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Evolution of the Dominion of Canada; its government and its politics online

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Senate Unlike the senate at Washington, the Canadian

maiding 111 senate nas no P art m originating or molding
tariff bills tariff legislation. Individual senators may have
some influence with the cabinet when a tariff
bill is being framed by a committee of the cabinet
for acceptance first by the cabinet, and then by
the house of commons. But as a body the senate
has never had any influence in determining the
details of that part of the National Policy of the
Dominion that centers in the tariff and the bounty
system. In such legislation, in practice, the only
function of the senate is to give formal con-
firmation to bills sent to it from the house of

Senate As regards the initiation of bills, the activities

muchiess Q f ^ sen ate are much less than those of the house


body of commons, where most of the members of the
cabinet have their seats. In the forty-six years
from 1867 to 1913, 5871 bills were passed by the
house, and sent to the senate. In this period,
1294 bills, originating in the senate, were sent
to the house of commons.

Bills for Bills for divorce, which by usage always
divorce originate in the senate, are included in the total
of 1294 bills. In the first thirty years of Con-
federation petitions for divorce were not numerous.
In no year before 1900 did the number of divorce
1 Riddell, "Constitution of Canada," 95.



bills which received the royal assent exceed six. 1
Petitions were few because in the Maritime
Provinces and in British Columbia there are
courts for matrimonial causes. These four prov-
inces are in practice outside the jurisdiction of
the senate as regards divorce. French Canada,
from its large Roman Catholic population,
presents no petitions for divorce.

A few petitions come from the English-speaking Area of
and Protestant population of Quebec. Other- T ^ on
wise divorce petitions come only from the part which
of the Dominion that lies between the Ottawa ^ titions
River and the eastern foothills of the Rocky divorce
Mountains; and until 1900 there were not more ar g sented
than two and a half million people in this vast
territory. Of these, two millions were in Ontario.

Divorce bills increased in number between women
1900 and 1916. There were fourteen in 1906; * Q s bb ^
nineteen in 1911; and in the last five years of for

this period there were from forty-five to fifty
petitions at each session of parliament. At
times the precincts of the senate were thronged
with women who were lobbying for or against
these divorce bills. 2

These bills, which are discussed at third read- DIS-
ing, take up much of the time of the senate. In cussio

. at third

the common acceptance of the term they cannot reading
be described as legislative measures.

1 Cf. Canada Year Book, 1911, 429.

2 Cf. Northrup, "Divorce Bills in the Senate," Gazette,
Montreal, January n, 1916.




senate as
a revising

not an
of review

service as
a revising

VII. The Senate as a Revising Body Popular
Indifference to its Existence and Proceedings

It is a modern claim for the house of lords that
it acts as a revising chamber. The same claim
is made for the senate at Ottawa. To what
extent the senate acts as a revising chamber can
to some degree be judged from the record of its
work from 1867 to 1913. It amended 1246 of
the 5871 bills it received from the house of com-
mons, or 21.5 per cent. It rejected 113 bills,
or 2 per cent. 1

As furnishing a basis for the claim that the
senate is of value as a revising body these figures
covering a period of forty-six years are of only
limited service. They cannot be taken at their
face value. They cannot be accepted as a measure
of the service of the senate as an independent
and impartial chamber of review, because since
1874, and especially since 1896, it has been well
known that the vigilance of the senate in amend-
ing or rejecting bills depends on conditions which
should have no influence with a really independent
or impartial chamber of revision.

In the forty-two years from 1874 to 1916
a period during which the Liberals were in power
from 1874 to 1878, and again from 1896 to 1911,
and the Conservatives from 1878 to 1896, and
again from 1911 onward the vigilance of the
senate as a chamber of revision was not continuous.
1 Cf. Ross, "The Senate of Canada," 76.



It was spasmodic. The senate was vigilant only
in the years that followed a change of govern-
ment. Its vigilance depended on whether or not
the political complexion of its majority matched
that of the administration as supported by the
majority in the house of commons.

