Friday, April 01, 2011

Federal election history 5 and 6, 1882 and 1887

A couple of pretty dull elections here, 'tseems, and if we are going to wrap up by May 1, we have to move along.  Both elections saw the Conservative government of Prime Minister Macdonald re-elected without great change in standings in the House of Commons.

Canadians in the Northwest Territories did have their right to vote acknowledged in time for the 1887 election, but the 1885 conflict in the Red  South Saskatchewan River valley did not greatly change the results.  The conservatives lost seats in Quebec, but most of the leading francophone cabinet ministers did fine.

More interesting, perhaps, was the corruption of election processes.  Canada had not yet started to tamper with the constitutional principle of the equality-of-votes required by the BNA's rep-by-pop provisions.  But in Elections Acts in 1882 and 1885, Macdonald ruthlessly and cynically revised consitituency boundaries to gerrymander Liberal seats out of existence and create new Conservative ones.

Also in 1885, Macdonald created federal voting standards for the first time.  Since confederation, the federal elections had followed provincial rules, different in each province, on eligibility to vote and other voting procedures.  Liberals, including Wilfrid Laurier, denounced the 1885 creation of federal rules as a betrayal of the confederation bargain and a centralist assault on provincial autonomy. When he got into power, he'd change back to the provincial rules.

At first reading of the 1885 elections act, Macdonald proposed to enfranchise women. "I can only say that personally, I am strongly convinced, and every year for many years I have become more strongly convinced, of the justice of giving women otherwise qualified the suffrage. I am strongly of that opinion, and have been for a good many years." The provision was soon written out of the bill; it seems Macdonald was not serious about it.  But it got him a lot of good press in suffragist circles, though more outside Canada than inside.
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