Reform movement (pre-Confederation Canada)

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The Reform movement, sometimes referred to as the Reform Party, began in the 1830s as the movement in the English speaking parts of British North America (Canada). It agitated initially for republicanism, and later for responsible government.[1] The movement dissolved after responsible government was granted to the Province of Canada in 1848, with members forming the Parti bleu and Parti rouge in Canada East and the Liberal Party in Canada West, among other smaller parties.


In Maritime Canada, these movements were also referred to as Liberal, and later became the Liberal parties in those colonies. (See also PEI Liberal Party, New Brunswick Liberal Party, Nova Scotia Liberal Party, Liberal Party of Newfoundland). The most prominent Reformer in the Maritimes was Joseph Howe.

In Upper Canada (Ontario), the Reform movement was formed in opposition to the Family Compact.[2] It was led initially by William Lyon Mackenzie, who became the principal figure in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. Mackenzie went into exile as a result of the failed rebellion. The uprising led to the 1839 Durham Report, which recommended responsible government and the union of Upper and Lower Canada as a means of assimilating Francophones. Only the union of the Canadas was to be immediately implemented.

In 1841, the Act of Union went into effect. Upper Canada became Canada West, forming with Canada East (Quebec) the United Province of Canada. The leaders of the Reform movement in Canada West at this point were Robert Baldwin and Francis Hincks. The Reformers worked with Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and moderate French Canadians to form government at various points in the 1840s.[3] They eventually succeeded in obtaining a democratically accountable executive and the first administration under the principle of responsible government came to power in 1848.


The Reformers were more a loose movement than a party. Individual members voted independently on various issues. By the 1850s, the Reform movement had dissipated: moderate reformers had joined with Tories in 1854 to form a Liberal-Conservative coalition government under the leadership of John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier. This was the basis of what was to become the Conservative Party.

Left wing Reformers, along with the Clear Grits, promoted electoral reform, and reciprocity with the United States. In 1857, under the leadership of George Brown, the Clear Grits and left wing Reformers formed the Liberal Party in Canada West. This party would later join with the Parti rouge and Maritime Liberal parties to form the Liberal Party of Canada

See also


  1. ^ Romney, Paul (1999). Getting it Wrong: How Canadians Forgot Their Past and Imperilled Confederation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 57–8.
  2. ^ The Canadian Encyclopedia : Reform Movement in Upper Canada
  3. ^ Cornell, Paul (1962). The Alignment of Political Groups in Canada, 1841-1867. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 100-102.