Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Ernest Lapointe

Ernest Lapointe: Mackenzie King's Great Quebec Lieutenant

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ernest Lapointe
    Book Description:

    Details the relationship between Quebec lieutenant Ernest Lapointe and Prime Minister Mackenzie King, showing how the close association of the two affected Canadian history in many important ways.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7459-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE National Attention
    (pp. 3-13)

    On a bitterly cold night in February 1916 the Parliament Buildings on the bluff above the Ottawa River were gutted by fire; whether the cause was an overheated furnace or wartime sabotage no one knew. The homeless parliamentarians were transferred to makeshift quarters in the Victoria Natural History Museum, a barracklike structure outside the capitalʹs downtown. (As the joke ran, the fossils were moved out and a new batch moved in.) The Department of Public Works did its best to create some semblance of the grandeur and dignity of the green and red chambers, but it had little to work...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Conscription
    (pp. 14-22)

    Although the United States entered the war in April 1917, the Americans could not be mobilized quickly enough to reinforce the dwindling Allied troops. On 18 May Prime Minister Borden announced to a divided country that he intended to introduce conscription for overseas service – something he had assured Canadians would never happen. In the hope that conscription would be viewed as a non-partisan policy, Borden tried to induce Laurier to enter into a coalition. The prospect of conscription, however, was creating near hysteria in Quebec, where mobs, raised to fury by nationalist tirades, were breaking the windows of newspapers...

  7. CHAPTER THREE King-Maker
    (pp. 23-34)

    The convention to choose Laurierʹs successor opened on Tuesday, 5 August 1919, in the Howick Building in Ottawaʹs Exhibition Grounds. There were over a thousand voting delegates, a radical departure from the past, when leaders had been chosen by the parliamentary caucus. As a prominent member of the planning committee, Ernest Lapointe was quoted in the press as saying that ʹSir Wilfrid Laurier had been leader of a democratic party and it was therefore fitting that his successor should be chosen not by a coterie of politicians but by a great democratic convention,ʹ¹ It was a sorely divided gathering: eastern...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Cabinet Minister
    (pp. 35-48)

    The parliamentary session opened on 26 February 1920 in the rebuilt Parliament Buildings, much grander than before the fire and destined to be truly magnificent when the Peace Tower – a national memorial to the war dead – was completed. Borden was down south for his health, and Sir George Foster was acting prime minister. Neither Foster nor Mackenzie King excited as much press comment as T.A. Crerar, who headed up the new Progressive party, an amalgamation of the eastern and western farmer MPs. Ranged along the cross benches the Progressives sat in judgment on government and opposition.

    The Liberal...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Diplomat
    (pp. 49-61)

    On 22 August 1922 Ernest Lapointe, accompanied by his wife, sailed for Europe on theEmpress of Scotland, one of the CPRʹs luxurious steamships. Lapointe and the minister of finance, William Fielding, were bound for Geneva to represent Canada at the third Assembly of the League of Nations. Canada had made its debut on the international stage two years earlier, when the Meighen government sent a delegation to the first session of the League Assembly. The purpose of the League was to ensure that the Great War would be the war to end all wars. Although Woodrow Wilson had fathered...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Relative Obscurity
    (pp. 62-72)

    In the words of J.K. Munro, Lapointe returned to Canada from Europe ʹplump and lazy.ʹ Formerly one of Lapointeʹs admirers, the influentialMacleanʹscolumnist rebuked him for deserting the cause of ʹthe newer Liberalism.ʹ He ʹwould rather gather a few more millions to improve Quebec harbourʹ than attempt to reduce the nefarious influence of St James Street on the government. According to Munro, Lapointeʹs ʹcontribution to statesmanship of recent vintageʹ was merely to have a Quebec City resident appointed to the CNR board of directors.¹ As Munroʹs censure shows, Lapointeʹs career was in the doldrums despite his triumphs abroad.


  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Minister of Justice
    (pp. 73-85)

    The post of justice minister carried with it material and social advantages for Ernest Lapointe. As a senior minister he had a salary of $10,000, plus an indemnity of $4,000 for expenses, at a time when the average family of four lived on $1,500 a year. Naturally he had to give up his law practice. He moved his family to Ottawa, leasing the spacious ground floor of a converted mansion on Chapel Street in the residential district of Sandy Hill. Whether by chance or design, it was half a block from Laurier House, the fine residence King had inherited from...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Leader of the House
    (pp. 86-98)

    It was the dog days of August. The ministers reluctantly left their summer homes for a cabinet meeting in Ottawa, but that did not account for the glum faces around the cabinet table. The government was entering its fifth year. It would soon have to call an election, and its prospects were not good. The Liberal regimes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had been toppled due in no small part to Kingʹs neglect of the East while catering to the West. The only remaining Liberal strongholds were Saskatchewan, which Charles Dunning had swept in a June election, and Quebec....