Second chambers in the legislatures of the Second
British North American provinces were con tin- ^^~
uously unsatisfactory from 1791 to 1866. Par- contin-
ticularly was this the case with the legislative J
councils of Upper and Lower Canada and of the factory
United Provinces. 1

In framing the British North America act the Confed-
Fathers of Confederation desired to create a ^^^
senate that would begin a new and better era in to begin
the history of upper chambers in Canada. The ^^
professed expectation of the framers of the con- upper
stitution was that the upper chamber at Ottawa ^ amber
would be "an independent body, moderating Canada
between parties a body of judicial temper,
and of rarer atmosphere than the house of
commons." 2

The expectation of 1864-1867 has not been even An
partially realized. The position of senator is ^*~
a highly privileged one. He is free from individ- not
ual claims by constituents on his time and energy t

1 Cf. Durham's Report, II, 82; and H. L. Debates, June

2 " The Round Table," III, 719. " The senate was intended
to be the drag on the house of commons coach, a check upon
hasty legislation arising out of feverish popular agitation."
Gazette, Montreal, May 2, 1917.



Only five
men of
fame in
1867 to

to " the
man in the
street "

during the parliamentary session. He takes no
part in elections. Political propaganda has never
made any large demands on his time. A senator
is free constitutionally to play a bold, strong,
and independent part in the political life of the
Dominion. But privilege and freedom have been
of no avail. Senators, as members of one division
of parliament, have never played a prominent
part, to say nothing of a bold or strong part, in
Dominion politics.

From Confederation to 1917, George Brown,
who was leader of the Liberal party in Ontario;
Sir John J. C. Abbott, who was premier of the
Dominion 1891-1892; Sir Mackenzie Bowell,
who was premier from 1894 to 1896; Sir Oliver
Mowat, who was premier of Ontario from 1872
to 1896 and minister of justice at Ottawa from
1896 to 1897; and Sir Richard Cartwright, who
was minister of finance at Ottawa from 1874 to
1878, and minister of trade and commerce from
1896 to 1911, were the only men of national fame
who were of the senate.

Over 300 senators to be exact, 304 were
appointed in the years from 1867 to I9I4- 1 Not
more than ten of them were of front rank in
Dominion politics, or were men who, after Confed-
eration, earned for themselves even mention in
the political history of Canada. Wrong, a writer
on Canadian constitutional history of interna-
tional fame, asserted in 1914 that the average
1 Cf. Ross, 121-124.



Canadian Balfour's "the man in the street"
would be puzzled if asked to draw up a list of
half a dozen of the senators at Ottawa. 1 A
similar statement might have been made at any
time in the forty years that preceded the great

Except for an agitation against the senate, Popular
carried on by the Liberal party for a few years l
before the Liberals took office in 1896, the people senate
of Canada have been continuously indifferent ^ its
to the senate and its proceedings. Canadian ings
newspapers for the most part ignore its debates.

There is, in practice, no press gallery in the ignored
senate. There is ample accommodation for re- by

r> i -11 news ~

porters. But the newspapers will not assign men papers
to the senate. A reporter, who is a salaried
employee of the senate, furnishes, free of cost,
summaries of the debates to all the newspaper
correspondents at Ottawa. His work is of little
public value; for nine out of ten of the daily
newspapers regard senate debates as not worth
the cost of telegraph tolls. Similar neglect is the
fate of the senate with the weekly and semi-
weekly newspapers all over the Dominion.

"A measure or criterion that we have of the Popular
value which is placed upon speeches by members J
of parliament," said Cartwright, government realized
leader in the senate, in 1911, "is the synopsis ^^
which we find in the public press from day to

1 Cf. Wrong, "Second Chambers in Canada," The New
Statesman, London, February 7, 1914.



day as to what took place in this chamber. We,
in this chamber, have appropriated a very sub-
stantial sum for the purpose of disseminating to
the press a synopsis of our deliberations. And
what do we find? We find that the value placed
by the press upon these deliberations is indicated
in about a quarter of a column in the ordinary
newspaper of the day, and sometimes not even
that." *

