Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Today in Parliament 1848

I've been posting under this heading since February 25. Today's the wrap.

To recap: Canada had had parliamentary elections since 1792 (Nova Scotia since 1758), but the powers of the elected house had always been limited. Governors continued to name their own councils (or cabinets) and to exercise independent authority.

In January 1848 reformers, who had denied access to the governors' councils pretty much forever, swept the legislative elections in the united provinces of Canada (today's Quebec and Ontario, more or less). The house met on February 25. On March 3, the reform majority ensured that the House rejected the government's legislative program as set out in the Speech from the Throne.

This could have been trivial. Governors and cabinets had never before been bound by the will of the legislature; governors had always insisted on choosing their own advisors. But this time the government chosen by the Governor General resigned from office.

Between March 3 and March 11, Governor General Lord Elgin consulted with parliamentarians. Today, March 11, he swore into office Louis-Hypolitte LaFontaine's government, a reform party government. He accepted the reformers' fundamental principle: that the Governor must always act on the advice of a cabinet accountable to the people's elected representatives. The Lieutenant Governor in Nova Scotia had done the same thing on March 2. It's been that way ever since. March 2 and 11, 1848 are when parliamentary democracy became operative in Canada.

I see John Ralston Saul is writing about this event in today's Globe & Mail. But they have paywalled it.

Late update: I was thinking they were on the same calendar as us. 1848 was a leap year, indeed. But March 11 was a Saturday, that year -- they were working weekends!

And later: Reader Timothy notes that John Ralston Saul's article is available from his website johnralstonsaul.com here
Follow @CmedMoore