Gary Levy is Editor of the Canadian
Arthur Beauchesne was Clerk of the House of
Commons from 1925 to 1949. Best known for his book, Rules and Forms of the
House of Commons, which became the definitive work on Canadian parliamentary procedure,
he also participated in most of the great political debates of the first part
of this century as a candidate in 1908, 1912 and 1953, as a journalist from
1897 to 1904. a senior parliamentary official from 1916 to 1949 and a freelance
writer and consultant until his death in 1959. A prolific writer on
parliamentary and non parliamentary topics, Beauchesne was a much sought after
public speaker before, during and after his years at the Table. This is the
first in a four part series that examines a few facets of this remarkable, but
little known parliamentary official. (All direct quotes have been translated or
summarized. For the original French text see this issue of the Revue
The Beauchesnes traced their ancestry on
Canadian soil back nearly three centuries. The family left France and settled
in Acadia. Following the expulsion of the Acadians the Beauchesnes moved north
and west. One branch eventually settled in Nicolet County on the south shore of
the St. Lawrence across from Bécancour. Arthur's father, Pierre-Clovis, was
still a student when the family moved from Nicolet to Carleton, a small
community in Bonaventure county in the southern part of Gaspé.
Pierre-Clovis Beauchesne became a notary in
1865. Soon he was one of the area's leading citizens serving as
Secretary-General of the township from 1866-1879, Collector of Customs from
1871 to 1874 and President of the St. Jean Baptiste Society. Attracted to
public life, he was elected by acclamation to the Quebec Legislative Assembly
in 1874. At the general election held the following year he won re-election
defeating John Hamilton by a very small margin. Hamilton challenged the result
claiming his opponent benefited from "undue clerical influence".
According to testimony at the trial at least two priests had threatened to
with-hold the sacraments to persons who voted for Beauchesne. The courts
declared the election nul and void.
Beauchesne stayed out of politics for a
while but in 1879 a seat in the House of Commons became vacant and he was
elected. again by acclamation, as an independent Conservative. He claimed to be
a supporter of Sir John A. Macdonald, "in all measures tending to
improvement and progress, to civil and religious liberty, and to the
maintenance of the British connection in the strongest possible manner."'
He did not run in 1883 but was appointed Collector of Customs for the port of
Pasébiac. He moved to Montreal following his retirement in 1913 and died five
In 1871 Pierre-Clovis Beauchesne married
Caroline Olivia Lefebvre de Bellefeuille, also of Acadian Ancestry. They had
six sons (one of whom drowned at an early age) and three daughters.
Leonidas-Emile-Arthur Beauchesne was born on
June 15, 1876 in Carleton, a pretty white-cottaged village situated on the Baie
des Chaleurs. Among Beauchesne's papers is an outline of a novel, clearly
intended to be autobiographical, whose main character is of Acadian descent and
son of a former Member of Parliament. Beauchesne describes his hero as bold,
intelligent. easily offended. When not yet ten years old, his greatest pleasure
derived from sticking bits of paper on the backs of passers-by and hiding the
workmen's tools.2 The youth was sent to college in New Brunswick.
In real life young Arthur was enrolled at
St. Joseph's, an Acadian county college in Memramcook, near Moncton. New
Brunswick. Operated by the Religieux de Ste. Croix it offered both commercial
and classical courses. No students were allowed to obtain a classical diploma
until they had obtained a commercial one. Instruction was given equally in
English and French.
Beauchesne was an outstanding student. In
his final year he finished first in his class in philosophy logic and
metaphysics; second in chemistry and third in trigonometry. He was chosen to
give the valedictory address and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in
1895. The following year he enrolled at Laval University receiving a Bachelor
of Letters (Literature) on June 20, 1897. At the same time he took his first
job as private secretary to Pierre Evariste Leblanc, Conservative Member of the
Legislature for Laval and Speaker of the Quebec Assembly since 1892.
