Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXV: working of the government - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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CHAPTER XXXV: working of the 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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working of the government
From this study of the average citizen and the sentiments that move him when he comes to deliver his will on public affairs, we may pass to the machinery by which that will is brought to bear on the government of the country. His first duty is to elect representatives, so to elections a few sentences may be devoted.
These are fewer than in the United States because no administrative officers are chosen at the polls, all, both in the Dominion and in the Provinces, being appointed by the Executive Ministry. Elections are believed to be honestly conducted so far as the presiding officials are concerned, but personation and repeating occasionally occur, perhaps even ballot stuffing, for in Ontario a Government was not long ago supposed to have fallen because its electoral misdeeds had shocked the conscience of the best citizens. Neither are there any such riots as used to be frequent in England in former days. Each party allows the meetings of the other to he held peaceably, satisfied with having discharged its own heavy artillery of vituperation. Treating is no longer common, the consumption of intoxicants having been restrained by law, and will probably decline with the increased size of constituencies. Bribery, however, is not rare. The laws enacted on lines found effective in England failed to restrain these malpractices, usually managed by underlings, and apparently by both parties alike. Happening to hear a politician complain bitterly of the heavy expenditure by the opposite party which had caused the defeat of his own, I enquired why petitions had not been more largely presented by the losing side, and was answered that things might have come out which were better left in darkness. Each side had bribed because it believed the other to be bribing, and the wealthier party got the best of it; for money counts here as in most countries, and campaign funds are thought indispensable.1
From the electors we pass to the legislators. Those who sit in the Dominion House come chiefly from the professional and commercial classes, many of whom have a private income making them independent of their salaries, with a fair sprinkling of agriculturists, rarely from the wage-earning class. The percentage of lawyers is decidedly smaller than in Congress, and rather lower than in the British House of Commons. In the Provincial Chambers there is a larger proportion of lawyers of the second or third rank, the rest mostly farmers, and the average level of ability and education is somewhat lower than at Ottawa. Iso law or custom requires a member to reside in the place he represents, a fortunate adherence to British custom, for it opens to talent a wider door; but though some men of mark from the cities sit for constituencies with which they have no tie of family or residence, the majority, especially in the Provincial Legislatures, reside in their constituencies. The tendency to retain the same member from one election to another helps to increase the number of those persons who possess some experience. There are very few rich men, not because such persons would be distrusted by the electors, but because they prefer to attend to their business enterprises, finding it almost as easy to exert political influence on legislation from without as within. Membership in the Dominion Parliament has some little social value, but no more than that which attaches to any conspicuous success in commerce. In a country which opens up great possibilities to the man of business capacity, politics as a career does not greatly attract a man too scrupulous to use his political position for gainful purposes, unless of course his oratorical talents are such as to bring him at once to the front and to keep him there. It is not surprising, therefore, that the average of ability in the Federal Parliament should be, as most Canadians declare, rather lower to-day than it was thirty or forty years ago, in the days of Macdonald, Mackenzie, and Edward Blake. Nevertheless the presence of some men of eminent ability occasionally raises the debates to a high level. The House of Commons need not fear a comparison either with Congress or with the Parliament of Australia. Proceedings are orderly: obstruction is seldom resorted to; only in exciting times has there been any marked personal acrimony. That kindly bonhommie which is characteristic of Canadians generally maintains itself even in the political arena.
The payment of members is inevitable in a country where there is practically no leisured class, and where most members coming from long distances to live in a city of only 90,000 people, which is not a centre of commerce, must sacrifice their business to their political duties. It has not produced a class of professional politicians. The salary is $2500 (£500) for a session exceeding thirty days, subject to a deduction of $15 a day for each day on which attendance is not given, a sum not large enough to draw a man into a parliamentary career, though it may sharpen his eagerness to retain his seat. A feature in which Canada stands almost alone is the recognition of the leadership of the Opposition as a sort of public office, service in which is thought fit to be remunerated by a salary of $7000 (£1400) a year, the Speakers of the Senate and the House having each $4000, in addition to their allowance as Members of Parliament.