Reason The reason for popular indifference to the senate
for ular is that its creation in 1867 did not begin a better
indiffer- era in the history of second chambers in Canada.
The senate, at no time since 1867, has aroused
such intense popular hostility as was aroused by
the legislative councils of Upper and Lower
Canada of 1791-1840. It has never flouted
popular opinion. Nor has it ever entered on a
contest with the house of commons over any
measure in which there was keen popular interest.
Never an Unlike the legislative councils of Upper and
tamchof Lower Canada, the senate has always been free
legislature of office-holders. Unlike the legislative councils
under the constitution of 1791, also, it has never
attempted the position of predominant partner.
None the less, part of Newcastle's character-
ization of the legislative council of the United
Provinces in 1854 his insistence that the
council did not exercise the influence in the
province that it ought to possess might be
applied to the senate from 1867 to 1917.
1 Senate Debates, March 29, 1911, p. 508.



The senate admittedly has not exercised the CUBS of
influence in the Dominion or in parliament that who
was expected by the Fathers of Confederation. 1 appoint-
There are no public records of refusals to accept l
nomination to the senate as there are to accept
membership in the legislative council of the United
Provinces. There is never any lack of claimants
for appointment claimants with efficient press
agents when vacancies occur in the senate
owing to death or to the automatic ending of the
careers of senators in consequence of failure
mostly due to old age to attend its sessions.

It is a matter of history, however, that a seat
in the cabinet has seldom been offered to a
senator; and since 1871, when administrations
at Ottawa began to have power to make nomi-
nations, it has been notorious that the men most
anxious to become senators the men to whom
about ninety-eight per cent of the nominations
went between 1871 and 1916 were men who
regarded a senatorship and a life salary as their
due for services in Dominion or provincial pol-
itics to the party in power.

1 " For one cause or another the senate has scarcely had fair
play. When formed, the intention was that it should be
non-partisan, a sort of judicial tribunal supervising and re-
viewing the legislation of the commons with an eye single to
the merits of that legislation. In the course of years this
purpose has somewhat failed." Gazette, Montreal, May 2,



VIII. The Senate and the Spoils System
Friction between the House and the Senate

Senator- "From the first," writes Wrong, "appointments

crown to t ^ e senate came under the full control of the

of party mechanism of the party. The security of the

position for life, and the freedom from the labors

of an election, have made a senatorship a desirable

crown of party service; and to this use the

office has been put. The view is generally

current in Canada, that only elderly men should

be appointed to the senate." 1

Only party "Men who have given long service in the house
interests Q f commonS) " continues Wrong, " sometimes claim
sidered a senatorship for their declining years. Other
claims are from those who have given similar
service in the party organization, or it may be
have contributed liberally to the party funds.
No government, Liberal or Conservative, has
made any serious effort to save the post of senator
as a reward for any other kind of public service,
and in the present condition of public thought it
would be quixotic to expect that anything but
party interests should be considered." 2

1 At the time the Parliamentary Guide for 1912 was
compiled, four senatorships were vacant. Of the 83 senators
then on the roll, two were under 50 years of age; 14 were
between 50 and 60; 24 between 60 and 70; 32 over 70 and
under 80; and n over 80 years. There have been instances
of men of 95 and 96 in attendance as senators.

2 Wrong, " Second Chambers in Canada," The New States-
many February 7, 1914.



From the early years of Confederation appoint- TO
ments to the senate were always regarded as the 7**?"
patronage of a political party. The principle that the
to the victors belong the spoils is nearly as old in spoUs
Canada as it is in the United States; and in the
years before the war at Ottawa its application
was almost as wide as it ever was at Washington.

From Confederation to 1918, when, as a war
measure, there was some reform in the distribu-
tion of patronage, the principle was continuously
applied to the speakership of the house of com-
mons and of the senate, 1 and to appointments
to the higher positions on the clerical staff of
parliament, to appointments as judges, and to
many of the prized positions in the civil service
of the Dominion. The principle was also applied
to a large range of government purchases of sup-
plies, and particularly to contracts for printing
and advertising, which went only to newspapers
which supported the political party in power. 2

1 The speaker of the senate, who is paid a salary of $4000
and provided with an apartment within the parliament build-
ing, is appointed by the government. The speaker of the house
of commons, who also receives $4000 a year and is provided
with an apartment, is elected by the house at the opening
of a new parliament. But the successful candidate for the
chair is in practice always nominated by the government.