  13. CHAPTER NINE The Bilingual Schools Issue
    (pp. 99-106)

    On 15 March 1926 the House of Commons reconvened after its brief adjournment. Following tradition, the new member for Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, had to ask for his right to take his seat, so Ernest Lapointe escorted the prime minister up to the Speakerʹs chair and solemnly introduced him to the Speaker. Standing no higher than Lapointeʹs chin, King looked pale but pleased. The cheering Liberals were all sporting red carnations in their buttonholes, as were many of the opposition and the press. This note of gaiety, it was hoped, would forecast a less acrimonious House than before the adjournment. King...

  14. CHAPTER TEN The Margaret Affair
    (pp. 107-119)

    The week following the dissolution of Parliament on 4 July 1926 was exhausting for Lapointe, who was in poor health. There were long meetings in Kingʹs office, telephone discussions, a working dinner at Laurier House. King was building an election issue out of the governor generalʹs refusal to grant him a dissolution while giving one to Meighen, and Lapointe had to draft statements to the press involving elaborate constitutional and legal arguments. Eventually King noticed how tired Lapointe was. ʹThe truth is,ʹ he wrote in his diary, ʹthat like the rest of us he is done out after the strain...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Imperial Conference of 1926
    (pp. 120-134)

    On 9 October 1926 the White Star linerMeganticleft Quebec City for Liverpool. It made smooth passage down the St Lawrence, and the passengers, lounging in deck chairs, watched the glorious autumn colour unroll along the shores. When the ship reached the open sea, however, rough water caused most passengers to retire to their staterooms.

    The Canadians on shipboard bound for the Imperial Conference in London formed an exclusive coterie. There was the small, rotund prime minister and his benefactor Peter Larkin, the Canadian high commissioner in London, who during his home leave had cajoled Bank of Montreal directors...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE The Dominion-Provincial Conference of 1927
    (pp. 135-142)

    In 1927 Canada celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. At the time of the Golden Jubilee there had been no thought of celebration because the country was at war. Now, sixty years after Confederation, Canadians were in a party mood. From Halifax to Vancouver, downtown buildings were festooned with red, white, and blue bunting, while a forest of flagpoles flying the Union Jack sprouted in residential districts. On the first of July, every village, no matter how small, mustered a band concert, a militia march past (or at least a Boy Scouts parade), and a picnic in the park. Such an occasion...

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN The ʹPersonsʹ Case
    (pp. 143-152)

    The close collaboration between Lapointe and King worked well and was a source of satisfaction to both. Lapointe never disputed that King was ʹthe boss.ʹ Still, King rarely took a step unless he could bring Lapointe on side. When it came to Quebec King deferred almost entirely to Lapointe, though not always in good grace – ʹI agreed under protest and only at the unanimous wish of Quebec colleagues,ʹ was his reaction on one occasion.¹ Quebecʹs constant monetary demands, funnelled through Lapointe, worried the thrifty prime minister. The $5 million for Quebec harbour in 1925 was just the beginning; within...

  18. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Silver Anniversaries
    (pp. 153-160)

    For the first time since 1904, Ernest Lapointe missed the opening of Parliament. A few days before the opening on 7 February 1929, he had slipped on an icy step and sprained his knee.¹ Despite stormy weather with huge snow drifts, Mimy and Odette attended the gala event. Photographed by theOttawa Citizen, Mimy Lapointe made a handsome, dignified figure in a gown of white chiffon with gold embroidery and the obligatory elbow-length white kid-gloves. Odette was a fashionable flapper in ʹa picturesque frock of pale green moire, with bustle effect in the back and large bow at the shoulders,...

  19. CHAPTER FIFTEEN The 1929 Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation
    (pp. 161-170)

    Ernest Lapointe arrived in London in October 1929 to head the Canadian delegation to the Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation (ODL). The Balfour report from the Imperial Conference of 1926 had recommended equal status with Britain for the self-governing Dominions, but it had not spelled out how this was to be achieved. Instead, it provided for a committee of legal experts to survey British statutes affecting the Dominions and to recommend which ones should be amended or repealed. The purpose of the present conference was to carry out this task before the next Imperial Conference in 1930.¹


    (pp. 171-181)

    In the late summer of 1929, a young journalist named Wilfrid Eggleston was sent to Ottawa by theToronto Star. To him ʹeveryone in Ottawa seemed to be playing the stock market. It was a fever. The brokersʹ offices were jammed to the doorway during the lunch hour. The gossip of the day ran to stories of killings made by lucky speculators.ʹ¹ On 29 October 1929 the euphoria ended abruptly. Wall Street crashed, causing devastation on the Canadian stock exchanges. Lapointe probably invested some of his newly acquired capital of $125,000 in the stock market before the Crash since he...