From the very beginning Beauchesne saw the
legislature from the perspective of the presiding officer. He also became
acquainted rapidly with all the leading Conservative politicians of the day and
was privy to the many intrigues and scandals which beset the party. The
Conservatives established a Commission to investigate conditions in Montreal
prison in 1897 and Beauchesne was named Secretary of the Commission. It never
made a report, however, as the Conservatives were defeated in the May 1897
election. A few months later Beauchesne began his career as a journalist with
La Minerve was a middle of the road
Conservative news paper that had supported Georges E. Cartier and his
followers. The owner, Eusèbe Sénécal, had fallen on hard times and on Saturday
December 18. 1897 he suspended publication leaving Beauchesne unemployed – but
not for long. Adolphe Chapleau's term as Lieutenant Governor of Quebec had
expired. He moved back to Montreal in January 1898 and was in need of a private
secretary. Beauchesne thus became confidant and disciple of one of the leading
figures in the Conservative party.
Chapleau was one of three men who, after
Cartier's death, vied for leadership of the Quebec wing of the Party. The
others were Adolphe Caron and Hector Langevin. The Conservatives were split by
disputes between pragmatic politicians (including Caron, Langevin and Chapleau
who thought the most important thing for any party was to win elections) and a
small but important group usually known as the ultramontanes or
"castors" who favoured a coherent intellectual approach to politics,
even if it did not translate immediately into electoral victory. They believed
the crucial relationship in society was the subordination of politics to
religion. This, along with the principle of religious toleration, would
preserve French Canadian customs and laws as well as provide the basis for a
society which could unite Catholics and Protestants.
The castors outlined their ideas in a
programme published in 1871. It was immediately attacked by four different
sectors of public opinion:
By radical liberals who wished to free
society of the church's influence as soon and as completely as possible: by
moderate liberals who, more ingeniously, claimed that the Programme was simply
inopportune; by the English speaking population of the province, which charged
the authors with wishing to impose an ecclesiastical tyranny; and finally, by
their fellow Conservatives, who accused them of destroying the unity of the
party and of usurping the role of the clergy.3
Of all of their critics Chapleau was the
most devastating. Picking up on the nickname "castor" (beaver) he
ridiculed them as nasty beasts who stirred up all sorts of mud to build crude
and destructive abodes. Their only value, he said, was in selling their skin.
The division between the "castors"
and other Conservatives had reached a peak during Chapleaus period as Premier
of Quebec (1879-1882). He even considered a coalition with moderate liberals to
suppress them. In 1882 he entered federal politics where he served as minister
for more than ten years. After Prime Minister Macdonald's death in 1891
Chapleau was a potential successor but failed, in part, because of
"castor" opposition. Disappointed and in ill-health Chapleau resigned
from the ministry in 1892 to become Lieutenant Governor of Quebec. As a general
rule appointment to this office means the end of one's political importance.
Not so with Chapleau. "After his appointment, as before, he was the
leading Quebec Conservative; in fact his political power and personal
reputation increased during his residence at Spencerwood."4
Chapleau was a populist, a man of action who
enjoyed crowds and campaigning. He had little use for philosophy or theory.
Beauchesne greatly admired Chalpleau's pragmatic approach to politics. Long
before his death, Chapleau, at the height of his power,. stated: "If to be
united, we must call ourselves liberals. then let us be liberals! The most
illustrious patriots have always entertained similar ideas."5 He also
agreed completely with Chapleau's opposition to mixing politics and religion
believing that to be detrimental to both. His views on this subject were to
cause him much difficulty a few years later.
When Beauchesne started working for him,
Chapleau lived in a suite in the Windsor Hotel but spent much time in Atlantic
City undergoing treatment for Bright's disease. They corresponded regularly
until his return in May 1898 and Beauchesne was with him constantly until his
death on June 13, 1898.
Chapleaus thoughts remained a beacon for
Beauchesne throughout his life. The Conservatives, he said, would not return to
power. nor did they deserve to, until they returned to the ways of Chapleau. He
deplored the absence of a monument to mark Chapleau's grave in the Côte des
Neiges cemetery noting that the Liberals made it a point to visit and leave
flowers on the graves of their former leaders but: "Not one friend has
adorned the grave of this Conservative leader with flowers in the past five
years. What abject neglect, what cruel ignorance. His memory is being allowed
Chapleau's affection for young Beauchesne
was such that, on his death bed, he sent for Richard White, publisher of the
Gazette, and asked him to look after Beauchesne. The newspaper industry was
undergoing a transformation when Beauchesne began to earn his living with his
pen. Newspapers were no longer primarily organs for political parties. They
were vehicles of mass communication relying on techniques pioneered by William
Randolph Hearst in the United States. Advertising was the key to profit and
advertising revenue was related to circulation. Nothing boosted circulation more
than a bit of sensationalism or controversy. Beauchesne's sarcastic wit and
talent for epigram were ideally suited to the new journalism.
