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Christopher Dunkin (1812-1881)

by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

 

Birthplace: Walworth, England

Federal Constituency: Drummond-Arthabaska, Brome (Quebec)

Education: University of London, Glasgow University, Harvard University

Professional Background:

Harvard professor; editor of Montreal´s Morning Courier; secretary of Lord Durham´s Education commission (1838) and the postal service commission (until 1842); assistant provincial secretary, Canada East, 1842-1847; called to the bar in 1846, practised law in Montreal and later in Knowlton, Quebec; served on the Council of Public Instruction in 1859

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Political Career

Christopher Dunkin

Christopher Dunkin was defeated in his first attempt to represent Drummond in the colonial legislative assembly in 1844. His second attempt at politics was more successful, although his tenure was brief: he was elected to the assembly in 1858 to represent Drummond-Arthabaska, but he lost the seat in 1861. Finally, the resilient Dunkin was elected to represent Brome, a seat he held from 1862 until Confederation.

Dunkin contributed to the crisis in government that eventually led to Canadian Confederation when he refused to support the government of fellow Conservatives John A. Macdonald and Etienne-Pascal Taché in 1864. The loss of his vote denied their ministry the majority it needed to stay in power. The legislative gridlock that resulted from the government´s fall led to the desperate coalition of parties that eventually achieved Confederation. Ironically, Dunkin, who represented the English Protestant minority in Quebec´s Eastern Townships, opposed Confederation during the parliamentary debates of 1865. He predicted that the new country would have too many regional, racial, religious and political differences to develop as a nation.

In 1867, Dunkin was elected to both the House of Commons and the Quebec national assembly for Brome. He turned down a Quebec cabinet position because premier-designate Joseph Edouard Cauchon would not introduce and support a bill giving Protestants their own schools. Pierre Joseph Olivier Chauveau, a former associate of Dunkin´s, was more willing to address Protestants´ needs. Chauveau became premier and formed Quebec´s first provincial government. Dunkin was his treasurer from 1867 to 1869 and was so influential that people nicknamed it the "Chauveau-Dunkin" government.

In 1869, Prime Minister Macdonald rearranged his cabinet and needed a new English-speaking Quebec representative. When his first choice, John Henry Pope, refused -- only to accept two years later -- Macdonald appointed Dunkin minister of agriculture. Dunkin, however, was in poor health and losing political support. In 1871, Dunkin resigned and left politics to become a puisne judge of the Superior Court of Quebec until his death in 1881.

Departmental Developments

Dunkin owned a 316-acre industrial-sized farm in Knowlton on Lac Brome and was no stranger to agricultural issues. Like Chapais before him, most of his concerns at the Department of Agriculture had little to do with what would appear to be important to agricultural policy today. Annual reports of the period dwell on immigration issues and the collection of statistics.

Accomplishments as Minister

The only agricultural concern Dunkin appears to have faced was a brief scare over a resurgence of the cattle plague that caused Chapais to ban American horned cattle imports for several weeks in 1868. In 1870, after an investigation by Ontario government officials, Dunkin concluded there was no cause for alarm.

Worth Noting

Dunkin´s political legacy may have more to do with his role as Quebec´s minister of finance than his achievements as Canada´s minister of agriculture.
Dunkin started a tradition in Quebec politics that lasted over a century: appointing an English-speaking member of the assembly as Quebec´s treasurer.

Dunkin might have been ahead of his time on federal-provincial issues, strongly advocating the equality of federal and provincial governments and espousing what biographer Pierre Corbeil calls a "true Quebecker´s view of politics and the Constitution." Dunkin believed the provincial government had to take an active role in Quebec´s economic development, even though provinces depended on Ottawa for revenue.

  Acknowledgements:

© Crown Copyright,  Article on Christopher Dunkin (1812-1881) "; Reproduced with the permission of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2008.

 
 

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