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
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
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.
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.