mardi 7 juillet 2009

Independance (the sequel)

Commenting on my last post Rob-Bear wondered why I had not mentioned the Quebec Act of 1794. At first it did not ring a bell. Then I figured he must have been referring to the 1791 Act creating the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, now mostly Ontario and Québec. Upper Canada was to be majority Anglphone and Lower Canada was to be majority Francophone. Both provinces were to be governed by an elected parliament and a nominated legislative council under a governor named by London, he in turn appointed the members of the legislative council (kind of an unelected senate) and vetted the election of the Lower Chamber members. To be eligible to office or to vote, you had to be a male over 21 and owner of propety or commerce generating a revenue of 40 schillings or more ( in: Histoire du Canada par les textes, by Guy Frégault, Michel Brunet and Marcel Trudel, éditions Fides, Montréal, 1952).
However, because of the eligibilty conditions, very soon both governements were dominated by the elite and the wealthy. It caused much irritation at the popular level and much corruption since the sole revenue allowed these administrations were the perception of excise taxes. Since the merchants were dominant and considered those taxes as very bothering every means were legitimate to avoid them. The governements were always short of money and could not provide the general services they were called to give the population.
After some forty years of this regime, in both provinces the pot boiled over. In Upper Canada the Family Compact, closely related people controling the Governor, the Legislative Council and the Judiciary, generated much opposition but were deaf to it. A short armed uprising, in 1837, under the leadership of William Mackenzie, a York (now Toronto) journalist ensued. The army quelled it and Mackenzie fled to Buffalo. In Lower Canada, the Clique du Château de Ramezay was the exact replica of the Family Compact and caused the same type of frustration. It was compounded by the refusal of the Clique to recognize the Francophones needs and place in the society. Lead politically by Louis-Joseph Papineau a strong movement of opposition took form. parrallel to it a miltary wing, lead by the Nelson brothers, both doctors, and an Irish merchant, J.B. O'Callaghan took form involving many Francophone farmers and workers. While papineau disapproved, the militia attacked the army, in 1837, battles were fought in St-Eustache and on montreal's South Shore. Lives were lost and General Colborne, nicknamed Le Vieux Brulôt (The Old Torch), burned down farms and villages in reprisal. It petered out in 1838. Papineau fled to Britain then France, the Nelsons, with 300 armed men, fled to North Hero, Vt.
London sent in Lord Durham to inquire. His report is famous and led to the dimantlement of Upper and Lower Canada and the Union act of 1841 destined to mate the Francophones and assimilate them to the Anglophone population...problem was that in the new entity the Francophones were a majority. It did not work and in 1867 the Confederation was born re-creating Upper and Lower Canadas as the provinces of Ontario and Québec, joined by New Brunswick and Noca Scotia.
1791 was a total failure, some would say 1867 also...but that is another story.