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

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from 1867 to 1918 did a government at Ottawa
react to a popular agitation in the constituencies
as promptly as the union government did to
the war-time agitation against titles. This was
in 1906, when the Laurier government repealed
an act passed by parliament in 1905 establishing
a pension system for ex-members of Dominion

It was known at Ottawa as soon as the house
of commons elected in December, 1917, assembled
for its first session on March 18, 1918, that there
would be a renewal in parliament of the agitation
of 1914, and of the then more recent popular
agitation of the question.

The union government did not wait for action
by the house. It anticipated action in the com-
mons by adopting a minute of council, dated
March 25 a minute which was subsequently
transmitted to Whitehall in which four recom-
mendations in respect to the bestowal of titles on
Canadians, domiciled in Canada, were submitted
to the colonial office and the imperial govern-
ment. The recommendations were:

"The Badge of Autocracy," Globe, Toronto, August 22, 1917.
"Even now," said the Tribune, Winnipeg, August 18, in com-
menting on Martin's protest in Macleans Magazine, "these
peerages should be plucked out of the life of Canada, and a
declaration made by the parliament of our Dominion that the
democracy of which we boast is real and should remain



1. No honour or titular distinction (saving those granted No more
in recognition of military service during the present war or heredi-
ordinarily bestowed by the sovereign proprio motu) shall tar y"" es
be conferred upon a subject of his majesty ordinarily resi-
dent in Canada except with the approval or upon the advice

of the prime minister of Canada.

2. The government of the United Kingdom shall exercise
the same authority as heretofore in determining the charac-
ter and number of titles or honours to be allocated to
Canada from time to time.

3. No hereditary title of honour shall hereafter be con-
ferred upon a subject of his majesty ordinarily resident in

4. Appropriate action shall be taken, whether by legis-
lation or otherwise, to provide that after a prescribed period
no title of honour held by a subject of his majesty now or
hereafter ordinarily resident in Canada shall be recognized
as having hereditary effect.

The bestowal of knighthoods was not ended Respon-
by this action of the government. But with ^J t f
the far-reaching reform so brought about it for
became no longer constitutionally possible for ^ e " ed
the cabinet to ambush itself behind the preroga-
tive of the crown, as had been possible under the
old procedure at Ottawa, governing recom-
mendations for honors made by the premier.
A recommendation for a knighthood is now
manifestly an act, in practice, by the cabinet
an act which can be discussed or challenged in
parliament, like any other act for which the
cabinet is responsible. 1

1 Cf. "Last Prerogative Goes," Sun, Toronto, April n,





The last The reform of 1918 did end the bestowal of
of three baronetcies and peerages on Canadians resident


to create in the Dominion. It ended the third attempt
since England first obtained a foothold on the
northern half of the American continent to create
a titled aristocracy in the new world. These
attempts were: (i) that of James I in 1624 to
establish the Order of the Baronets of Nova
Scotia; (2) the attempt that Pitt made in the
Quebec act of 1791; and (3) the much more
recent creation of baronetcies and peerages for
Canadians, against which the agitation of
1914-1918 was directed. 1

V. Reelection of Cabinet Ministers

Appoint- Every member of the cabinet, who is of the
ment to house of commons, in accepting an office to which

cabinet ... .

office a salary is attached, must seek reelection. Ihe
involves principle of the law which requires reelection is

reelection r r i i r i

that members or the house or commons, who

accept offices which may be held while they are

of the house, must accept office openly, and

must give their constituents an opportunity of

passing judgment on their acceptance of office.

Origin of In England the law governing acceptance of

requiring om ^ e dates back to 1705. It is still in force; and


1 Cf. Discussion of motion by Nickle, of Kingston, On-
tario, for address to the king asking that hereditary titles
be not conferred on Canadians. H. C. Debates, April 8,



a similar law has been in force in Canada since
representative government was first established
in Nova Scotia in 1758.

