Why was there political deadlock in the United Province of Canada

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Why was there political deadlock in the United Province of Canada during the 1850s and 1860s?
In the period after the acceptance of the principle of responsible government,

governments in Canada were very short-lived and insecure. Between 185-l and 1864, there were 10 different governments and no government lasted long enough to give the colony political stability. Why?

  • the political system produced several equal groupings in the assembly, a n d

the political instability which developed led to political dead lock (a situation where no one can move or win in government) which paved the way to Confederation.

George-Etie1111e Cartier

JoIm A Macdonald

The main political parties in Canada

East were the Bleus,

led by George E.

Cartier, and les Rouges, led by A. A. Dorion, who drew their support from French Canadian nationalists.

The main political parties in Ca nada West were the

Conservatives, led

by Joh n A. Macdonald 1

(Tories), and the

Libera ls (Grits), led by George Brown.

Non e of these political parties, from either

Ca nada East or

Canada West, were

able to win a majority in the united


Antoine-Aimé Dorion.

The leader of the Liberals, George Brown, believed that the way to b rea k the deadlock was to recognize the greater population of Canada West in the electoral system. He demanded "rep by pop" (representation by population) as the basic principle for any new political arrangement. It would in effect give Canada West more MPs, and therefore more power than Canada East.

In 1863, he agreed to work with John A. Macdonald and George-Etienne Cartier, Macdonald's partner from Canada East, to make major changes.

This coalition (a political alliance of two or· more political parties who agree to vote together in parliament), of the two leaders of Canada West with the leader of the larger party from Canada East was known as the Great Coalition.

The problem was to develop an arrangement which would not leave Canada East as a less important pa r t of the colony. One way to do this was to include other colonies in a political arrangement, so that Canada West would be balanced by these other colonies.
Various forces from outside were beginning to push Canada and Britain's other colonies in North America togethe r.
The American Threat

The British colonies of North America felt threatened by the United States. Manifest Destiny, belief that all of North America should belong to the United States, was a view held by m any
Americans during the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). Canadians were afraid the Americans would invade Canada in retaliation for Britain's actions and support of the Southern states during the course of the Civil War.
A further threat was posed by the Fenians, Irish nationalists, who wanted independence from Britain. They had a lot of support from Irish Americans. The Fenians wanted to capture the colonies in Canada and use them to force Britain to give Ireland its freedo m.

In 1854, the British North American colonies had signed a Reciprocity Treaty with the USA for a ten-yea r period. In 1865, the American government decided to end the treaty. The British North America n colonies now intensified efforts to establish intercolonial trade to offset the loss of the America n market. Un ion of the colonies could remove tariffs and trade barriers between them and promote trade.


The construction of an intercolonial railway between Canada and the Maritimes was necessary since all goods were being transported on American lines and the Grand Trunk Railway needed increased traffic on its line to avoid bankruptcy.

In addition, a transcontinental railway uniting the Atlantic to the Pacific would have to be built to open up the West and to prevent a possible takeover by the United States.

Railway construction however was extremely expensive.
The only way to ensure its construction would be for all the colonies to unite and to contribute to its construct ion.
The British Attitude
The British were interested in seeing the colonies unite, because the cost of defence could be taken over by the colonies. To the British, it made good sense for t h e colonies to join together to make a larger union, which would be strong enough, with some support from Britain, to stand up to the United States.

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