La Vergne, Armand

Armand La Vergne, lawyer, journalist and politician (b at Arthabaskaville Qc, 21 Feb 1880; d Ottawa 5 Mar 1935). He was one of the most famous French Canadian representatives of pan-Canadian nationalism, whose successes and failures enlivened the political scenes of Canada and Québéc during the early decades of the 20th century.

Armand La Vergne was initiated early to ideological and political debates. The young Armand was initially infatuated with the federal LIBERAL PARTY and its leader Wilfrid LAURIER, a professional associate of his father and friend of the family. Then as a newly minted lawyer in 1904, he was elected Liberal Member of the House of Commons for Montmagny. But this independent spirit quickly found the voice that would orient his public life: the pan-Canadian nationalism to which Henri Bourassa was committed. Furthermore, since 1903, La Vergne with other youth had founded the CANADIAN NATIONALIST LEAGUE. At a time when imperialistic British arrogance and English Canadian aggressiveness toward French Canadians were often rampant, the League demanded autonomy for Canada within the Empire, autonomy for the provinces within CONFEDERATION, respect for the Canadian duality, and the establishment of exclusively Canadian cultural and economic policies.

With a few minor exceptions, La Vergne endorsed these ideas throughout his life. He defended them with panache and great eloquence in the House of Commons from 1904 to 1908, in the Québec Legislative Assembly from 1908 to 1916, and again in the Federal PARLIAMENT from 1930 until his death. He also took up his pen for the Nationaliste and LE DEVOIR, and certainly never hesitated to cross partisan lines. As of 1905, he broke away from Laurier in the Commons to freely join forces with Bourassa, and together, they led epic struggles that marked the Québécois political imagination. The most memorable of these remain the defence of French Canadian Catholic minorities outside Québec, and opposition to the navy established by Laurier in 1910. Moreover, that year, La Vergne bore the fruits of one of his greatest battles: in what would become known as the Lavergne Law the Québec Parliament adopted the principles of bilingualism for public utility services. In 1911, La Vergne joined the Québec Federal Conservatives, who claimed to agree with his ideas, and along with Bourassa contributed to Laurier's electoral defeat. The two men experienced their hour of glory. But betrayal by all but one conservative-nationalist, and repeated defeats at the polls undermined La Vergne's political credibility, although he carried out some very successful endeavours. (eg during the 1918 Québec conscription crises riots (seeCONSCRIPTION).

In 1924, alienated from Bourassa, La Vergne decided to join ranks with the federal CONSERVATIVE PARTY in order to bring its leader, Arthur MEIGHEN, and his successor, R.B. BENNETT, to embrace his nationalism. This rather astonishing choice that led to his vice-presidency in the House of Commons in 1930 and to heart-rending parliamentary debates, did not result in the anticipated success. Presented as a model by JEUNE-CANADA in 1932, but embittered and physically broken, La Vergne, before his death in 1935, drew closer to Canon Lionel GROULX. He left behind the memory of a man with an incomplete destiny, but unshakable nationalist convictions.