1841 - The First Election after the Act of Union|
In February 1841, United Canada's new constitution came into effect.
Upper Canada became West Canada and Lower Canada was known as East Canada. Even though Lower Canada had approximately 200,000 more inhabitants than Upper Canada, the two former provinces had the same number of members in the new Legislative Assembly. The system was designed to reduce the political clout of French Canadians and to facilitate their assimilation. English became the official language of the legislature and Kingston was chosen as capital.
|Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine withdrew from a Lower Canadian election when confronted by a mob near the only polling place in a mostly English village. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The British government refused to reform the colonial parliamentary system to make it more democratic. As it stood, the Governor General and councillors that the British government appointed still held almost all the power.
During the election of 1841, Lord Sydenham, the Governor General, supported the Conservative cause: in Lower Canada he modified electoral constituencies and set up polling offices as far as possible from villages that had a majority French Canadian population.
During the election, there was widespread violence and even death. The army would only intervene to defend candidates from the English Party.
Louis-Hyppolite La Fontaine was seeking re-election in Terrebonne, a county he represented before the Rebellions. In his riding, the polling office had been placed at the entrance to New Glasgow, a village that was mostly English. When La Fontaine and his supporters showed up to vote, a mob was waiting. To avoid bloodshed, La Fontaine was forced to withdraw:
"And so I informed the reporting officer that in order to avoid bloodshed and the massacre of great numbers, I was withdrawing from the contest."
Without La Fontaine in the House of Assembly, the reform alliance was in danger.
Robert Baldwin asked his father, who was running as a candidate in a Toronto riding, to withdraw and to let La Fontaine run in his place:
"I think it would be very desirable that you should even tho' you may have already accepted the nomination for North York suggest to them the expediency of accepting your retirement and of returning Mr. La Fontaine, if he will accept the nomination instead of you. I am satisfied that nothing could be done at this conjuncture that would have a better effect upon the state of parties in the House than his return just now for North York."
William Baldwin accepted his son's proposition.
The francophone candidate won the election in the Upper Canadian riding of North York. In 1849, La Fontaine returned the favour to Robert Baldwin, who was elected in the riding of Rimouski, in the Lower Saint Lawrence.
These gestures of goodwill strengthened the alliance between reformers from both Canadas and the personal friendship of the two men.
In the years to come, Baldwin and La Fontaine together led the battle for a government run by the people's elected representatives.
And La Fontaine could rely on Baldwin's support to restore the French language in Parliament.