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Les Patriotes de 1837@1838 - Le rapport Durham : 珷Permettre aux Canadiens fran鏰is d抋vancer sur le terrain ensoleill de la libert et de la prosp閞it...牷
Le rapport Durham : 珷Permettre aux Canadiens fran鏰is d抋vancer sur le terrain ensoleill de la libert et de la prosp閞it...牷
Article diffus depuis le 15 novembre 2007

Photo : Radio-Canda

Une exposition pr閟ent閑 par la Commission de la capitale nationale (CCN) sur la rue Sparks Ottawa a 閠 modifi閑 en octobre 2007 en raison de la controverse qu`elle soul鑦e. Un panneau pr閟entant l`ancien gouverneur Lord Durham comme l`un des personnages marquants de l`histoire canadienne a 閠 retir. Le panneau pr閟entait un portrait flatteur de l`auteur du rapport Durham, r閐ig la suite des r閎ellions de1837 et de1838 dans le Haut-Canada et dans le Bas-Canada. Toutefois, le texte de l`exposition omettait de signaler que Lord Durham avait recommand l`assimilation des Canadiens-Fran鏰is, qu`il qualifiait de peuple 珷sans histoire et sans litt閞ature牷...

Cette d閏ision, on s`en doute, a rapidement provoqu des r閍ctions de part et d`autre de la rivi鑢e des Outaouais. Au Canada anglais on s`en est surtout pris la rectitude politique ayant conduit au retrait du panneau. On consid鑢e en effet qu`il n`existe nulle raison de nier la contribution historique de Lord Durham l`avancement de la d閙ocratie au Canada. N`a-t-il pas 閠 le premier proposer la responsabilit minist閞ielle pour le Canada r閠orque-t-on ? Parmi ces r閍ctions, celle d`une historienne, Janet Ajzenstat, m閞ite d`阾re retenue. Sp閏ialiste de Durham, Mme Ajzenstat reprend une id閑 importante, soit que Durham proposait bien l`assimilation aux Canadiens-Fran鏰is pour "leur propre bien" et voulait simplement permettre aux Canadiens fran鏰is 珷d抋vancer sur le terrain ensoleill de la libert et de la prosp閞it闋 : "C`est pour les tirer de leur inf閞iorit que je veux donner aux Canadiens notre caract鑢e anglais..."牋

Mme Ajzenstat a raison de rappeler que le Rapport Durham est bien plus nuanc et impartial qu`on ne le croit g閚閞alement. Il est cependant tout fait inacceptable qu`on comm閙ore ainsi la m閙oire de son auteur. Durham demeurera toujours un MONUMENT au m閜ris et l`arrogance des Britanniques envers les habitants du Qu閎ec. Loin de le faire oublier, il est bon qu`il ressorte ainsi r間uli鑢ement dans l`actualit, pour rappeler aux Qu閎閏ois combien leur survie culturelle est la fois un fait h閞o飍ue et fragile.

Janet Ajzenstat

The Ottawa Citizen

Mercredi 7 novembre 2007

Should Lord Durham抯 portrait be displayed on the streets of Ottawa ? It hardly matters. His "Report on the Affairs of British North America" lives. It was published in 1839 and has been in print ever since. It will be read as long as there is a Canada, and - dare I say it ? - even afterward.

In the 1840s, both French-speaking and English-speaking reformers hailed the report as the charter of free government. And it fulfilled their hopes. In 1848, Durham抯 recommendation for "responsible government" led to the overthrow of the colonial oligarchies - the Ch鈚eau Clique and the Family Compact. At the Quebec conference of 1864, the Fathers of Confederation used Durham抯 description of British freedoms to create the Parliament of Canada.

But if Durham抯 report is deservedly famous, it is also - deservedly - controversial. Commentators like Gerald Craig, editor of the abridged edition (1963) call it "offensive."

The question of perennial interest for readers today is this : Did Lord Durham expect the French Canadians to adopt the British way of life ? He undoubtedly wanted them to adopt the institutions of British democracy. But did he expect them to abandon their own traditions ?

He says outright that the British "race must ultimately prevail." The British must be "placed in the ascendant." Lower Canada must be "thoroughly assimilated to British ways and institutions." These passages and others like them leave a deep wound. I do not believe that anyone of French origin who reads them will ever warm to Durham.

And yet ! He did not envisage a static future for French Canada. He was himself a mover and a shaker and he wanted the French to get a move on. He wanted them to advance into the sunny uplands of political freedom and prosperity. In fact, he thought they were already advancing.

French-Canadian businessmen and political elites were beginning to build a modern commercial society. They were interested in new technologies (transportation by steamboat, for one thing), and in social and constitutional reform. Durham makes it very clear, moreover, that some Englishmen were impeding French-Canadian ambitions. It suited Englishmen who had acquired seigneuries to keep their tenants down on the farm. It suited the English elites of Montreal to keep the French out of political office. He treats Englishmen with these views harshly.

Most Canadian scholars believe that Durham was wrong on two counts. He was wrong to entertain the idea of assimilation (wrong from a moral standpoint, we might say), and wrong, hopelessly wrong, to suppose that uniting Upper and Lower Canada would accomplish this objective. It is usually said that after the union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1840, the French used the political institutions of the united province - the very institutions that Durham had recommended - to successfully defend the French-Canadian way of life.

Was Durham wrong to suppose that the practice of parliamentary democracy requires - or encourages - cultural homogeneity ? Is it true that despite all hopes to the contrary liberal democracy erodes particular cultures ? The jury is still out.

Durham thought he had the answer. I suggest that what he had is the question. It抯 a question that remains with us : Do the principles of free government require assimilation to a bland and universal way of life ? Is liberal democracy compatible with maintaining a distinctive and particular way of life ? New books are published on the subject every year, not a few by Canadian academics.

蓆ienne Parent was perhaps Durham抯 most devoted reader in 1839. Parent was passionately attached to the French-Canadian nationality and yet also wanted, just as passionately, to see his province governed by the institutions of political freedom that Durham taught. He hoped to reconcile the two beloved "goods" - British freedom and the French-Canadian way of life. His essays on the subject appeared in the famous French-Canadian journal of political opinion, Le Canadien.

In the end, Parent fastened on the idea of a union of the several British North American colonies, including the Maritime provinces - a scheme also briefly contemplated by Durham - in which Lower Canada would enjoy its own parliamentary institutions, modelled on the Mother of Parliaments, and would thus be in a position to maintain its distinctive social institutions.

But the time was not ripe. Shortly after Durham embarked for his return to England (Nov. 1, 1838), the second Rebellion broke out. No British ministry was going to trust the French province with separate political institutions at that time.

But I think we can say that Parent had seen the future. And a short generation later, all had changed.


Janet Ajzenstat, Citizen Special

Historian Janet Ajzenstat is the author of The Political Thought of Lord Durham and most recently, The Canadian Founding, John Locke and Parliament (McGill-Queen抯 University Press, 2007).


Recherche parmi 15772 individus impliqu閟 dans les r閎ellions de 1837-1838.


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