Members who have accepted office at the for- Few
mation of a new cabinet are seldom put to the Jettons
trouble and expense of a contested election, of
They are often reflected without returning to ^^^ rs
their constituencies. If a cabinet minister is con-
compelled to enter upon a contest for reelection, <
and if he is defeated, it does not follow that he
disappears from the cabinet.

The cabinet, through the party machinery, Opening
can always "open" a safe constituency. It can ^J^.
always induce one of its supporters in the house uency
of commons to relinquish a seat in the lower
house in exchange for life membership of the
senate; and the defeated cabinet minister is
promptly reinstated in the house of commons.

The law making reelection a condition of office
is continuously in force. At any period in the
lifetime of a cabinet, or in the term of a parlia-
ment, a member of the house of commons who
accepts cabinet office knows that he must seek
reelection, and that he may have to face a con-
test in his constituency.

VI. Powers, Functions, and Responsibilities
of the Cabinet

The formation of a cabinet is complete as soon Executive
as its members have taken the oath of office, ?f


and have been sworn of the king's privy council



for Canada. 1 It immediately assumes its exec-
utive duties, and begins its preparations for
the assembling and work of the newly-elected

Governor- The cabinet is the executive of the Domin-
generai -^ j t j g ^ me di um o f a \\ communications


cabinet with the governor-general, who in his turn is the
medium of all communications, outward and in-
ward, with the secretary of state for the colonies
at Whitehall.

Minutes Communications from the cabinet are in the

council f rm of minutes of council. Appointments and
contracts are also made by minutes of council.
Orders-in-council, which have the force of law
orders which are made under many various
statutes issue from the privy council, in other
words, from the cabinet.

Cabinet Responsibility for all bills for raising revenue,
and for all the estimates that are submitted to


parliament providing for the current expenses of
the Dominion, lies with the cabinet.

The finance bill, colloquially known as the
"budget," is prepared by the minister of finance.

1 Every man who is sworn of the king's privy council for
Canada is a privy councilor for life. The nine or ten members
of the Borden cabinet of 1911-1917 who retired in October,
1917, to facilitate the formation of a union-win-the-war
administration remained of the privy council after they had
ceased to be members of the cabinet. But the privy council
at Ottawa never meets as a body, not even on the death of the
sovereign. In the working of the constitution all the duties
of the privy council are delegated to the cabinet.



Each minister prepares or supervises the prepara- Framing
tion of the estimates of the department over f ^
which he presides. But before the bill of the
minister of finance or the estimates for a depart-
ment can be submitted to the house of commons,
they must receive the approval of the cabinet;
for the cabinet as a whole is responsible to parlia-
ment for the estimates and the budget. 1

The same principle holds in respect to govern- Govern-
ment bills concerning matters other than taxa- j^ 1
tion and expenditure. It is open to a member framed
of the cabinet, before a government bill is sub- ^ binet
mitted to parliament, to take issue with his
colleagues as to the policy embodied in the meas-
ure, or as to its principle, or as to details of the
bill. If his colleagues refuse to accept his view,
and he persists in his opposition, constitutional
usage demands that he resign.

It is the constitutional privilege of a minister Privilege
who resigns from the cabinet subject to the of , ,

' ' minister

permission of the governor-general, which is who
never withheld to make a statement from his resigns


seat in parliament of the reasons for his disagree- question
ment with his colleagues, and of the grounds on J^ le
which he resigned. Permission from the governor-
general is necessary, because without it proceed-
ings in privy council cannot be divulged.

Only in parliament can an ex-cabinet minister
make his first statement of the reasons for his
resignation. The statement must be made in
1 Cf. Riddell, "Constitution of Canada," 95-96.



parliament, in order that an answer may be forth-
coming from the premier. 1

infre- Resignations from the cabinet on account of

quen disagreements of ministers on questions of policy,
resig- or as to principles involved in government bills,
are infrequent. There were only five such resig-
nations in the twenty years preceding the war.
instances Two members of the Bowell ministry of 1894-
resig- J ^9^ resigned in 1895 owing to differences
nations with their colleagues on the Manitoba school
question q uest i n - They were differences arising out of
of proposed remedial legislation under the con-

principle tention-breeding clause 93 of the British North
America act. These were resignations from a
Conservative administration.