In the summer of 1898, Beauchesne moved into
a small office at the headquarters of the Gazette on the corner of Fortification
and Craig Street. The city editor and half a dozen reporters shared a room
whose walls were plastered with newspaper clippings from around the world.
Beauchesne shared a desk with Larry 0'Toole who later became a drama critic in
Chicago and Jimmy Welsh who remained with the Gazette for many years.
In 1899 Beauchesne helped to found Le
Journal, a morning paper established by some prominent Conservatives including
Louis-Joseph Forget, Rodolphe Forget, Thomas-Chase Casgrain, and Louis
Beaubien. He also fell in with a congenial group of young writers, poets and
artists who gravitated around a weekly newspaper, Les Débats. It had been
established by some university students, including Louvigny de Montigny, to
oppose Canadian participation in the Boer war. Les Débats developed under the
editorship of a free thinking frenchman, Edouard Charlier, into a nonconformist
journal opposed to the strict moral standards espoused by the Catholic church.
It devoted much attention to literary matters and was in sympathy with the
École, littéraire de Montréal, which, unlike the earlier École de Québec,
stressed French models and themes rather than Canadian ones.7
In April 27. 1902 Beauchesne wrote an
article for Les Débats which unveiled a plot by a number of leading English-Speaking
Montrealers to establish a secret organization to oppose French-Canadian
influence in the province. It was unsigned but as soon as it appeared Charlier
was sued for libel by some persons named. Beauchesne quickly intervened to
admit responsibility and to apologize for the article. He blamed it on an
unidentified source who had misled him. "I have very probably been the
victim of a scoundrel who got the best of me, and I wish to bear myself, all
the consequences. "8 His retraction was accepted and the matter closed.
Beauchesne continued writing for Les Débats but usually on safer subjects and
under his own name. He also continued his studies with a view to becoming a
During this period Beauchesne worked for the
Star and La Presse as well as contributing to Le Journal. In September 1901 Le
Journal defaulted on a loan by Forget who thus took over and completely
reorganized the newspaper. Beauchesne was named City Editor and in June 1902
became Editor-in-Chief. Intelligent, secretive, able to draft, on five minutes
notice an article supporting or denouncing a given thesis, Beauchesne enjoyed
the full confidence of Forget.9 Within a year his journalistic career came to
an end as a result of a dispute with the Archbishop of Montreal.
Archbishop Paul Bruchési recognized the
growing power of the press and tried to control it as best he could.
At the lowest level, he could intervene to
force the suppression of a column of medical advice which might offend against
public decency and modesty: or promote the inclusion of a special religious
page in the Saturday edition. At a higher level, the archbishop could force a
complete reversal of editorial policy on such issues as the civic hospital, the
proposed public library, and the Lord's Day bill. He could exercise an
informal, confidential censorship over a variety of news items, especially
those affecting the church in some way. At a still higher level, Brushési seems
to have possessed sufficient influence to force the dismissal of some
journalists whose views were repugnant to him.10
Beauchesne's problems derived from his
comments on the Manitoba School Question which originated in 1893 but continued
to agitate political waters for many years. The Legislature of Manitoba had not
only abolished French as an official language in the province but adopted a law
to eliminate the system of education which provided for separate Protestant and
Catholic sections. This set off a series of political and legal battles. After
much delay the Conservative government in Ottawa agreed to introduce remedial
legislation to re-establish publicly supported Catholic schools. The Liberal
opposition delayed the remedial bill until an election was held in 1896.
Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier was betting that English Canada was little
concerned about the rights of Catholics in Manitoba whereas in Quebec the
dominant issue would be the threat to provincial autonomy posed by the
Conservative bill. He was correct and rewarded for his astuteness with a
stunning victory. Despite Laurier's promise to resolve the issue through the
"sunny ways" of co-operation rather than by federal legislative
intervention, the policy of the Manitoba government was largely unchanged.