  21. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Member of the Opposition
    (pp. 182-190)

    In the May 1931 issue of the womenʹs magazineChatelaine, Madame Lapointe was quoted as saying that ʹwhen a man who follows politics is out of office he may profess to be glad, but he really feels like a fish out of water,ʹ¹ Mimy certainly knew her husbandʹs true feelings. How galling it was for him to see the Conservatives represent Canada at the Imperial Conference of 1930. Lapointe was like the actor who attends all the rehearsals then misses the performance. At the 1926 Imperial Conference he and Mackenzie King had established Dominion autonomy in principle. At the 1929...

  22. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Back in Power
    (pp. 191-201)

    The devastating effect of the depression was threatening the two-party system in Canada, which had been re-established with the demise of the Progressives. The inability of the governing Conservatives to relieve the widespread misery created a cynical, anti-government sentiment. In the privacy of his diary, Mackenzie King expressed the fear that the public did not regard the Liberals as much better. Both old parties were believed to be in the pockets of the ʹtrustsʹ who bankrolled their campaigns. In Kingʹs opinion, this was the real impetus for a socialist movement that was spreading on the prairies.¹ Headed by J.S. Woodsworth,...

  23. CHAPTER NINETEEN The Ethiopian Crisis
    (pp. 202-210)

    Glancing around the table at the first meeting of the new cabinet on 25 October 1935, Lapointe saw a number of fresh faces. He had agreed with King that these were the best men available, taking into consideration the usual regional factors. James Ilsley, a Nova Scotia lawyer, had sat in Parliament during the last Liberal administration. A Rhodes scholar, he had a brilliant mind, and the fact that he was a poor speaker would be no drawback in the post of minister of national revenue. Clarence Howe from the Lakehead in northern Ontario was a new recruit and a...

  24. CHAPTER TWENTY The Curse of Patronage
    (pp. 211-223)

    Five years of R.B. Bennettʹs neglect had created a pent-up demand in Quebec for patronage. After the election that returned the Liberals to power, their ʹfamished supporters,ʹ¹ as Henri Bourassa remarked humorously to King, descended upon Lapointe. Both Taschereauʹs and Gouinʹs people had campaigned for the federal Liberals; now they were clamouring for their reward.

    Lapointeʹs riding of Quebec East was a microcosm of the provincial situation, with rival groups fighting for control of patronage. The Club Mercier, long a centre of Liberal influence in Quebec East, had been taken over by ALN supporters. Strangely enough, these bolters still claimed...

  25. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  26. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE The Padlock Act
    (pp. 224-234)

    On 5 January 1937 Mackenzie King was having tea with the apostolic delegateʹs secretary at Laurier House. Monsignor Mossoni had spent the holidays in Quebec. Over the teacups he confided to his host that Ernest Lapointe was losing his hold on the province, even among the clergy. King was surprised to hear this, though Lapointe had been telling him the same thing for months.¹ King did not seem to understand what had happened in Quebec. He even expressed the opinion that it might be easier to deal with an opposition government than the provincial Liberals. Lapointe knew better. In the...

  27. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO Aberhartʹs Legislation Disallowed
    (pp. 235-247)

    Canada in the 1930s was not the country envisaged by the Fathers of Confederation. The neat division of powers set out so confidently in 1867 had proved to be a jurisdictional hornetsʹ nest. The financial relationship between the Dominion and the provinces obviously had to be revised. While Duplessis and Hepburn were straining to distance themselves from Ottawa, the western premiers were clamouring at the door, cap in hand. The price of wheat had fallen so low that it hardly paid farmers to grow it; then nature stepped in and turned the prairies into a dust bowl. Heavy spending on...

  28. CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE In the Appeasersʹ Camp
    (pp. 248-258)

    Lapointeʹs refusal to disallow the Padlock Act had as much to do with events abroad as at home. There were war clouds on the horizon. If Britain went to war, it was inevitable that the anglophone majority in Canada would insist on fighting by its side. He would then be called upon to bring in his unwilling compatriots. Under these circumstances he could ill afford to quash legislation that was so popular in the province. Meanwhile, he and King wholeheartedly endorsed Chamberlainʹs appeasement policy. Hitler, emboldened by his unopposed takeover of Austria, was demanding the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia on the...