The rules, based on English precedents, which regulate procedure on private bills have limited the field for “lobbying,” rendering it less general and pernicious than in the United States. There is nevertheless a good deal of jobbery and logrolling in the Canadian Legislatures. It occurs frequently in connection with the granting of public money to localities, such grants being the means whereby a member commends himself to his constituents, while at the same time committing himself to a support of the Ministry which has conferred the favour on him and on them. Though transactions of this kind have lowered the standard of honour and the sense of public duty, they have not led to the grosser forms of political corruption, for these are as rare as in the United States Congress, while the Provincial Legislatures are probably purer than those of most American States, though the average virtue of members varies so much that it is hard to make any general statement. None sinks so low as do the Assemblies of New York or Pennsylvania, but the atmosphere of two or three is unwholesome; and nowhere can absolute soundness be found. So far as one can ascertain, the level of honour in them and in the Parliament at Ottawa is below that exacted by public opinion from members of the Australian and New Zealand Legislatures. Probably the temptations are greater, especially in the Provincial Legislatures, largely occupied with local matters involving pecuniary interests, and the proceedings in which receive comparatively little attention from the general public.
From legislators in general we may proceed to those who have risen out of the crowd to be party leaders and Ministers. In Canada, as in England, political life is practically a parliamentary career which culminates in the Cabinet. There is little distinction or influence to be won in any other political field, though of course the heads of great banks or railroads, sometimes also those of great universities, may exercise quite as potent an influence. A man must begin by entering a legislative body and work his way up by proving his quality there. Whoever shows unusual ability is, as in England, marked out for office and for place, so long as he can hold his seat, whereas in the United States a man may be summoned from the Bar or business to some exalted post and return to the Bar or business after four years with no prospect of further public service. It may, however, happen that an office requiring special knowledge or experience is given to some one not in Parliament, and in that case a seat will be found for him or he will receive, as soon as a vacancy occurs, a place in the Senate carrying with it the prospect of office, so he seldom falls for long out of the running. Though eloquence and the tactful handling of men are, as by all Parliamentary Governments, valued more highly than administrative capacity, there is no lack of the latter quality. Such important departments as finance, justice, agriculture, and fisheries are usually in competent hands.
Describing these things by way of comparisons, which is the best way available, one may say that in every Canadian Cabinet there are two or three men equal to the average of a Cabinet in London or Washington, although the range of choice is naturally smaller in a smaller population. In the composition of a Ministry regard must be had not only to talent but also to the necessity for representing different parts of a vast area, both because this pleases the outlying Provinces, and because the national administration, being also the supreme council of the party in power, must be duly informed as to local political feeling as well as local economic conditions.
The methods followed'in legislation have been generally similar to those of the British Parliament, and here as there speaking has become plain and businesslike, with little rhetoric. At Ottawa, as at Westminster, the never-ending battle of the Ins and Outs has gone on, the Ministry proposing measures and the Opposition resisting them, the Ministry taking steps and making appointments which the Opposition condemn as blunders or jobs. When there are no large issues of policy to divide the two parties, there are always questions of grants or subsidies or other administrative matters to furnish grounds for attack and recrimination. Much time is thus lost, but the process is inevitable where office is the prize contended for, and where every mistake brought home to the Government weakens its hold on the country and raises the hopes of the Opposition. It is moreover a necessary process, for if there were no fear of criticism and resistance who can tell how many more mistakes might be made and jobs perpetrated with impunity? Canada, like Great Britain, imposes no constitutional restrictions on the power of Parliament except those few contained in the Act of 1867, so the immense power possessed by an Administration backed by a majority would be abused if the right to interrogate and attack the Executive did not provide safeguards against the abuse of power equivalent to, though different from, those which the scheme of Checks and Balances provides in the United States. Criticism is wholesome for Ministers, and gives a certain sense of security to the people, yet it is not a full security, any more than are the checks and balances. Although there exist in the Canadian Parliament and in the Provincial Legislatures rules, modelled on English precedents, regulating procedure in the case of those bills, which have a local or personal object, these rules are less effective than in England, because not supported by so strong a force of long habit and watched by so vigilant an opinion. Many occasions arise for secret bargaining over bills as well as grants, many ways in which public interests may be sacrificed to projects promising private gain.