When Archbishop Bruchési issued a statement
in 1903 saying that the Manitoba schools question remained unsettled,
Beauchesne took him to task. Using Les Débats as a forum he wrote a scathing
attack on the Archbishop entitled Monseigneur Bruchési and the School's
Question. He signed it A Conservative. Beauchesne insinuated that members of
the clergy had accepted bribes for endorsing Laurier's position in 1896. He
ridiculed Bruchébsis previous silence on this issue suggesting it derived
mainly from personal ambition to become a Cardinal.
As far as we Conservatives and Catholics are
concerned, the policy which Msgr. Paul Bruchédsi deemed valid for six years
will serve very well for the present and the future; we do not want to play the
game of opportunist members of the clergy. Whatever transpires, the Conservatives
have paid dearly for their blind submission to the clergy these many years and
they are not prepared to make the same mistake again.11
The article caused a sensation. Charlier,
editor of Les Débats, was called before the Archbishop but would not reveal the
At this time Les Débats was waging a
campaign against the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company by publicizing
complaints accusing it of dubious and illegal practices. The company sued and
when the case came to trial, counsel for the prosecution acquainted the jury
with some examples of inflamatory articles written by Charlier including the
one on the Manitoba Schools. In a bizarre scene during the trial Beauchesne
asked the Court of Queen's Bench for leave to make a statement. He admitted
authorship of the editorial for which Charlier was being blamed. He then
returned to his office and wrote out his resignation as editor of Le Journal.
The following day the owners of Le Journal published a short note proclaiming
their astonishment over this affair. "We apologize most sincerely to our
venerated pastors for the sufferings caused by this article. Mr. Beauchesne is
no longer a member of the editorial staff of Le Journal."12
The "Beauchesne Incident", as it
was quickly dubbed, caused great amusement among rival papers who portrayed
Beauchesne as a hypocrite (or worse) for writing articles critical of the
clergy in one paper while supporting the Archbishop in his own. A few other
papers praised his courage and honesty in standing up and admitting
responsibility. Despite the embarrassment Le Journal was reluctant to lose
Beauchesne completely. They sent him to Ottawa to cover the spring session of
Parliament which had just begun. The session turned out to be an extraordinary
one lasting throughout the summer and well into the fall before weary members
heard the prorogation speech on October 24.
Among the subjects debated at length was the
government's project for a new transcontinental railway Beauchesne's reports
were fairly factual summaries of events that transpired. He may also have
written editorials in Le Journal dealing with federal politics. Other
newspapers suspected he was also writing on educational and religious issues: a
charge he denied.
Since leaving the editorial staff, I have
become a parliamentary correspondent. I confine my articles to government
matters and beseech my friends to believe that I have no control over the
publication of Le Journal. I have never fawned upon the clergy, or anyone else
for that matter in any of my articles. When I was the Editor of Le Journal, I
worked in the interests of the Conservative Party. I defended the program
outlined by Messrs. Borden and Monk and I fought against the policies of the
Beauchesne remained in Ottawa until the
session ended He then returned to Montreal to prepare for his bar examinations
He found his friends on Les Débats in serious trouble. The Archbishop had
decided to place their newspaper on the index of proscribed publications. On
October 4 the editors announced they would appeal to Rome but in the meantime
A week later, the same group published an
identical newspaper except the name had been changed to Combat and all articles
were written under pseudonyms. Using various pen names including "R.
Lemoine", "Gregoire Germaine", Septime Severe and "Calixie
Giroux, Beauchesne contributed regularly to Combat until it too was placed on
the index in January 1904. His articles were full of cynicism and vengence. For
example a rouge was defined as a man with no other desire but to humiliate his
political foes, a man who quite convinced that morality had no place in an
election campaign and who believes that one has to be stupid to expect an
The problems of the Conservative party were
laid at the door of the "castors". Other Conservatives, including
Borden, were dismissed as converts from liberalism. English Montrealers were
chastised for their condescending attitude toward French-Canadians while the
British were blamed for selling out Canadian interests in the Alaska boundary
dispute. Even Beauchesne's old collaborators on Le Journal, Louis Beaubien and
Tom Casgrain, are criticized for their role in the execution of Louis Riel some
eighteen years earlier!