  29. CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR Neutrality Abandoned
    (pp. 259-270)

    At the opening of Parliament on 16 January 1939, Mackenzie King enunciated Laurierʹs famous dictum, ʹWhen Britain is at war, Canada is at war.ʹ Lapointe was horrified. Afterwards he reminded the prime minister that since the Statute of Westminster, Canada was no longer a colony that would automatically be at war alongside Britain. Canada would be at war only if the Canadian cabinet, and not the British ministers, so advised. Sir Wilfridʹs statement had been made in 1910 and was completely out of date, he told King.¹

    At caucus two days later, however, the anglophone MPs and senators showered praise...

  30. CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE Canada Goes to War
    (pp. 271-283)

    After theSt Louisincident, Lapointe concentrated on the domestic political situation. A federal election would likely take place in 1939, and his job was to deliver Quebec. When Duplessis became premier in 1936, Lapointe had become extremely pessimistic about the federal Liberalsʹ chances in Quebec in the next election. But in the summer of 1939 he changed his mind. Duplessis had lost much of his popularity. The provincial debt was up substantially, and so were taxes. Unemployment continued to be high. Quebecʹs new hours of work legislation had actually led to less take-home pay for the employed.

    Many Quebec...

  31. CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX Duplessis Beaten
    (pp. 284-295)

    Hitlerʹs blitzkrieg made short work of Poland. Military intervention by England and France was strategically impossible, and within two weeks the country was conquered and partitioned between Germany and Russia. Recruiting had begun in Canada. Although the patriotic fervour of 1914 was missing, young Canadians, especially the British-born, answered the call, and high unemployment created a strong incentive to volunteer. On 19 September the government announced that a division of 16,000 volunteers would go overseas. At this time Norman Rogers, who had proved himself as minister of labour, replaced the inadequate Ian Mackenzie as minister of defence.¹

    Recruitment in Quebec...

  32. CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN Wartime Election
    (pp. 296-311)

    In Kingʹs opinion, Lapointe had always been overly influenced by the RCMP.¹ Now with the war on, he seemed to adopt Commissioner Woodʹs repressive anti-subversion measures without question. In fact, when the Defence of Canada Regulations were being drafted, Lapointe instructed John MacNeil of his department to defer to the RCMP: they should be ʹthe guiding lightʹ because they were ʹcloser to the facts than we are.ʹ² As originally issued, the defence regulations applied only to individuals suspected of subversive activity. By November 1939 there were some three to four hundred internees – mainly German nationals and Bundists.³ But Wood...

  33. CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT The National Resources Mobilization Act
    (pp. 312-323)

    Lapointe had promised French Canada over and over again that participation in the war would be voluntary and moderate. By June 1940 he realized that it would be impossible to keep that promise. France was about to fall, and Britain was stoically preparing for the possibility of invasion. With the Allied cause going from bad to worse, Churchill introduced an Emergency Powers Act giving the government control over manpower and production. In English Canada a growing clamour arose for the King government to follow suit. At the Liberal caucus meeting on 5 June 1940 a Toronto MP raised the subject...

    (pp. 324-335)

    While German troops occupied most of France, Hitler devised the fiction of a free French state in the southern part of the country and administered under Marshal Pétain from the spa city of Vichy. The establishment of Vichy caused a rift between English and French Canada. English Canada regarded Vichy France as Hitlerʹs puppet state, pure and simple. French Canada, largely because of Marshal Pétainʹs enormous prestige, accepted Vichy as the legitimate government of France and an improvement over the anticlerical Third Republic.

    Lapointe venerated Pétain and could not believe that the old marshal and General Weygand were traitors, as...

  35. CHAPTER THIRTY Last Days
    (pp. 336-347)

    By the spring of 1941 Hitler had conquered all of western Europe and the Balkans. In North Africa the British had been forced out of Libya and had retreated to Egypt. On the Atlantic the loss of Allied shipping from German submarines had reached astronomical proportions. Cabinet renewed discussion of the conscription issue. The two Canadian divisions had not as yet seen action; however, defence minister Ralston advised that replacement troops would be needed when the Canadians were released from their holding pens in British camps and sent into battle. But King remained adamant. On 30 April he told his...

  36. Conclusion
    (pp. 348-354)

    The first Parti Québécois premier, René Lévesque, acknowledged to a journalist that Ernest Lapointe had held Quebec ʹin the palm of his hand.ʹ¹ Although Lévesqueʹs predecessors, thenationalistesof the 1930s, disparaged Lapointe as a federalist ʹsell-out,ʹ the masses of French Canadians trusted Lapointeʹs down-to-earth assurances that he was looking after their interests in Ottawa. Throughout his long career in federal politics, Lapointe worked steadily for French Canadians to be treated as equals with the English, to receive their share of government posts and patronage, to have them feel that they were ʹof Canada as well as in Canada.ʹ He...

  37. Notes
    (pp. 355-398)
  38. Bibliography
    (pp. 399-404)
  39. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 405-406)
  40. Index
    (pp. 407-426)