“Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin” by John Ralston Saul

louishippolyte.jpeg John Ralston Saul believes the government of LaFontaine and Baldwin laid the foundations of Canada at its best.

In this book from the Extraordinary Canadians series, Ralston Saul shows how these two leaders of Lower and Upper Canada respectively worked together to give us the democratic federation we have today. The dates of their success were l848-l85l – not l867 as we are accustomed to celebrate. What they achieved did not reach most Western countries until about a century later. Ralston Saul describes the struggle both Lafontaine and Baldwin faced as power in the new land of Canada gradually passed from the old elites of Whig and Tory to a new Reform party that would give the citizens Responsible Government, free from a governor of the British Empire. It made Canada the first Responsible Government in any colony in imperial history.

Lafontaine and Baldwin were each distinguished leaders in their parts of Canada. They had witnessed the failures of the l837 uprisings, and each had decided on restraint as the only possible way of getting together. The added element was the genuine liking and respect they had for each other and this is a very charming part of the book.

In l840 LaFontaine addressed the electors of Terrebonne saying “no privileged caste beyond and above the mass of the people can exist in Canada.” Baldwin replied: “Reformers of Upper Canada are resolved to unite with their Lower Canadian brethren cordially as friends.”

The book is written clearly and well and explains why Ralston Saul’s thirteen works have been translated into twenty-two languages in thirty countries. It also gives a clear, succinct picture of part of our history that a lot of us wish we had been taught at school !

Review by Anne McDougall