Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXII: the country and the frame of government - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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CHAPTER XXXII: the country and the frame of government - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 1
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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the country and the frame of government
The study of popular government in Canada derives a peculiar interest from the fact that while the economic and social conditions of the country are generally similar to those of the United States, the political institutions have been framed upon English models, and the political habits, traditions, and usages have retained an English character. Thus it is that in Canada, better perhaps than in any other country, the working of the English system can be judged in its application to the facts of a new and swiftly growing country, thoroughly democratic in its ideas and its institutions. Let us begin by looking at those facts, for they determine the economic and social environment into which English institutions have been set down.
The Dominion of Canada is a country more than three thousand miles long from east to west, with a region, which at the meridian of 114o W. is about seven hundred miles broad from north to south. This region is interrupted to the north of Lakes Huron and Superior by a rocky and barren, and therefore almost uninhabited tract, which separates the fertile and populous districts of Ontario from those of the Prairie Provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, lying farther west. Unless valuable minerals are discovered in many parts of this tract, as there have been in some, it may remain thinly peopled. The natural resources of the Dominion, besides its still only partially explored mineral wealth, consist in vast areas of rich soil, in enormous forests, both in the eastern Provinces and in British Columbia and in the fisheries of the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which give employment to a large and hardy population. There is coal in Nova Scotia and many parts of the West, with large deposits on the Pacific coast also; and the total quantity, estimated as second in the world only to that in the United States and Alaska, is more than sufficient to cause the development of manufactures on a large scale. Severe as are the winters on the Atlantic side of the Continent, the climate is everywhere healthy, favourable to physical and mental vigour, the death-rate low and the birth-rate high.
These conditions indicate the lines which economic development will follow. Agriculture is now and may long continue to be the chief source of livelihood, and forestry may provide employment for centuries if fires are checked and replanting is carried out on a large scale. Mining is now confined to comparatively few districts, but it, and the manufacturing industries also, aided by the utilization of the enormous volume of water power, cannot but increase. At present the bulk of the population are tillers of the soil, dwelling in rural areas or towns of moderate size; huge cities like those of Britain and the United States being comparatively few. Two only (Montreal and Toronto) out of a total population of about 8,000,000,1 have more than 300,-000 inhabitants, and there are but five others whose population exceeds 50,000. Plenty of good land is still to be had at a moderate price, and the agricultural class lives in comfort as does also the less numerous class who produce goods for the home market. There is hardly any pauperism and need be none at all. No such opposition is raised to immigration as has been raised in Australia, so the population is likely to go on increasing for generations to come, especially in the western half of the country. The fact most important to note is that the land is almost entirely in the hands of small cultivating owners, an industrious and independent class. As great landed estates are unknown, so, too, great financial or commercial fortunes are comparatively few, those who have suddenly risen to wealth having mostly acquired it by an increase in the value of land, or of railroad properties, and by speculative land investments.
With the growth, however, of commerce and the development of the country generally the opportunities for accumulating wealth by business are now fast increasing as they did in the United States half a century ago. Meantime, one may note the absence in Canada of two factors powerful in the great countries of Western Europe and equally so in the United States. There are not many great capitalists, or great incorporated companies taking a hand in politics for their own interests and exciting suspicion by their secret influence. Neither has the element of working men, congregated in large centres of industry and organized in labour unions, yet found leaders of conspicuous capacity, nor acquired a voting power which, whether by votes or by strikes, can tell upon the action of governments and party organizations, constituting a force outside the regular political parties and, like the capitalists of France and America, using them for the furtherance of its own economic aims.
One feature which is conspicuous by its absence, alike in Great Britain, in the United States, and in Australia and New Zealand, is here of the first importance. It is the influence of Race and of Religion.
