Towards the close of 1885 the French-Canadian mind was greatly agitated over the execution of Louis Riel, leader of the north-west rebellion, and in consequence of the attitude of Mercier on this question the Liberal minority in the Legislative Assembly, which had been reduced to fifteen, rapidly gained strength, until at the general elections held in October 1886 the province was carried in the Liberal interest.
A too hasty occupation by Canadian officials and settlers led to the rebellion of the Metis under Louis Riel, a native leader.
One of these, a young man named Thomas Scott, having treated Riel with defiance, was court-martialled for treason to the provisional government, condemned, and on the 4th of March 1870, shot in cold blood under the walls of Fort Garry.
In August 1870, the force reached Fort Garry, to find the rebels scattered and their leader, Riel, a fugitive in the neighbouring states.
While Sir John Macdonald's administration was supported in Nova Scotia, it was weakened in Ontario on account of the clemency shown to Riel, and in Quebec by the refusal to grant a general amnesty to all who had taken part in the rebellion.
With some real grievances and others imaginary, the discontented population sent for Riel, who had been living, since his flight from Fort Garry, in the United States.
Dumont succeeded in escaping across the United States boundary; Riel was captured, imprisoned, and in due course tried for treason.
The general election of 1882 turned chiefly upon endorsement of the national policy of protection; in that of 1887 the electoral test was again applied to the same issue, while Sir John Macdonald also asked for approval of the government's action in exacting from Riel the full penalty of his guilt.
From the election of 1887 the Riel agitation ceased to seriously influence politics, but the fiscal controversy continued under new forms. Between 1887 and 1891 a vigorous agitation was kept up under Liberal auspices in favour of closer trade relations with the United States, at first under the name of Commercial Union and later under that of Unrestricted Reciprocity.
The balance of power between parties in parliament was held by the province of Quebec, and there racial and religious feeling evoked no slight sympathy for Riel.