Responsible Government March 1848 Council

March 11, 2012 by staff 

Responsible Government March 1848 Council, The Province of Canada, United Province of Canada, or the United Canadas was a British colony in North America from 1841 to 1867. Its formation reflected recommendations made by John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham in the Report on the Affairs of British North America following the Rebellions of 1837.

The Province of Canada ceased to exist at Canadian Confederation on July 1, 1867, when it was redivided into the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Before 1841, the territory roughly corresponding to Southern Ontario in Canada belonged to the British colony of the Province of Upper Canada, while the southern portion of Quebec and the Labrador region of Newfoundland and Labrador belonged to the colony of the Province of Lower Canada (until 1809, when it was transferred to Newfoundland). Upper Canada was primarily Anglophone, whereas Lower Canada was Francophone. The Act of Union 1840, passed July 23, 1840, by the British parliament and proclaimed by the Crown on February 10, 1841, merged the two colonies by abolishing the legislatures of Upper and Lower Canada and replacing them with a single legislative assembly.

While this new legislature maintained equal representation for both of the former colonies, the democratic nature of Lower Canada’s elections was fundamentally flawed. Despite the Francophone majority in Lower Canada, most of the power was concentrated on the Anglophone minority, who exploited the lack of a secret ballot to intimidate the electorate.

The area that had previously comprised Upper Canada was designated “Canada West”, while the area that had comprised Lower Canada was designated “Canada East”. The Province of Canada ceased to exist when the British North America Act passed by the British Parliament was proclaimed July 1, 1867.

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. The capital moved from Montreal to Toronto in 1849 when rioters, spurred by a series of incendiary articles published in The Gazette, protested the Rebellion Losses Bill and burned down Montreal’s parliament buildings. 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.
No formal 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 Tories who favoured imperial over majority rule.

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