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People

Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine

Photograph: Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine

Source

Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine.

(October 4, 1807 - February 26, 1864)

Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine was first elected to the Assembly of Lower Canada in 1830. Although a Papineau supporter, he disagreed with the latter's call to arms and tried to find a peaceful solution to the imminent conflicts. Arrested and released following the 1837-38 rebellions, La Fontaine would later become a moderate reformer.

Despite clauses that offended many French Canadians, La Fontaine was in favour of the 1841 union of Upper and Lower Canada. He felt that union would permit reformers from both areas to bring about the changes necessary for the smooth operation of the Canadian parliamentary system. Called to form the government in 1842, he put forward, along with Robert Baldwin, a bold plan for reform. The alliance between La Fontaine and Baldwin was so strong that when Baldwin was defeated in the 1843 election, La Fontaine offered him the reform seat of Rimouski -- returning a gesture Baldwin had made several years earlier. Unable to work with the new governor, Charles Metcalfe, the reformers of Canada East and Canada West resigned from the government en masse in November 1843.

La Fontaine spent the next four years in opposition. One of his main concerns during that time was that French be recognized as an official language  --  the Act of Union of 1841 had removed French's official language status. In 1842 La Fontaine addressed the House of Assembly in French; the Anglophone members snubbed him accordingly. La Fontaine's action, and those of his Francophone colleagues, forced Governor Metcalfe to revive the old Lower Canadian tradition of having an official version of the Speech from the Throne read in French at the opening of Parliament.

With Robert Baldwin, La Fontaine returned to power in 1848. He announced a new linguistic policy recognizing French as an official language in the House of Assembly. To this end, Governor Lord Elgin read the Throne Speech in French.

La Fontaine also called for members to vote for a bill on compensation for losses incurred by the repression of the 1837-38 rebellions. Ratified by Lord Elgin on April 25, 1849, this law set off the frustrations of Anglophone merchants in Montréal and culminated in the ransacking of La Fontaine's home and the burning of the Parliament building in Montréal. During his short term in office, La Fontaine succeeded in securing amnesty for the participants in the 1837-38 rebellions. With the help of reformers from Canada West, he brought in responsible government. He also reformed the Canada East judicial system and opened the public service to French Canadians.

In ill health for several years, La Fontaine was growing tired of public life. His wife's illness and Baldwin's resignation motivated him to leave politics, and he resigned on September 26, 1851.

Sources

Monet, Jacques.  -- "La Fontaine, Sir Louis-Hippolyte". -- Dictionnaire biographique du Canada. -- Vol. IX. -- Québec : Presses de l'Université Laval, 1977. -- P. 486-497.