Government is in Canada more concerned, with matters affecting the development of the country than Europeans can realize. The dominance of material interests has brought into the field great corporate enterprises, such as lumber (timber) and mining and machine-making and fishery companies, and above all the railway companies. The great railway systems have been few but powerful, indeed all the more powerful because few. There has been much “trading “between them and prominent politicians, for they need legislation, and in return for it they can influence votes at elections. An organization which has no politics except its own profits is formidable, and as an eminent Canadian has said, “Capital ends by getting its way.” Some philosophic observers and some men of radical views have been alarmed. But the Canadian farmer is so eager for the extension of railroad facilities, and the man of business sees so clear a gain in the rapid development of the country's resources that there had been, down to 1914, comparatively little of that angry hostility to railroad corporations which had stirred the Western United States during the last thirty or forty years. At present, however, the tide of public opinion has begun to run more strongly than formerly against “Big Business.” 1
These conditions, and especially this ardour, not altogether selfish, of every community to expand and to make the most of its resources faster than its neighbours, have made every district and town and village eager to get something for itself. When the country began, about thirty years ago, to be settled more rapidly and thickly than before, roads were wanted, and bridges, and in some places harbours or improvements in rivers, and everywhere railroads, for the proximity of a line opens up a district and makes the fortune of a town. As in each locality there was little or no capital even for bridge or road building, resort was had, and in some instances properly enough, to the public purse. The public purse once reached, and those ministers who held it finding no surer way of getting local votes than by obliging local applicants, it became the aim of every place and every member to dip as deep as possible into the National treasury. The habit was a demoralizing one all round. It intensified the spirit of localism which is as marked a feature in Canadian politics as it is in the United States, and for the same reasons. It lowered the standard of political thinking among the statesmen; it turned the political interest of the citizens away from the larger aspects of civic duty. These are phenomena which, though their beginnings are intelligible, surprise one in communities now so active and so prosperous as to be well able to tax themselves for many purposes on which grants are lavished by the Dominion Government, grants often needless, for they are given only “to bring money into the town,” and apt to be wastefully administered. But the habit persists, as it is found persisting in New Zealand also.
What has been said of the Dominion House of Commons applies generally, allowing for their much smaller scale, to the Provincial Legislatures. They are divided upon the lines of the National parties, and upon these lines elections are chiefly fought, though with less heat than is shown in Federal contests, and with more frequent changes in the balance of party strength. The wide powers allotted to them by the Constitution, the only check upon which (save as regards education) lies in the power of disallowing their statutes reserved to the Dominion Government, are sometimes not wisely used. Cases have occurred in which legislation has virtually extinguished private property without compensation, a thing forbidden to a State Legislature in the United States, and the Courts have held that such a law, however objectionable, is within their legal competence. Whether it furnishes ground for the exercise of the Dominion disallowance has been doubled: but in a recent instance the propriety of that exercise has been affirmed by the Federal Government.1 The methods and rules of procedure of these Provincial legislatures reproduce generally the practice of Westminster and of Ottawa. In them also the salutary principle that the public money can be voted only at the instance of the Executive holds good.1 Authority is concentrated in the Legislature and Ministry, instead of being scattered among a number of directly elected officials; full accounts of expenditure are presented; members can interrogate Ministers regarding every item.
There are few Standing Committees, usually eight only; nor are there many private bills, circumstances which explain the slight demand hitherto made in Canada for those institutions which have won so much favour in many States of the American Union, viz. the Popular Initiative in legislation, and the submission to a Referendum, or popular vote, of acts passed by the State Legislature. The chief sources of that demand are explained in the chapters relating to the United States, where it is shown that State legislatures have lost the confidence of the people because they pass many private acts for the benefit of the selfish interests of the rich, and omit to pass some acts desired by large sections of the people, at the bidding in both sets of cases of powerful rich men or companies. Hence the Referendum is applied to kill the “bad bills “and to pass those “good bills “which the legislature refuses to pass. In Canada this has happened to a much smaller extent, because the rules of procedure make it harder to play such tricks, because there is no powerful party machine by whose irresponsible control of a Legislature such bills can be put through, and because the majority, i.e. the Ministerial party, if it should try to oblige the “selfish interests “aforesaid, would have to bear the hostile criticism of an alert party Opposition. Assuming the level of public virtue to be much the same among the legislatures of the two countries there is this difference. that in an American State Legislature it is not the business of any one in particular to check and expose a jobbing bill, whereas in Canada — though it does sometimes happen that unscrupulous members of both parties agree to “put through “a job — the leaders of an Opposition have a constantly operating personal motive for detecting and denouncing the misdeeds of any Ministry which should become the tool of rapacious wealth. Apart, however, from private bills there are sundry ways in which the Honey Power can pursue its ends by obtaining benefits from representatives or ministries, sometimes through legislation, sometimes through the disposal of contracts or concessions. Suspicion has been rife as to the influence which the owners or promoters of large business enterprises can put forth in these directions, and enough has been unearthed to justify suspicion. Most Canadians say that although these evils are not new they have grown with the growth of the country, but at the same time express the belief, or at least the hope, that the fuller attention recently given to them will lead to their extinction.