Section 93 There were two resignations from the Liberal
government that was in power from 1896 to 1911.
Blair, of New Brunswick, minister of railways
and canals, resigned in 1904, because he was
opposed to a bill for the construction of a second
transcontinental railway. In 1905, Sifton, min-
ister of the interior, resigned owing to differences
with his colleagues over concessions to the sepa-
rate school interests in the bills creating the
provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Three
of the five resignations between 1894 and 1914
were thus due to issues originating in section 93
of the constitution of 1867.

Monk, of Quebec, resigned from the Borden
cabinet in 1912, because he could not concur in
1 Cf. H. C. Debates, March i, 1905.



the decision of the cabinet to make an emergency Navy
contribution of $35,000,000 to the British navy, Jj 8
"with the sanction of parliament, but without
giving the Canadian people an opportunity of ex-
pressing its approval of this important step." l

A minister who persists in his opposition to a Risks
bill at cabinet stage sometimes embarks on a
course that may cost him more than his office nation
and his seat in the council chamber. He may
break with his party; find himself unwelcome
at caucus; forfeit his position as almoner of
patronage in his electoral division; and jeopardize
his seat in the commons at the general election.

It is recognized, however, at Ottawa, as at Member
Westminster, that there is no place in the cabi- ^ blnet
net, as it has developed at Westminster since the must go
revolution of 1688, and in all the dominions since ^^^
1841, for a member who cannot go all the way his
with his colleagues on any bill which the cabinet ^" gg
is about to submit to parliament. A cabinet
minister who disagrees with his colleagues, and
persists in disagreeing, has no alternative but
resignation; for a bill submitted to parliament
as a government measure may often does
involve the fate of the government. Every mem-
ber of the cabinet must, therefore, support it in
parliament by voice and vote.

There are frequently political questions under
discussion, both in the constituencies and in
parliament, concerning which the cabinet, as a
1 "Canadian Annual Review," 1912, 181-182.



Open whole, has come to no agreement. These are
known as "open questions." The enfranchise-
ment of women, as it was agitated in Canada
from 1911 to 1916, is a typical example of an
open question, and of the attitude of the cabinet
in regard to such questions.

Enfran- In a debate on this subject in the house of
commons, in the session of 1916, one member
of of the cabinet Rogers, of Manitoba, then

women minister of the interior spoke in favor of the
ques- parliamentary enfranchisement of women; while
tion in Borden, the premier, would at that time give the
movement no support; and a motion in favor of
votes for -women at Dominion elections was de-
feated. 1 The minister of the interior, by his
speech, and by his difference on this question
with the prime minister, infringed no rule or
usage of the cabinet. The motion on which the
speech was made did not originate with the
cabinet; and woman suffrage was treated as
an open question.

Private- At this time February, 1916 women in

mem- Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta were in

motion possession of the right to vote at all provincial

^ favor and municipal elections. A bill to the same end

enfran- had passed the British Columbia legislature,

^**~ and was awaiting the decision of the electors.

The motion that was before the house of commons

was for an amendment of the Dominion election

code by which the women enfranchised by the

1 H. C. Debates, February 28, 1916.



provinces would have the right to vote at elec-
tions to the house of commons.

Had the premier intimated when the motion circum-

was proposed that the government would accept ^* s

it, and introduce a bill to amend the election which

code, woman suffrage would no longer have open

remained in the category of open questions, tion

The amending bill would have received the loses ^


approval of the cabinet before it could have
been introduced into the house of commons as
a government measure; and in parliament, as
in the cabinet, it must have had the approval
and support of all the cabinet ministers.