When Canada was ceded to Great Britain by France in 1763, the French-speaking inhabitants numbered 60,000. They have now grown to nearly two and a half millions, or about one-third of the whole population, and this by natural increase, the stock being very prolific, for there has been practically no immigration from France. The great majority of these French speakers dwell in the Province of Quebec, which was the region first settled, but a large number are also to be found in Eastern and Northern Ontario, in the Maritime Provinces and scattered out over the West. Of those in Quebec extremely few speak English. There they constitute a community retaining with its language its French manners and ideas, quite distinct from those of the British districts. This separation is mainly due to religion, for they are all Roman Catholics, deeply attached to their faith, and if no longer obedient yet still deferential, in secular as well as ecclesiastical matters, to their bishops and priests. Nowhere in the world did the Roman priesthood during last century exert so great a power in politics.
During the last twenty years the tide of immigrants to Canada has flowed freely, chiefly from Scotland and from the countries of Central and South-Eastern Europe. There have also come into the Western Provinces from the adjoining parts of the United States a great crowd of farmers attracted by the cheapness of good land. Nearly all of these have been naturalized as Canadian citizens and are rapidly blent with their Canadian neighbours. Thus one may say, omitting the most recent immigrants, that the Canadian nation consists of two parts, nearly one-third French speaking and Roman Catholic, two-thirds English speaking and Protestant.1
The Constitution of Canada was prepared by a group of colonial statesmen in 1864 and enacted in 1867, by a statute of the British Parliament. The scheme of government is Federal, a form prescribed not merely by the diversities to be found in a vast territory stretching westward from Nova Scotia to the Pacific, but also by the aforesaid dual character of the population, one-third of which inhabits Quebec, speaking French and following the Roman law established there by France when her first settlers arrived, while in the other provinces the common law of England prevails. The Federal system roughly resembles that of the United States, framed seventy-eight years earlier, and that of Australia, framed thirty-three years later, as respects the distribution of powers between the Central or National and the Provincial Governments, each in the main independent of the other, while the former has nevertheless, within its allotted sphere, a direct authority over all citizens, with adequate means for enforcing that authority.
As this federal form of government has little to do with the subject that here concerns us, the actual working of democratic institutions, it may suffice to call attention to three important points in which the National Grovernment has powers wider in Canada than in Australia or the United States.
1. The legislative authority of the Dominion Government covers a larger field, and includes a power of disallowing acts of the Provincial Legislature. This particular power is, however, seldom used, and practically only where such a Legislature is deemed to have exceeded the functions assigned to it by the Constitution or to have violated any fundamental principle of law and justice.
2. Judicial authority (except as respects minor local courts) belongs solely to the Dominion Government.
3. All powers and functions of government not expressly assigned either to the Dominion or to the Provinces respectively are deemed to belong to the Dominion, i.e. where doubt arises the presumption is in its favour, whereas in the United States and in Australia the presumption is in favour of the States.
4. Amendments to the Constitution can be made not by the people, but only by a Statute of the Imperial Parliament of the United Kingdom. This follows from the fact that the Constitution itself is a Statute of that Parliament. But the provision is in reality no restriction of the powers of the Dominion, for it is well understood that in such a matter the British Parliament would take no action except when satisfied that the Canadian people as a whole wished it to do so, and were approving any request made by the Dominion Parliament to that effect, just as the Act of 1867 was passed to give effect to what had been shown to be the wishes of the Dominion itself. This theoretic or technical sovereignty of the British Parliament provides a more convenient method of altering the Constitution than the complicated machinery created for that purpose in the United States and in Australia,1 and is even more certain to give to a dissident minority whatever consideration it deserves.
The frame of the Dominion or National Government has been constructed on the lines of the Cabinet or Parliamentary system of Britain and all her self-governing colonies. Executive power is vested nominally in the Governor-General as representative of the British Crown; but is in fact exercised by a Cabinet or group of ministers, who hold office only so long as they can retain the support of a majority in the Dominion House of Commons. They are virtually a Committee of Parliament, and in it all of them sit. Thus the actual Executive is the creature of the House of Commons, possessing as against it only one power, that of appealing to the people by a dissolution of Parliament. If ministers do not dissolve they must resign, and if they dissolve and the election goes against them, they resign forthwith and a new Cabinet is formed. The relations of the Executive and Legislative Departments are thus far more intimate than in the United States, for the Ministry sit in the Legislature and are, just as in France and England, the leaders of its majority for the time being.
