Oliver Mowat

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Oliver Mowat

Sir Oliver Mowat , GCMG , PC , QC (born July 22, 1820 in Kingston , Upper Canada , †  April 19, 1903 in Toronto ) was a Canadian politician . He is a co-founder of the Liberal Party of Canada . As one of the fathers of the Confederation , he was one of the pioneers of the Canadian state founded in 1867. Mowat was the Prime Minister of Ontario from October 25, 1872 to July 21, 1896 . His tenure of almost 24 years is the longest of any head of government in that province and the third longest of any province. During this time he was also chairman of the Ontario Liberal Party . Under his leadership, Ontario developed into Canada's economic focus. He was also able to weaken the power of the federal government in favor of the provinces, which was of great importance, especially in relation to the question of the exploitation of natural resources. In 1896/97 he was a senator and minister of justice in Wilfrid Laurier's federal cabinet. He was then Lieutenant Governor Ontario until his death . Oliver Mowat is the great-great-uncle of the writer Farley Mowat .

Profession and entry into politics

Mowat's parents were from Caithness , Scotland . His father John was a soldier in the British-American War in 1814 and then settled in Kingston , where he ran a shop. Oliver Mowat was taught by different tutors and passed the entrance examination in 1836 of the Law Society of Upper Canada (Law Society of Upper Canada ). Since there were no law faculties at that time, future lawyers could only acquire their knowledge after passing the entrance examination as employees of an established lawyer. In the case of Mowat, this was John Macdonald , the future Prime Minister of Canada.

In 1841 Mowat was admitted to the bar and opened a law firm with two partners, from 1851 he was the sole owner. He specialized in commercial law , which proved to be lucrative due to the increasing development of the country and the resulting disputes over property. Mowat rose to become one of the most renowned lawyers in Upper Canada.

In 1837 Mowat belonged to the militia loyal to the king during the Upper Canada rebellion , thereby revealing a more conservative attitude on political issues. But over time he became increasingly skeptical of the policies of John Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and other figures of the Conservative Party and instead joined the liberal reformers. In 1857 and 1858 he was a member of the Toronto City Council .

Provincial politics

Also in 1857 Mowat was elected to the Canadian Parliament. In Parliament he was a close ally of George Brown . In his government, which lasted only four days in September 1858, he was provincial secretary . Only that of the Prime Minister was superior to this office; it included numerous tasks, including maintaining external relations and maintaining the seal. Mowat was a proponent of representative democracy and convinced the Reform Party at their congress in 1859 that this goal could most easily be achieved within a confederation of British colonies in North America.

John Sandfield Macdonald appointed Mowat postmaster-general in May 1863 . During his ten-month tenure, he negotiated new mail transportation contracts with the Grand Trunk Railway and the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company . He then actively campaigned for the creation of a Canadian confederation . In October 1864, for example, he took part in the Québec Conference , which laid down the basic structure of the Canadian constitution . A month later, Mowat was elected Vice Chancellor of the Court of Chancery , the highest court responsible for commercial law in the province of Canada, whereupon he retired from politics for several years. Nevertheless, in 1867 he was one of the founding members of the Liberal Party of Canada , which emerged from the Reform Party.

prime minister

At the suggestion of George Brown, Edward Blake and Alexander Mackenzie , Mowat was appointed on October 25, 1872 after Blake's resignation to his successor as Prime Minister and Attorney General of Ontario. On the same day he also took over the chairmanship of the Ontario Liberal Party and a month later he won a by-election in the constituency of Oxford North without opposition.

Mowat weakened federal power in favor of the province. In numerous court cases he succeeded in gradually wrestling powers from John Macdonald's conservative federal government, for example in the issue of alcohol licenses, forestry and the rights to mineral resources. As a result, the Canadian state became much more decentralized than Macdonald had actually intended with the Canadian Confederation. Mowat reformed the electoral law by introducing voting secrecy and expanding the circle of those entitled to vote beyond the landowners. He invested in schools, modernized the administration and enlarged the territory of the province into the still largely undeveloped north and west.

During Mowat's tenure, Ontario became not only the most populous province, but also Canada's economic center. In 1883, the discovery of natural resources set in motion a real economic boom. In 1896 the highest British court, the Justice Committee of the Privy Council , declared that the federal government could only dispose of the energy reserves in the event of war. This gave the provinces extensive powers in peacetime, which they later tried to extend to other areas such as education and health. The Liberals also advocated free trade with the United States .

Mowat's government was moderate, attempting to overcome the division in the province between Catholics and Protestants, urban and rural populations, and English and French speakers. The peaceful coexistence seemed endangered in 1885 when Louis Riel led the Northwest Rebellion . Again clashes between language and denominational groups occurred as a result of the Manitoba school dispute in the neighboring province of Manitoba , which lasted from 1890 to 1896. The conservative opposition repeatedly accused the Presbyterian Mowat of working too closely with the Roman Catholic Church. The crisis was exacerbated by a recession that began in 1893.

Minister of Justice and Lieutenant Governor

After lengthy negotiations, Mowat announced on May 4, 1896 that he would support the Liberal Party of Canada led by Wilfrid Laurier in view of the upcoming general election . The Liberals were well established in Ontario and Laurier was determined to capitalize on their voter potential at the federal level. Mowat was the ideal symbolic figure for the respect of the rights of the provinces and the balance between language communities and denominations. On July 13, 1896, a month after the election victory, Laurier appointed him Minister of Justice and Senator . Eight days later, Arthur Sturgis Hardy succeeded him as Head of Government of Ontario.

In July 1897, Mowat indicated that he would soon resign because federal politics in Ottawa did not appeal to him. He returned to Toronto and became Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Ontario on November 18, 1897 . His health deteriorated noticeably. In March 1903 he was unable to open the new parliamentary session because of a badly healed thigh fracture. He died on April 19, 1903 at the age of 82.


  • A. Margaret Evans: Sir Oliver Mowat. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1992, ISBN 0-8020-3392-X .

Web links

Commons : Oliver Mowat  - Collection of images, videos and audio files