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Joint Premiers of the Province of Canada
Following the abortive Rebellions of 1837, Lord Durham was appointed governor in chief of British North America. In his 1839 Report on the Affairs of British North America, he recommended that Upper and Lower Canada be united under a single Parliament, with responsible government. As a result, in 1841, the first Parliament of Canada was convened.
Although Canada East (the former Lower Canada, now Quebec) and Canada West (the former Upper Canada, now Ontario) were united as a single province with a single government, each administration was led by two men, one from each half of the province.
This form of government proved to be fractious and difficult, leading to frequent changes in leadership -- in just 26 years, the joint premiership changed hands eighteen times.
With the 1848 introduction of responsible government, Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine became the first truly democratic leaders of what would eventually become present-day Canada, and some modern historians view them as essentially Canada's earliest Prime Ministers.
Says Canadian journalist Colby Cosh: "In truth, one or the other was ordinarily recognized as the formal head of government: the Macdonald-Cartier ministry was at times a Cartier-Macdonald ministry, for example, as the first ministership switched from the proto-Ontarian to the proto-Quebecker."
In earlier years, the political groups were loose affiliations rather than modern political parties. The "reformers" allied under the banner of Reformers in Canada West and Patriotes in Canada East, while the "conservatives," meaning supporters of the elitist Family Compact in Canada West and Chateau Clique in Canada East prior to unification, were known as Tories. Although informal alliances existed between each ideological pair, these alliances were not political parties as they exist today.
1854, however, proved a pivotal year in the evolution of Canadian politics. Although the Rouges and the Liberals had already emerged in Canada East, these were relatively fringe groups. In 1854, however, many dissatisfied voters in Canada West turned to the more radical Clear Grit faction, and in order to stay in power traditional reformers in Canada East, under Morin, entered a coalition with the conservatives in Canada West.
The early reformers ultimately dissolved as a political entity. Moderate reformers joined the new "Liberal-Conservative" party, later to become the Conservative Party, while the Clear Grits aligned with the Liberals and the Rouges to create the modern Liberal Party, thereby creating the political party structure that prevails today.
The pattern of new protest parties emerging from time to time, and becoming integrated into the mainstream of Canadian political life, was also established by this realignment. Later groups included the Progressives, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the Social Credit Party of Canada and the Reform Party of Canada.
List of Joint Premiers of the Province of Canada
(titular premier is capitalized):
- Green - reformers (Reformers, Rouges, etc.)
- Yellow - conservatives (see Family Compact, Château Clique)
- Red - Liberal Party
- Blue - Conservative Party
(1) This was a coalition of the moderate wings of the conservative and reform factions, rather than a regionally-based one.
(2) All members of the governing Lafontaine-Baldwin coalition, except Daly, resigned in a protest over unapproved patronage appointments by the British-appointed governor: "the Metcalfe crisis". Daly would continue on as a member of the successor cabinet, headed by Draper.
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