This Week in History
Ernest Lapointe, French-Canadian Rights Advocate
For the week of Monday November 21, 2011
Lapointe was born in Saint-Éloi on October 6, 1876, and grew up in this same rural area of Quebec. He studied law at Laval University and then opened his own practice in Fraserville (Rivière-du-Loup) in 1898. It was at that time that he started attending political meetings. He won his first election at the age of 27, as a Liberal in the federal riding of Kamouraska. When Wilfrid Laurier was head of the opposition, Lapointe became his lieutenant for part of the province of Quebec. In 1912, Laurier chose him to handle the debate on Ontario’s adoption of Regulation 17. The thrust of this Regulation was to abolish French schools, and this was an issue of immense concern to French-speaking communities.
During the First World War, when Prime Minister Borden’s Conservatives were in power, the Liberals under Laurier, including Ernest Lapointe, opposed conscription, which was the mandatory drafting of men into the army. The issue divided the country: a majority of French-Canadians opposed it, preferring voluntary enlistment, while a large number of Anglophones favoured conscription.
In 1921, Mackenzie King succeeded Laurier as Liberal leader. As an influential advisor to King, Ernest Lapointe was briefly Minister of Marine and Fisheries, then served for a long time as Minister of Justice and Attorney General. He pushed for greater Canadian autonomy from the United Kingdom and, in 1923, he signed the first treaty without a British co-signatory. Three years later, Lapointe led the Canadian delegation in the negotiations that led to the enactment, in 1931, of the Statute of Westminster, which recognized Canada’s independence. He also upheld the rights of the provinces and opposed Bennett’s proposed New Deal in 1935, as he deemed this to be federal government interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
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