Patrons, Clients, Brokers: Ontario Society and Politics, 1791-1896


328 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-6774-3
DDC 971.3'02





Reviewed by Terry A. Crowley

Terry A. Crowley is an associate professor of History at the University
of Guelph and author of For All Times: A Centennial History of St. James
the Apostle Anglican Church.


Ontario’s political past has been reconceived by political scientist
S.J.R. Noel in a stunning new interpretation. Focusing on the evolution
of patron/client relationships in the political process from the
province’s beginnings until the end of the Mowat era, this book offers
a radically different way of explaining Ontario’s political

Starting with the province’s origins in agricultural settlement, the
author shows how land-based clientism allowed local elites to share in
governance with those closer to the seats of influence. As Ontario’s
economy advanced and power shifted more fully towards popularly elected
politicians at mid-century, political brokerage emerged as an important
new form of activity. Individuals who, like William Hamilton Merritt and
Francis Hincks, made their careers as brokers did not supplant the older
dyadic system but added a new element to political life. Finally, the
post-Confederation era, the transition from earlier forms of
patron/client relations to party-machine politics, was completed despite
the opposition of those who preferred a less partisan system.

In this magistral study, Noel provides a unified account of political
history from the Upper Canadian, Union, and early Confederation eras in
a manner not previously seen. Broad in conception and comparative in
perspective, Patrons, Clients, Brokers relates Ontario’s history to
larger processes at work in the evolution of government. This brilliant
work will be studied and contested by everyone interested in the
country’s political culture.


Noel, S.J.R., “Patrons, Clients, Brokers: Ontario Society and Politics, 1791-1896,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 6, 2023,