* On the order paper of the house of commons on April
25, 1917, there was notice of a resolution to be moved from the
opposition benches condemning the spoils system. It read
as follows: "That, in the opinion of this house, the prevailing
system of party patronage constitutes a menace to honest



Senate The spoils system was most rigidly adhered

^"us* 6 to * n a PP omtments to tne senate. "In nearly

system half a century," writes a Canadian critic of the

senate, "the claims of party have been ignored

in only a single appointment. The Canadian

constitution reposes a vast patronage in govern-

ments. The situation in Canada is exactly the

situation that would exist in the United States

if the president appointed every senator, every

state governor, and every federal and state judge

throughout the Union. This is perhaps the reason

why changes of government occur so seldom in

the Dominion. The prospect of a life seat in the

senate attracts many powerful supporters in the

constituencies. It assists discipline, and reduces

contumacy in the house of commons." l

Friction Friction between the senate and the house of

between CO mmons is infrequent. It occurred in the


and quarter of a century before the great war only

jnfrTuent m t ^ ie ^ rst ^ ew vears ^ ^ Liberal govern-
ment of 1896-1911, and in the first few years of
the Conservative government that was in power
from 1911 to 1917. In each case the friction was
traceable to the fact that both political parties

and efficient government, incites to great waste of resources
and extravagance, in its application to expenditures and
appointments for military purposes, greatly injures the proper
fulfillment of our duty to the nation, tends inevitably to cor-
rupt and lower the tone of public morals, and should forth-
with be eliminated from our federal administration."
1 "The Round Table," HI, 719-722.



had appointed none but partisans to the senate
when the appointing power was in their control.

The first seventy-two members of the senate Appoint-
were appointed by royal proclamation. These ei
appointments had been agreed upon before the senate
new constitution became effective. From 1867
to 1873 a Conservative government, with Mac-
donald as premier, was in power. As vacancies
due to death occurred, and as additional prov-
inces came into Confederation Manitoba in
1870 and British Columbia in 1871 the ap-
pointments to the senate were made by
Macdonald. Thirty-two senators had been so
appointed before Macdonald went out of office
in 1873. Only one was of the Liberal party. 1

A Liberal government, with Alexander Mac- Liberals
kenzie of Ontario as premier, was in power from
1873 to 1878; and in these years sixteen senators,
all of the Liberal party, were appointed. Mac-
donald and the Conservatives were returned to
power in 1878, and the Conservatives were con-
tinuously in office until 1896. In these eighteen
years eighty-five senators, all Conservatives, were
appointed by the successive Conservative govern-
ments. The result was that when the Liberal
government, with Laurier as premier, came into
power in 1896, it was confronted with the fact that
out of eighty-three senators, only thirteen, all ap-
pointed before 1878, were of the Liberal party.

1 Cf. Willison, "Some Political Leaders in the Canadian
Federation," 50.



The The Liberals were in power from 1896 to 1911.

reversed, Eig nt y- ne senators, all Liberals, 1 were appointed

1896-19H in these fifteen years; and when the Conserva-
tives, with Robert L. Borden as premier, took
office in 1911, of the eighty-seven senators only
twenty-two were Conservatives.

Partisan After each of these changes in government in

rf senate I9 ^ an( * I9II > wnen tne majority of the senate
realized that for four or five years, at least, it
would be in opposition to the government, and
to the majority in the house of commons, there
was a quickening of activity in rejecting and
amending government bills. The power of re-
vision was exercised from 1896 to 1901, and from
1911 to 1916, with a vigilance that was altogether
lacking in the longer periods when the majority
of the senate was of the same party as the major-
ity of the house of commons and the government.

