AMYOT, GUILLAUME (baptized Guillaume-Eusèbe-Damase), lawyer, editor, politician, and militia officer; b. 10 Dec. 1843 in Saint-Gervais, Lower Canada, son of Guillaume-Eusèbe Amyot, a pilot, and Louise Gosselin; m. 27 April 1874 Marguerite-Alice-Gertrude Pennée (d. 21 Dec. 1884) at Quebec, and they had eight children, of whom two were stillborn and one died young; d. there 30 March 1896.
After finishing his classical studies at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière), where he was enrolled from 1852 to 1862, Guillaume Amyot chose a career in law. Like many of his colleagues, he dabbled in journalism and politics while still a student. In 1865 he founded at Quebec L’Organe de la milice, a weekly containing mainly political news and short items, which ceased publication the following year. Called to the bar in September 1867, he worked from 1873 to 1875 as editor of Le Courrier du Canada, published at Quebec. In the provincial elections of 1875 and 1878 he ran unsuccessfully against Henri-Gustave Joly* in the constituency of Lotbinière. He was a Conservative candidate again in the federal election of 1878, this time in Bellechasse. After a series of legal proceedings contesting the election, he entered the House of Commons in 1881, and he held the seat for the rest of his life.
The most memorable aspect of Amyot’s political career was the parallel development of his positions on French Canadian nationalism and on free trade with the United States. He refused to associate himself with the hanging of Louis Riel*, whom he considered insane, and as a member of parliament he joined Honoré Mercier’s nationalist movement in November 1885. This connection brought him into contact with Louis-Philippe Pelletier*, with whom he founded the National Conservative newspaper La Justice at Quebec in January 1886. On the strength of his experience commanding the 9th Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles during the North-West rebellion of 1885, Amyot passionately defended in the commons the rights of the French-speaking population in that region. He even proposed strengthening their position by diverting French Canadian emigration to the west instead of to the United States. He also championed the cause of autonomy for the provinces and respect for their differences.
The revelations of the inquiry into the Baie des Chaleurs Railway affair in 1891 made Amyot lose confidence in Mercier, and during the session of 1892 he rejoined the Conservative party. He said at the time that the national movement was dead in Quebec and that the people of the province had finally given their approval to the Conservative government’s conduct in the Riel affair.
Amyot became a convert to free trade with the United States in 1888. The National Policy, he said, had certainly created prosperity in the country, but with the rise of European protectionism and Britain’s indifference to Canadian interests, the Canadian market was saturated with domestic manufactured goods. The United States, with a market of 60 million people, would henceforth be the solution to Canada’s economic problems. Armed with statistics, Amyot now tried to show that many Canadian companies were strong enough to withstand competition and that they would become even more prosperous. The following year he urged the government to let the United States know that Canada was ready to discuss free trade with them.
On his return to the Conservative party in 1892, Amyot was forced to reject free trade, just as he had withdrawn his support from Mercier’s nationalist movement. He justified his renewed support for the National Policy by the inability of the Liberals to define a coherent policy on free trade and by the refusal of the Americans to sign a reciprocity treaty with Canada as long as it continued to be a British colony. In his opinion Canada was not yet ready to break this tie.
Guillaume Amyot was a conscientious member of parliament, with a strong concern for the position of French Canadians in confederation, tolerant in his outlook and well informed in economic matters.
Guillaume Amyot is the author of Adresse à MM. les électeurs du comté de Lotbinière . . . (s.l., 1878); La protection au Canada: conférence . . . le 14 mars 1895 aux salles du club Cartier-Macdonald (Lévis, Qué., ); and Questionnaire politique (Lévis, 1895).
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 27 avril 1874, 1er avril 1896; CE2-17, 11 déc. 1843. Arch. du collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière, Qué.), Fichier des élèves. NA, MG 26, A: 43617, 43636, 84794. Can., House of Commons, Debates, 1882–96. Le Courrier du Canada, 1873–75. La Justice (Québec), 9 janv. 1886. La Presse, 30 mars 1896. CPC, 1881, 1883, 1887, 1891. Rumilly, Hist. de la prov. de Québec, vol.5–6.
Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Québec, CE301-S1, 15 nov. 1874; 3 déc. 1875; 3 juin 1877; 29 juill. 1878; 27 janv. 1880; 14 janv., 29 juin 1882; 26 nov. 1883; 24 déc. 1884.