Lt. Col. Lavergne

Lieutenant Colonel Armand Lavergne
61st (Montmagny) Rifles
Lavergne

As you already know, I am and have always been opposed to Canada taking part in the wars of the empire. I cannot assume the responsibility of asking Canadians to take part in a war that is not for the defense of Canada…

 Let me repeat that I consider it unwise and more than criminal to place Canada in danger from a war in which we have not had, have not and will have any control…

 (Lavergne to Sam Hughes, 6 November 1915)

Armand Lavergne had been Liberal MP for Montmagny (1904—1908) and, early in his political career, was a follower of Wilfrid Laurier. Born on 21 February 1880 in Arthabaska, Quebec, he was also rumored to be Laurier’s illegitimate son. In 1907, Lavergne broke with the Liberal Prime Minister and was expelled from the party caucus. A passionate defender of French language rights, he became lieutenant to Nationalist leader Henri Bourassa. From 1908 to 1916, Lavergne sat as a Ligue nationaliste canadienne member for Montmagny in the Quebec legislature.

Despite his Nationalist ties, Lavergne was active in the militia and a strong advocate of home defence. When the First World War broke out, he was the commanding officer of 61st  (Montmagny) Rifles. In 1915, Militia Minister Sam Hughes offered a commission in the CEF to command a French Canadian battalion but Lavergne steadfastly refused out of principle. He nevertheless conceded that as a solider he would obey his superior’s orders if compelled to fight. However, Hughes respected his friend’s conviction and even defended him in parliament.

Conservatives and Liberals alike criticized Lavergne, though for different reasons. Tory MPs accused Lavergne of being a cowardly traitor and sabotaging recruitment in Quebec. Senator Rufus Pope of Quebec remarked, “I have seen him parade here in his uniform, red and blazing, with cocked hat and sword. He is a peace colonel.”[1]

Liberal antagonism toward Lavergne dated back to the 1911 election when Bourassa and the Nationalists had supported the Conservative Party in Quebec. Throughout the war, Hughes’ continued defence of a man who actively opposed Canadian participation in a European War baffled Opposition Liberals. Referring to Lavergne’s role in recruiting strictly for home defence, one Liberal MP questioned, “In the name of common sense why were troops needed for home defence? Who were going to attack us in Canada?”[2] It was this admission that Canadian soil was not directly threatened, which had led Lavergne to object to the war in the first place.

Feeling that his position as home defence director provoked too much controversy, Lavergne quickly resigned in April 1917. He contested the December federal election as an independent candidate but garnered only 35% of the vote against his Liberal opponent. Following three more defeats in 1921, 1925 and 1926, he eventually returned to Parliament in 1930 as Conservative MP for Montmagny. He died in office as deputy speaker on 5 March 1935.

[1] Canada. Senate. Debates. 12th Parli., 5th Sess., (24 Mar 1915), 161.

[2] Canada. House. Debates. 12th Parli., 7th Sess., (4 July 1917), 2972.

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