IX. Attitude of Political Parties towards the Senate

Meas- In the years 1 896-1 901 , during which the Liberal

Liberal government was confronted with a hostile majority
govern- in the senate, the senate rejected four or five

rejected * "Sir John Macdonald appointed John Macdonald, of

Toronto, to the upper chamber. But the Conservative
leader never found any other Liberal with the necessary
qualifications for a senatorship. From 1878 to 1902 no
Liberal was appointed chairman of a senate committee. We
cannot trace to Liberal governments 1874-1878 and 1896-
1911 even one such error as Sir John Macdonald com-
mitted." Willison, "Some Political Leaders in the Con-
federation of Canada," 50.



government bills. One was a measure for extend-
ing the Intercolonial Railway a government
undertaking from Levis to Montreal. Another
bill, rejected in 1897, would have authorized the
construction of a government railway from the
Stickene River to Teslin Lake a railway which
was designed to form part of the rail and water
route to Dawson City.

The senate between 1911 and 1916, when a same
Conservative government was faced with a fate for
Liberal majority, rejected six or seven bills, or uresof
so amended bills as to make them unacceptable Conserv -
to the house of commons and the government, govem-
One of these measures was a bill, passed by the ment
house of commons in 1912, under which Canada
was to provide three battleships as an addition
to the British navy. A second bill, also in 1912,
was for the creation of a permanent tariff com-
mission; and a third, passed by the house in
1914, was to provide for increases in the salaries
of railway mail clerks.

With harmonious majorities in the senate and Eras of
house of commons, government bills are never ha " nony
rejected, or even amended in any way that is docility
unacceptable to the government. At these times
there is not a more docile second chamber in the
English-speaking world than the senate at Ottawa.

At these times its sittings for public business A "me
are not continuous from day to day like the ^' g ' e of
sittings of the house of commons. Sittings commons
seldom extend beyond the dinner hour; for almost



the sole business of the senate as regards gov-
ernment bills is to say ditto to the house of
commons. 1 Only a new government, which is
temporarily without a majority in the senate,
need fear the power that the senate can exercise
as a chamber of revision.

Senators The incoming governments of 1896 and 1911
strongly objected to the hostility encountered
by some of their bills in the senate. So did the
supporters of these governments in the house of
commons and in the press. But time is on the
side of the government. 2 Senators never resign
except when, as sometimes happens, they are
appointed lieutenant-governors of provinces. But
most of them are elderly. Death or failure to
attend for two consecutive parliamentary ses-
sions creates on an average five or six vacancies
a year.

Waiting No matter which political party is in power,
there is always a long waiting list for appoint-
ment to the senate. On the list are names of men
in the house of commons, who are tired of close
attendance on the house, with the physical and
nervous strain it entails, and tired also of contested
elections and of being at the beck and call of

1 "If there be any pertinent criticism to be made of the
senate, it is that the chamber has fallen into a state of desue-
tude. It has become in a way a mere recording body, a 'me
too* machine. This condition is far from desirable."
Gazette, Montreal, May 2, 1917.

2 Cf. Riddell, "Constitution of Canada," 102.



Men are also on the list who have held cabinet Men on
office in provincial administrations, and who are ^^
out of a job. Others are owners or editors of list
newspapers, who conceive that a seat in the senate,
a salary of $2500 a year, a luxurious clubhouse
in Ottawa, free of annual dues, and free railway
travel over the Dominion, would be some return
for the services they have rendered to their
political party.

As vacancies in the senate occur or come into Evanes-
sight, the agitation for senate reform, growing ^^^
out of irritation over the rejection of the bills of for
a new government, completely dies away. The J^^
demand ceases to interest the politicians in power
as the procession of the government's nominees
into the senate increases in length. 1

The Conservatives were in a minority of forty- Nature
three in the senate in 1911, when the Borden ^ es
government was organized. New appointments cuities
by May, 1914, had decreased the adverse majority ^ t ^ e
to six. "Nature," wrote a Canadian chronicler
of the changes in the senate from 1911 to 1914,
"may be fairly depended upon to wipe out the
surplus of Liberal senators before next session; 2
and then with the Conservatives in control, the
senate can be counted quite a model body, which
needs no change." 3

Online LibraryEdward PorrittEvolution of the Dominion of Canada; its government and its politics → online text (page 19 of 34)