deputy.
Municipal government in Upper Canada was under the control of appointed magistrates who sat in Courts of Quarter Sessions to administer the law within a District. A few cities, such as Toronto, were incorporated by special acts of the legislature. Governor Thomson, 1st Baron Sydenham, spearheaded the passage of the District Councils Act which transferred municipal government to District Councils. His bill allowed for two elected councillors from each township, but the warden, clerk and treasurer were to be appointed by the government. This thus allowed for strong administrative control and continued government patronage appointments. Sydenham's bill reflected his larger concerns to limit popular participation under the tutelage of a strong executive. the Councils were reformed by the Baldwin Act in 1849 which made municipal government truly democratic rather than an extension of central control of the Crown. It delegated authority to municipal governments so they could raise taxes and enact by-laws. It also established a hierarchy of types of municipal governments, starting at the top with cities and continued down past towns, villages and finally townships. This system was to prevail for the next 150 years.
During the year-long constitutional crisis in 1843–44, when Metcalfe prorogued Parliament to demonstrate its irrelevance, Baldwin established a "Reform Association" in February 1844, to unite the Reform movement in Canada West and to explain their understanding of responsible government. Twenty-two branches were established. A grand meeting of all branches of the Reform Association was held in the Second Meeting House of the Children of Peace in Sharon. Over three thousand people attended this rally for Baldwin. the Association was not, however, a true political party and individual members voted independently.
The Parti rouge (alternatively known as the Parti démocratique) was formed in the Province of Quebec around 1848 by radical French Canadians inspired by the ideas of Louis-Joseph Papineau, the Institut canadien de Montréal, and the reformist movement led by the Parti patriote of the 1830s. The reformist rouges did not believe that the 1840 Act of Union had truly granted a responsible government to former Upper and Lower Canada. They advocated important democratic reforms, republicanism, separation of the state and the church. In 1858, the elected rouges allied with the Clear Grits. This resulted in the shortest-lived government in Canadian history, falling in less than a day.
The Clear Grits were the inheritors of William Lyon Mackenzie's Reform movement of the 1830s. Their support was concentrated among southwestern Ontario farmers, who were frustrated and disillusioned by the 1849 Reform government of Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine's lack of democratic enthusiasm. The Clear Grits advocated universal male suffrage, representation by population, democratic institutions, reductions in government expenditure, abolition of the Clergy Reserves, voluntarism, and free trade with the United States. Their platform was similar to that of the British Chartists. The Clear Grits and the Parti rouge evolved into the Liberal Party of Canada.
The Parti bleu was a moderate political group in Canada East that emerged in 1854. It was based on the moderate reformist views of Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine.
The Liberal-Conservative Party emerged from a coalition government in 1854 in which moderate Reformers and Conservatives from Canada West joined with bleus from Canada East under the dual prime-ministership of Sir Allan MacNab and A.-N. Morin. The new ministry were committed to secularize the Clergy reserves in Canada West and to abolish seigneurial tenure in Canada East. Over time, the Liberal-Conservatives evolved into the Conservative party.
No provision for responsible government was included in the Act of Union 1840. Early Governors of the province were closely involved in political affairs, maintaining a right to make Executive Council and other appointments without the input of the legislative assembly.
However, in 1848 the Earl of Elgin, the then Governor General, appointed a Cabinet nominated by the majority party of the Legislative Assembly, the Baldwin-Lafontaine coalition that had won elections in January. Lord Elgin upheld the principles of responsible government by not repealing the Rebellion Losses Bill, which was highly unpopular with some English-speaking Loyalists who favoured imperial over majority rule.
As Canada East and Canada West each held 42 seats in the Legislative Assembly, there was a legislative deadlock between English (mainly from Canada West) and French (mainly from Canada East). The majority of the province was French, which demanded "rep-by-pop" (representation by population), which the Anglophones opposed.
The granting of responsible government to the colony is typically attributed to reforms in 1848 (principally the effective transfer of control over patronage from the Governor to the elected ministry). These reforms resulted in the appointment of the second Baldwin-Lafontaine government that quickly removed many of the disabilities on French-Canadian political participation in the colony.
Once the English population, rapidly growing through immigration, exceeded the French, the English demanded representation-by-population. In the end, the legislative deadlock between English and French led to a movement for a federal union which resulted in the broader Canadian Confederation in 1867.
In "The Liberal Order Framework: A Prospectus for a Reconnaissance of Canadian History" McKay argues that "the category 'Canada' should henceforth denote a historically specific project of rule, rather than either an essence we must defend or an empty homogeneous space we must possess. Canada-as-project can be analyzed as the implantation and expansion over a heterogeneous terrain of a certain politico-economic logic—to wit, liberalism." The liberalism of which McKay writes is not that of a specific political party, but of certain practices of state building which prioritize property, first of all, and the individual.
The Baldwin Act, also known as the Municipal Corporations Act, replaced the local government system based on district councils in Canada West by government at the county level. It also granted more autonomy to townships, villages, towns and cities.
In 1849, King's College was renamed as the University of Toronto and the school's ties with the Church of England was severed.
The Canadian–American Reciprocity Treaty of 1854, also known as the Elgin-Marcy Treaty, was a trade treaty between the United Province of Canada and the United States. It covered raw materials and was in effect from 1854 to 1865. It represented a move toward free trade.
Education in Canada West was regulated by the province through the General Board of Education, in 1846, until 1850, when it was replaced by the Department of Public Instruction, until 1876.
Among its accomplishments, the United Province of Canada built the Grand Trunk Railway, improved the educational system in Canada West under Egerton Ryerson, reinstated French as an official language of the legislature and the courts, codified the Civil Code of Lower Canada in 1866, and abolished the seigneurial system in Canada East.
Exploration of Western Canada and Rupert's Land with a view to annexation and settlement was a priority of Canada West politicians in the 1850s leading to the Palliser Expedition and the Red River Expedition of Henry Youle Hind, George Gladman and Simon James Dawson.
(broken link 9/2013)