The dreaded resolution came on March 11, 1886.

Thirty-two words, designed to divide and conquer the ruling Conservative Party. Thirty-two words, straight from the heart of Quebec, and crafted with great care. The resolution read:

"That this House feels it its duty to express its deep regret that the sentence of death passed upon Louis Riel, convicted of high treason, was allowed to be carried into execution."

The mover was Philomène Landry, the Liberal member for Montmorency.

"Mr. Speaker, on the 16th of November last, Louis Riel was launched into eternity. Let it be recorded as a disgrace to mankind."

Landry, MacDonald, Mackenzie, Blake; they all knew the dangers of this motion.

Louis Riel was dead, hung by judgment of a Court of law.

French-Canadians were appalled that a fellow French Canadian, possibly insane, would escape the mercy of the Crown and the commutation of his sentence of death.

The sentiments of many Ontario residents were well expressed in an edition of the Mail, published 13 days before Riel was executed.

"As Britons we believe the conquest will have to be fought over again, and Lower Canada may depend upon it; there will be no treaty of 1763. The victors will not capitulate next time. The French Canadian people would lose everything. The wreck of their fortunes and their happiness would be swift, complete and irremediable."

The debate that followed marked a historic transition in the province of Quebec. Hector Langevin, the Minister of Public Works had, since 1874, replaced George Cartier as the old chieftain's Quebec lieutenant. In the cabinet decision not to commute Riel's sentence from death to life in prison, he had held steady with his colleagues, although it would cost him his political future. In the House, Langevin's words"

"It is always a painful duty to allow a fellow creature to go to the scaffold. We have been for our action, insulted and blackened as no men in the world have been. Whether that man had French blood in his veins, or whether he had English or Irish or Scotch blood, the government had only to consider whether he was guilty or not."

Strangely, this debate would have greater consequences for the Liberal party. The great Liberal leader, Edward Blake was discredited as a number of damaging telegrams were read into the record on March 12 by Conservative Nathaniel Wallace, the member for York West.

Blake had retreated to England during the fall furor and left his party without a leader. Wallace revealed the content of the telegrams and joked about it:

"There was once a turkey sitting on a fence. First he looked on one side and then on another side. He scratched his ear with his toe and then dropped down on the side on which there is most corn for his party."

In the House of Commons, Wallace then read the telegrams in which Blake urged that:

"... unless we gain advantage of this crisis, we are done for."

Wilfrid Laurier

As his stature fell, so raised that of the member for Quebec East, Wilfrid Laurier. It was late on March 16 that still undiscovered and shy Laurier spoke. Overnight, he became known as the man with the golden tongue.

Wilfrid Laurier (Quebec East): Since no one on the other side of the House has the courage to continue this debate, I will do so myself.

Sir, amongst the race to which I belong, the execution of Louis Riel has been universally condemned as being the sacrifice of a life, not to inexorable justice, but to bitter passion and revenge.

The movement has been strangely misconceived. The Tory press of Ontario at once turned bitterly and savagely upon their French allies. They charged the whole French race that the only motive which led them to take the course they did was simply because Riel was of French origin. Sir, I denounce this as a vile calumny. I claim this for my fellow-country-men of French origin that there is not to be found anywhere, under heaven a more docile, quiet and law-abiding people. Whatever their faults may be, it is not one of their faults to shield, conceal and abet crime.

The American, the English, the French press, almost without any exception, have taken the ground that the execution of Louis Riel was unjustified, unwarranted and against the spirit of the age. French Canadians were not impelled by race prejudices, but by reasons fairly deduced from the facts of the case. But if it be stated that blood relations had added keenness and feeling to a conviction formed by the mind, that would have been perfectly true.

I will not admit that blood relations can so far cloud my judgment as to make me mistake wrong or right. But I cheerfully admit and I will plead guilty to that weakness, if weakness it be, that if an injustice be committed against a fellow-being, the blow will fall deeper into my heart if it should fall upon one of my kith and kin.

I appeal to any man who has a British heart in his breast, and I ask, when subjects of Her Majesty have been petitioning for years for their rights, and those rights have not only been ignored, but have been denied; and when these men take their lives in their hands and rebel, will anyone in this House say that the criminals, if criminals there were, are not those who fought and bled and died, but the men who sit on the Treasury Benches?

Sir, rebellion is always an evil. It is always an offence against the law of a nation. It is not always a moral crime. What is hateful is not rebellion, but is the despotism which induces that rebellion. What is hateful are not rebels, but the men who, having the enjoyment of power, do not discharge the duties of power. They are the men who, having the power to redress wrongs, refuse to listen to the petitions that are sent to them. They are the men who, when they are asked for a loaf, give a stone.

I appeal to every friend of liberty, to all those who, during twenty-five years past, have felt their hearts thrill whenever a struggle for freedom was going on in any corner of the world; with the Italians, when they delivered their country from the yoke of Austria; with the Americans, in their stupendous struggle for national unity; with the Mexicans, in their successful attempt to resist the foreign domination which the French Emperor sought to impose on them; and when at last - at last - a section of our countrymen rose in arms to claim rights long denied them, rights that were immediately acknowledged to be just, as soon as they were asked with bullets, are we to have no sympathy with them?

As the execution of the Duke D'Enghien is a stain on the memory of Napoleon, as the execution of Louis XVI is a stain on the records of the French Convention, as the execution of the Admiral Byng is a stain on the English government of the day, as the execution of Mary Stuart is a stain on the memory of Queen Elizabeth, the execution of Riel will be a permanent stain and shame on the present government.

On March 29, to end the damaging debate, the government moved "that the question be now put." This motion carried 126-73. Then, Speaker George Kirkpatrick (Frontenac) called for a division on Landry's motion. It was defeated 146-52.