In addition to his involvement with Le
Journal, Les Débats and Combat, Beauchesne also wrote for a number of other
papers between 1899 and 1904. La Nation, owned by the Nantel family was one of
several newspapers engaged in a strenuous battle against British control of
Canada's foreign and military policies including participation in the Boer war.
Beauchesne wrote a number of antiimperialist articles. 'We are not an integral
part of Great Britain. Canada was not founded more than three centuries ago by
the sweat and toil of our ancestors for the sole glory of Great Britain.14
Beauchesne criticized Laurier for failing to
convince Great Britain to negotiate a change in a trade agreement with Germany
giving Canada preferential treatment. He claimed the British government had
told Laurier the report of a commission of inquiry on Japanese and Chinese
immigration should not say anything that might trouble good relations between
Japan and the United Kingdom.
Canada is thus treated as the vassal
unworthy of consideration from the great English Lords who are saving us for
their diplomacy. They will cast us aside as soon as we have served our purpose.
If we want to change our tariff rates, we have to obtain Westminster's
approval. If we wish to protect our workers from ruinous competition from
Japan's lower classes, our duty is to submit our laws to Joe Chamberiain.15
As Quebec City correspondent for La Nation
in 1901 Beauchesne specialized in raking the provincial (Liberal) government
over the coals for waste and extravagance. "There is waste everywhere, the
friends of the Liberal Party are scrambling to get their share of the spoils,
shameless favoritism is the order of the day. There is money for everyone,
except for those who work the land, and they are the best element of the
province of Quebec."16 He could write with satire, irony or invective
often using all at once as when he ridiculed the Journal d'Agriculture which
employed three full time editors at salaries of $900, $800 and S400
respectively yet still paid $1133.50 to outsiders to write articles for it.
Beauchesne contributed to other, newspapers
including l'Avenir, the Witness, l'Étincelle and Le Pionnier. The latter was
devoted mainly to problems of French-Speaking minorities in New Brunswick and
Nova Scotia, always an area of special interest to Beauchesne. His articles
called for more contacts and exchanges with Quebec and French-Canadians in
other provinces. He also argued that the number of French-Canadians in the
federal cabinet should be proportional to their number in the population. 'We
should send the most educated. the most decisive, the most distinguished among
us so that they can add some lustre to our nationality and obtain for us their
L'Étincelle was a kindred but more modest
version of Les Débats. It claimed to be a review of politics, art and
literature having as its motto Lumière et progrès. Beauchesne was listed as a
contributing editor to the first edition along with Charles Gill, Antonio
Pelletier, Lucien Mignault and others. As it became clear the editorial policy
was favourable to Laurier and the Liberals, Beauchesne's name disappeared from
the list of contributors, although the paper was quick to come to his defence
in his dispute with Monseigner Bruchési.
1. See Canadian Parliamentary Companion,
1880, p. 149.
2. Public Archives of Canada, Beauchesne
Papers, Journal personnel des pensées, suggestions, mémoires et
3. See Paul Benoit, "On the Defeat of
the Programme of 1871", Religious Studies, vol. 11 (Spring 1982),
4. H.B. Neatby and John Saywell,
"Chapleau and the Conservative Party in Quebec", Canadian
Historical Review, vol. 37 (June 1956) p. 17.
5. Les Débats, August 18, 1901.
6. Le Combat, November 8, 1903.
7. Mason Wade, "OliverAsselin" in Our
Living Tradition, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1968, p. 140.
8. The Witness, May 9, 1902.
9. Robert Rumilly, Histoire de la
Province de Québec, vol. 9, Edition Bernard Valiquette, Montreal, n.d., pp.
10. See Ralph Heintzman, "The Struggle
for Life: Montreal French Daily Newspapers 1896-1911". Doctoral
dissertation, York University, 1979, p. 64-65.
11. Les Débats, January 25, 1903.
12. Le Journal, March 14, 1903.
13. Les Débats, June 21, 1903.
14. La Nation, August 8, 1901.
15. Ibid., August 8, 1901.
17. Le Pionnier, July 28, 1901.