Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin

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Penguin Canada, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 253 pages

Canada has no better interpreter than prolific writer and thinker John Ralston Saul. Here he argues that Canada did not begin in 1867; indeed, its foundation was laid by two visionary men, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin. The two leaders of Lower and Upper Canada, respectively, worked together after the 1841 Union to lead a reformist movement for responsible government run by elected citizens instead of a colonial governor.

But it was during the 'Great Ministry' of 1848 - 51 that the two politicians implemented laws that created a more equitable country. They revamped judicial institutions, created a public education system, made bilingualism official, designed a network of public roads, began a public postal system, and reformed municipal governance. Faced with opposition, and even violence, the two men - polar opposites in temperament - united behind a set of principles and programs that formed modern Canada. Writing with verve and deep conviction, Saul restores these two extraordinary Canadians to rightful prominence.

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A fine addition to this series of short, well written biographies. Saul's book reads like a novel, which makes it a pleasure. He argues passionately that the actions of Lafontaine and Baldwin set the pattern for Canadian democracy. For Saul that consists especially in a practical rejection of European ideologies and sectarian politics in favour of the acceptance of complexity/diversity and the practice of restraint. I found his continual use of the word 'race' jarring in a contemporary text, although he uses it more or less in a nineteenth century way, e.g.,. the "Anglo-Saxon race", the "French race", etc. It would be easy for some readers to interpret his usage as implying some biological basis for this usage although that was unlikely given that 'race' could also be used to refer to, for example, a "race of barbers" or a "race of merchants". 

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About the author (2010)

John Ralston Saul's philosophical trilogy - Voltaire's Bastards, The Doubter's Companion and The Unconscious Civilization - has had a growing impact on political thought in many countries. A further work, On Equilibrium,is a persuasive and groundbreaking exploration of the human struggle for personal and social balance.

Mr. Saul has written five novels, including The Birds of Prey and The Field Trilogy. These works deal with the crisis of modern power and its clash with the individual. Like his non-fiction, his novels have been translated into many languages.

He has received many national and international awards for his work. The Unconscious Civilization won the 1996 Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction as well as the Gordon Montador Award for Best Canadian Book on Social Issues. His reinterpretation of the nature of Canada, Reflections of a Siamese Twin, also won a Montador Award and was chosen by Macfean's magazine as one of the ten best non-fiction books of the twentieth century. His novel The Paradise Eaterwon the Premio Lettarario Internazionate in Italy. Most recently he received the Pablo Neruda Medal in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Neruda's birth.

Mr. Saul was born in Ottawa and studied at McGill University and the University of London, where h

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