The whole of the higher judiciary in Canada acts under Federal authority, although the administration of justice is left to the Provincial governments. Both the judges of the Supreme Court of the Dominion and those of the Provincial Courts are appointed by the Dominion Executive, and are selected from the Bar, the police magistrates only being appointed by the Provincial Governments. Men who have made their mark in politics are, as in England, sometimes chosen, but this, if it sometimes places second-rate men where first-rate men should be, has not injured the impartiality of the Bench, for though a man may owe his appointment to political party influences he ceases to be a politician so soon as he takes his seat, having no promotion to work for, and knowing his post to be secure so long as he does his duty faithfully. English practice has also been followed in making appointments for life (subject to a power of removal on an address by both Houses of the Dominion Parliament), but the salaries assigned even to the High Court Bench, ranging from $7000 to $8000 (with $10,000 for the Chief Justice of the Dominion), though sufficient to secure men of learning and ability, do not always attract the leaders of the Bar. The Courts have, as sound principle requires wherever a legislature is restricted in its powers by the provisions of a constitution enacted by superior authority,1 the function of passing judgment on the constitutionality of statutes; but it is a function of less scope and less difficulty than in the United States, because practically the only questions that arise relate to the respective competence of Federal Courts and Provincial Courts as defined in the Canadian Constitution of 1867. Moreover, the final decision in such cases belongs to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England as the ultimate Court of appeal in suits brought from the Dominion, or from the highest Provincial Courts. ISTo such complaints as have been made in the United States regarding the cutting down of statutes by judicial decisions are heard in Canada, and this may be one reason why no one suggests popular election as a proper mode of choosing judges.
The respect felt for the judiciary contributes to that strict ministration of the civil law which are honourable characteristics of Canada. Lynch law is all but unknown. The enforcement of the criminal as well as to that impartial ad-only recent breaches of public order serious enough to rouse alarm were those which occurred during the great strike at Winnipeg in 1919, and they are attributed chiefly to the presence of a mass of recent immigrants from the backward parts of Eastern Europe. The disorders of mining camps, once so common in the western United States, are not seen: nor have bands of robbers infested even the wilder districts, for the Dominion Government has maintained there a force of mounted police whose efficiency has been the admiration of all travellers, and the officers of which have been allowed — without complaints from the inhabitants — to exercise pretty wide semi-judicial as well as executive powers. Such of the aboriginal Indian tribes as remain in the North-West and in British Columbia have been on the whole humanely and judiciously treated, with few occasions for the employment of armed force, and with few or none of those administrative abuses which the United States Government found it during many years impossible to prevent or cure, because the administrative posts were so frequently given, by way of political patronage, to incompetent or untrustworthy men. Nothing has been more creditable to Canada than the maintenance of so high a standard of law and order over its vast territory. Here, as in Australia, the people are not jealous of executive authority, because Englishmen have been long accustomed to see it exercised under parliamentary supervision.
Of Local Government not much need be said, because it presents few features of special interest. National politics have fortunately not been allowed to enter into the elections of the local councils, in which the chief aim is to find the best men of the neighbourhood. The rural schools are honestly but rather too parsimoniously managed: the towns pay the teachers better and maintain a creditable level of instruction. As regards the smaller municipalities the same holds generally true. In the large cities the conditions are different, and approach those which afflict the great cities of the United States. Where there are large sums to be spent and to be raised by taxation, large contracts to be placed, large opportunities for land speculation offered by the making of city improvements, and where the bulk of the voters have no interest in economical administration, abuses must be expected. Though there is in a few large cities some jobbery, the only grave scandals have occurred in Montreal, where about ten years ago peculation on a great scale was brought home to the municipal authorities. Toronto has a tolerably good record: so have Winnipeg and Vancouver. The local party organization sometimes takes a hand in the election of councillors by putting forward men who have served it, but the voters do not follow slavishly, for their chief desire is to find honest and capable men. It will be remembered that there is not in Canada, not even in the cities, a powerful party machine for choosing candidates, and that there are no administrative officers directly elected by the people except, in many towns, the Mayor.
It was alleged at a general election not many years ago that large contributions to party funds had been made by some great manufacturing firms.
These lines describe things as they were before 1914. The taking over by the Dominion Government during the War, and the recent financial collapse of some important lines have so altered the situation that one must not venture to speak of the future.
See as to this interesting point, Mr Justice Riddell's Lectures on the Constitution of Canada, pp. 98 and 112 and notes, and also an article by Mr. Murray Clark, K.C., in the Canadian Bankers? Magazine for Jan. 1919.
In these and other respects Professor Henry Jones Ford compares the Provincial Legislatures with the State Legislatures in the United States, to the advantage of the former (North American Review, No. 194 (1911)).
This principle is, however, not followed in Switzerland nor indeed fully recognized by most lawyers of the European Continent. See Chapter XXVIII. p. 401, ante.