The duties of a cabinet minister are (i) to Duties
assist in council, and to share in the collective ^ binet
responsibility of the cabinet for the acts, meas- minister
ures, and policies of the government; (2) to
frame the policies of his department, and with
the aid of a deputy-minister, a permanent civil
servant, to supervise the administrative work of
his department; (3) to receive deputations on
all matters connected with his department; (4) to
pilot through the house of commons bills that
originate in his department; (5) to carry the
estimates of his department through committee
of supply; (6) to answer all questions in the
house of commons concerning the policies and
activities of his department; and (7) to support
and defend the policies and measures of the ad-
ministration in parliament, and when need be
on the platform in the constituencies.




Assem- TVT EITHER by the constitution, nor by any
JL II law of the Dominion, is there a fixed time
pariia- for the assembling of parliament, as there is
for the assembling of congress at Washington,
deter- "There shall," reads the British North America
j^^ act, "be a session of parliament once at least in
every year; so that twelve months shall not
intervene between the last sitting of the parlia-
ment in one session and its first sitting in the
next session." The financial year of the Do-
minion ends on March 31, and this condition
practically determines the time at which a new
session of parliament begins.

Con- Parliament is convened by proclamation, issued

vened ^y the governor-general. The date of its assem-
procia- bly is determined by the cabinet, on whose advice
Hon the governor-general issues the proclamation.
The sessions in normal years extend from Novem-
ber until April or May.

Organ- At the assembling of a new parliament the

house of commons is without a speaker. The

house continuing officers of the house are the clerk,

the assistant clerk, and the sergeant-at-arms.

Much of the work preliminary to the organiza-



tion of the house is, by usage, delegated to the
clerk. The newly-elected members take the oath *
and sign the roll at the table in the chamber of
the commons in the presence of the clerk; and
until a speaker has been elected, the clerk is the
presiding officer.

I. The Speaker and His Office

The speaker is the chairman of the commons Duties
for the purpose of maintaining order and declar- eaker
ing or interpreting the rules of the house. He is
also, unless the house otherwise directs, the
spokesman and representative of the house in
all communications made in its collective capac-
ity to the crown.

At Ottawa the position of the speaker as re- Speaker's
gards political parties is midway between the J^ 1 *"
position of the speaker at Washington and that with his
of the speaker at Westminster. At Westminster J^ * 1
the speaker, as soon as he has been elected to
the chair, ceases to be a partisan. He never
enters a political club. Unlike every other mem-
ber of the house of commons he makes no political
address when he seeks reelection from his con-
stituency at a general election. He never pub-
licly discusses politics. He is outside the arena
of political parties. He serves for two or three
parliaments, or for as long as he can stand the

1 "I do swear," reads the oath, "that I will be faithful
and bear true allegiance to his majesty King George V."



strain and burden of an exceedingly arduous

Speaker It is a tradition at Westminster of now a hun-
West- ^ rec ^ vear s' standing that a speaker must not
minster continue of the house of commons after the end
of his service in the chair. For a century it has
been regarded as incompatible with the dignity
of the chair that a speaker should fall back
into the rank and file of the house; and since
Addington vacated the speakership to become
chancellor of the exchequer and premier of the
administration of 1801-1804, no speaker at West-
minster has ever resigned to accept office in the
cabinet. A peerage and a pension have been
the rewards of speakers at Westminster since
the early years of the nineteenth century.
Speaker At Washington the speakership goes to the
at leader of the party that is in a majority in the

Washing- y . i p 1

ton house or representatives, and atter election to

the chair he continues as leader of his party.
Service in the chair at Washington, moreover,
has frequently been a stepping stone to the
position of candidate at national conventions for
the presidency of the United States.

Cabinet The choice of speaker at Ottawa, as at West-
choice minster, lies with the cabinet. An election to
of the chair is not made by the house acting quite

apart from the government, although at West-
Ottawa minster the usage is that the nomination of
speaker must not be moved in the house of com-
mons by any member of the cabinet.



There is no such usage at Ottawa. The nomi- Premier
nation is moved by the premier, who, almost in-
variably, is of the commons and is leader for the of
government in the house. It is sometimes seconded speaker
by another member of the cabinet, and usually
supported by the leader of the opposition. At the
time these speeches are made always speeches
emphasizing the importance and dignity of the
office and the eligibility and fitness of the member
nominated the chair is without an occupant.