The Dominion Legislature consists of two Houses. The House of Commons numbers 235 members, elected on universal suffrage, woman suffrage having been in all the Provinces also, except three, recently adopted.1 Its legal duration, subject to a prior dissolution by the Executive, is five years. The Senate consists of 96 persons nominated for life by the Governor-General, i.e. by the Ministry for the time being, as vacancies occur by death or resignation. A number of senators proportionate to population is assigned to each Province. Except in financial matters its functions are legally equal to those of the House, but it is in fact far less important, for though it revises and amends Bills, it seldom ventures to reject or seriously modify any measure sent up by the House of Commons. The latter is the real driving force, just as the House of Commons is in England and for the same reasons. The House controls finance; and since it has the making and unmaking of the Executive Ministries, is the centre of party strife. Contests between the two Houses arise only when one party comes into power after another party has had for a long time the appointment of senators, and effective opposition disappears after a few sessions, when vacancies filled by the new Ministry have changed the party balance.
The judges of the Supreme Court of the Dominion, and of the Supreme Courts in the provinces, as also of the County Courts, are appointed for life by the Executive (i.e. the Dominion Cabinet), and can as in Britain and Australia be removed from office only upon an address of both Houses of Parliament. They are taken from the Bar, and the salaries paid, though lower than in England, are higher than those which generally prevail in the United States. An appeal lies from the Supreme Court of Canada to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England, of which a Canadian Justice of the Supreme Court is a member. There exists no veto upon the legislation of the Dominion Parliament except that which the Governor-General at the direction of the British Crown, or that Crown itself on the advice of the British Cabinet, might in point of strict law exercise, but does not in fact now exercise, although cases may be imagined in which its existence might be thought useful for the preservation of some interest common to the whole of the British Dominions or the fulfilment of some international obligation undertaken on their behalf. Neither does the Canadian Constitution contain any restrictions upon legislative power such as those imposed on Congress by the United States Constitution. The Dominion Parliament is limited only by the assignment of exclusive jurisdiction on certain specified subjects to the legislatures of the Provinces and by the fact that it cannot directly and by its own sole action alter the Constitution as set forth in the Act of 1867. Otherwise its powers are plenary, like those of the British Parliament, whose traditions it was desired to carry over into the New” World.
While the Ministers and a very few of the higher officials change with the departure from power of one party and the accession to power of another, all the other posts in the Civil Service are held for life or “good behaviour,” i.e. a man once appointed is not dismissed except for misconduct or proved incompetence. There is therefore no Spoils system in the United States sense of the term, a Civil Service Commission having been recently created which fills up all posts. But in such higher appointments as are still left to the Executive, party affiliations and the influence of leading politicians counts for much, so that it is not necessarily the best men who are selected. Civil servants having a secure tenure are not expected to work for their party, but they are not forbidden to do so, though if they do, and their party is defeated, they will probably be dismissed as offenders against propriety.
