Sir Antoine Dorion - Encyclopedia

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SIR ANTOINE Aime DORION 1 (1816-1891), Canadian lawyer and statesman, son of Pierre Dorion and Genevieve Bureau, was born in the parish of Sainte Anne de la Perade on the 17th of January 1816. He was educated at Nicolet College, and in his twenty-second year went to Montreal to read law with M. Cherrier, an eminent lawyer for whom he retained a lasting friendship. On the 6th of January 1842 he was admitted to the bar of the province, became the partner of M. Cherrier, and in the course of a few years attained the highest rank in his profession. He married in 1848 Iphigenie, daughter of Dr Jean Baptiste Trestler, of Vaudreuil. Dorion descended from an old Liberal family which from early days had supported the reform party in Canada. His father, a merchant of Sainte Anne, was a member of the legislative assembly for the county of Champlain, from 1 In the baptismal certificate the name is entered as "Eme" (= Edme-Aime).

1830 to 1838, and his grandfather, on the maternal side, represented the county of Saint Maurice in the same body from 1819 to 1830. At the time that Dorion commenced the study of law, Canada was entering upon a new phase of her political life. The rebellion of 1837 had resulted in the suspension of the constitution of 1791, and the union of the provinces, effected under the Imperial Act of 1840, was framed to compel the obedience of the refractory population. It was an unsatisfactory measure, providing a single legislature for two provinces, with an equal number of representatives from each province, irrespective of population. At the time the lower province was the larger, but it was foreseen that a tide of English emigration would eventually place the upper province in the stronger position. Indeed, at the date of the Union, there were many English residents in the lower province, so that in the aggregate the English had then the majority. From the first it was apparent that representation by population would become an issue, and for several years there was a constant struggle for the establishment of responsible government, which was only achieved after the contest of 1848, when the La Fontaine-Baldwin administration was maintained in power. The difficulty had been avoided during the first years of the Union by La Fontaine, who succeeded in uniting English and French Liberals, and by substituting principles for race carried out a policy based upon a broader conception of human interests. Although a decisive victory had been gained by La Fontaine and Baldwin in 1848, they did not press for an immediate overthrow of institutions which for years had been a cause of contention, and their influence gradually diminished until, on the 28th of October 1851, the administration was handed over to Hincks and Morin. Liberal principles had now become aggressive; the new leaders did not keep abreast of the spirit of the times, their majority decreased, and, on the 11th of September 1854, a government was formed by McNab and Morin.

The elections of 1854 had brought new blood into the ranks of the Liberal party, young men eager to carry out measures of reform, and Dorion was chosen as leader. Under the coalition brought about by McNab between the Tories of Upper Canada and the Liberals of the lower province old abuses were removed, and, after the abolition of seigneurial tenure and clergy reserves, it appeared that the political atmosphere was clear. In 1856 the question of representation by population was again prominent. Upper Canada had increased, and it contributed a larger share to the revenue, and demanded proportionate representation. La Fontaine had pointed out, at the time he was prime minister, that representation by population would subject the weaker province to the control of the stronger, and that as he would not impose the principle upon Upper Canada at the time he would not concede it, without constitutional restraint, if her position were reversed. Upper Canada now became aggressive and the question had to be settled. Macdonald, who became prime minister in 1856, and had formed a new government with Cartier in 1857, maintained that no amendment to the constitution was necessary; that existing conditions were satisfactory. Brown, on the opposite side of the House, declared that representation by population was imperative, with or without constitutional changes; and Dorion appears to have suggested the true remedy, when he gave notice of a motion in 1856: "That a committee be appointed to inquire into the means that should be adopted to form a new political and legislative organization of the heretofore provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, either by the establishment of their former territorial divisions or by a division of each province, so as to form a federation, having a federal government and a local legislature for each one of the new provinces, and to deliberate as to the course which should be adopted to regulate the affairs of united Canada, in a manner which would be equitable to the different sections of the province." Dorion was in advance of the time. He understood the true principle of federative union as applicable to Canada. But he did not pursue this idea, and in fact his following was never sufficiently strong to enable him to give effect to the sound measures he was so capable of formulating. This, perhaps, was his special weakness. On the 2nd of August 1858 he formed an administration with Brown, but was forced to resign after being in office three days.

When the question of confederation was discussed a few years later he opposed the scheme, believing there was nothing to justify the union at the time, although he admitted "that commercial intercourse may increase sufficiently to render confederation desirable." In 1873 he accepted the portfolio of minister of justice in the Mackenzie government, and during the six months that he was in office passed the Electoral Law of 1874 and the Controverted Elections Act. Dorion sat as member of the assembly for the province of Canada for the city of Montreal from 1854 to 1861, for the county of Hochelaga from 1862 to 1867; as member of the House of Commons for the county of Hochelaga from 1867 to July 1872, and for the county of Napierville from September 1872 to June 1874, when he was appointed chief justice of the province. In 1878 he was created a knight bachelor. He died at Montreal on the 31st of May 1891. No more able or upright judge ever adorned the Canadian bench. He had a broad, clear mind, vast knowledge, and commanded respect from the loftiness of his character and the strength of his abilities. The keynote of his life was an unswerving devotion to duty.

See Dorion, a Sketch, by Fennings Taylor (Montreal, 1865); and "Sir Antoine Arnie Dorion," by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in The Week (1887). (A. G. D.)

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