The mace, the symbol of the office, is absent Function
from the table in front of the chair. Members, * clerk
accordingly, address their remarks by name to election
the clerk at the table; for the clerk must desig- f eaker
nate, by pointing to them as they rise in their
seats, the members who have the floor to move,
to second, and to support the nomination. 1

A division is seldom taken on the motion for Divi-
the election of speaker. Rarely is a second candi- slons
date nominated; for the opposition is aware that election
a nomination to the chair, moved by the premier, * E gak
will be supported by the full strength of the gov-
ernment in the house of commons.

The member elected as speaker at Ottawa is Quaiifi-
seldom of the leaders of his political party, al- t** * 5
though in addition to his obvious mastery of the speaker
rules and procedure of the house, and his ability
to preside, he must have established some claims
on his party.

1 Cf. election of Edgar Rhodes as speaker, H. C. Debates,
January 18, 1917.



Speaker In the chair he must be non-partisan in his

attend * ruun gs and in his recognition of members who

caucus desire to address the house. He must favor

neither the government nor the opposition. He

does not go into party caucus; and in no sense

is he a leader of his party.

speaker's It is not, however, the usage at Ottawa, as it
cTaton ls at Westminster, that the speaker shall com-
withhis pletely sever himself from his political party.
Speakers make political addresses in their own
constituencies and elsewhere. They distribute
government patronage in their constituencies,
like all other members elected to support the
government; and there have been instances
one as recent as January, 1917 in which a
speaker has vacated the chair in order to accept
office in the cabinet.

II. Speakers Alternately from English-Speaking
and French-Speaking Canada

One One reason for the larger freedom at Ottawa

S^for * s that s P ea kers there, unlike speakers at West-
speaker minster, serve only during the lifetime of one
parliament. Conditions at Ottawa, partly due to
race and language, and partly to long-prevailing
ideas as to the distribution of all government
patronage, have militated against the Westminster
precedent of continuing a member in the chair
for two or three parliaments, regardless of the
fortunes of political parties at general elections.



There is a new speaker at Ottawa for each Division
new house of commons; and it has long been a ^
custom that when one political party continues between
in power for two or three parliaments, if the two
speaker in one parliament is of British extraction
the next one shall be a French-Canadian.

It is a rule also that the offices of speaker and Deputy-
of deputy-speaker can at no time be held by men 8 P eaker
of the same race. If the speaker is a French-
Canadian, the deputy-speaker, who is also chair-
man of committees, must be an English-speaking
Canadian; for the rule of the house is that "the
member elected to serve as deputy-speaker shall
be required to possess the full and practical
knowledge of the language which is not that
of the speaker for the time being." l

The clerkship and the assistant clerkship of clerks
the house, and the offices of sergeant-at-arms and
and deputy-sergeant-at-arms all appointive as gea nts-
distinct from elective offices are, by usage, at - arms
also similarly divided between the two races.

Nearly all the offices, important and unimpor- Minor
tant, connected with parliament, with the senate (
as well as with the house, are distributed in accord-
ance with these rules or usages. A roll call of
the staffs of the two houses, including even the
boys in knickerbockers who act as pages, would
contain the names of almost as many French-
Canadians as Canadians of British ancestry.

1 Rules of the H. of C., 1909, 7; "Canadian Annual
Review," 1911, 304.



Origin The rules and usages by virtue of which this

division distribution of offices is made are older than Con-
of offices federation. They date back to the early years
of the United Provinces, when Quebec and On-
tario elected exactly the same number of mem-
bers to the legislature, and when these were the

only provinces in the union.

French Quebec today elects only 65 of the 234 members

of the house of commons. Its population is not
equal one fourth of the population of the Dominion.
divisi< j tg contribution to Dominion revenues does not
offices exceed one sixth. But an equal division of the

Online LibraryEdward PorrittEvolution of the Dominion of Canada; its government and its politics → online text (page 24 of 34)