The Governments of the Nine Provinces (which correspond to the States in the Australian Commonwealth and in the U.S.A.) are also created, or rather re-created and remodelled by the Constitution of 1867, for most of them had existed before it was enacted.1 They reproduce the system of Cabinet and Parliamentary Government provided for the Dominion, save in the fact that it is only the legislatures of Quebec and iSTova Scotia that have two Chambers. The head of the Executive is the Lieutenant-Governor, who is appointed for a five years' term by the Governor-General, i.e. by the Dominion Cabinet for the time being, and is usually a member of the party to which the Cabinet belongs, and a leading politician of the Province. He does not, however, take any share in party politics,2 but fills the place of a sort of local constitutional king, being advised by a ministry of six or seven members which has the support of the majority in the Legislature and is responsible to it. The system is, in miniature, that of the British Parliament and Cabinet. The Legislature is elected by universal suffrage for four years, subject to an earlier dissolution by the Cabinet. It has, under the Constitution Act of 1867, the power of amending its Provincial Constitution, subject to the rarely exercised power of disallowance vested in the Dominion Government. In the two Provinces which have retained Second Chambers filled by the appointment of the Executive as vacancies occur, few controversies have arisen, the Second Chamber generally complying with the wishes of the popular House. No desire for the creation of a Second Chamber has been expressed in those provinces which do not possess one, perhaps because they take their notion of such a Chamber from the Dominion Senate, a body which, though not wanting in talent and experience, is weak because nominated: but the bicameral system has been, where it exists, of service in preventing jobs, and a Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario spoke to me of instances in which the existence of a revising body would have been useful in making it possible to reconsider and reverse an unfortunate decision taken by the Assembly.
This scheme of government seems at first sight less democratic than that of the United States, because the direct action of the people is not so frequently invoked, their people's share in the government being limited to the election of representatives to the legislature, Federal and Provincial. But the power of the people is in fact by and through that one function so complete that nothing more is wanted, and it is in one point ampler than in the United States, because the legislatures are restrained by no such limitations as both the Federal and the State Constitutions contain. In choosing and instructing their representatives the citizens have all the means they need for giving effect to their will, for the representatives choose the Executive, and if the Executive and the Legislature differ, their differences can be promptly settled in appealing to the people by a dissolution of Parliament. The Frame of Government which I have described in outline is accordingly highly democratic, and the experience of England in last century commended it as having proved both democratic and efficient. It fixes responsibility upon representatives each of whom can be called to account by his constituents, and upon a small number of administrators each of whom can be watched, questioned, censured, and if need be expelled from office by the Legislature. Given favourable economic and social conditions in the country where it is to be worked, it ought to give excellent results.
If any source of danger to peace and good government was discernible, it lay in the existence of two races which, though not hostile, were mutually jealous and showed no tendency to blend.
Government of Canada has been worked, as in every other free country, by Party. That was contemplated when the Constitution was enacted, for parties had been in full swing for generations before 1867, and insurrections had occurred so late as 1837. In Canada as in England the parties run both the legislative and the administrative machinery, and are responsible to the people for the use they make of it. But before proceeding to examine how that machinery is actually worked it is well to look a little more closely at the conditions which Nature and History have here provided. They are eminently favourable, not only to the growth of population and of national wealth, but also to the orderly development of free self-governing institutions.
In 1911 the population was 7,206,000.
Though very nearly all the French speakers are Catholics, by no means all the Catholics are French speakers, for many of the German, Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants are Catholics, so it might be more exact to say that three-tenths are French speaking, and rather more than one-third Catholics. Conversions from either faith to the other are uncommon, but the children of Catholics from the European Continents often lapse from their faith, the Irish rarely.
That machinery will be described in the chapters on Australia and the United States respectively. Other points in which the constitutional arrangements of Canada differ from those of the United States will be noticed in Chapter XXXV.
In the beginning of 1920 it had not been enacted in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island Women are eligible for seats in the House of Commons, and are already members of one or two Provincial legislatures.
Manitoba. Saskatchewan, and Alberta have received their constitutions and Governments since 1867. Their territories were purchased by the Dominion Government from the Hudson Bay Company.
Instances have occurred in which a Lieutenant-Governor took independent action in what was deemed to be the general public interest, the most recent being that in which (in Manitoba) a judicial enquiry was ordered into misdeeds alleged to have been committed by a Ministry. See as to this and the earlier case in Quebec the book of Mr. Justice Riddell on the Constitution of Canada, p. 108.