The Prime Minister and Premiers Who Aren’t
The British North America Act (BNA) was enacted to be the guidelines of a newly created Canada. As with most legislation it reflected the times in which it was written. The BNA had no provision for a Prime Minister, Provincial premiers or political parties. So what went wrong and why?At the time of the BNA Act Canada was a colony of Imperial Britain. The head of Canada was the Governor General appointed by the Crown.
When the Act was declared it created the Dominion of Canada with four provinces; Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario.
Section III of the Act entitled Executive Powers set the stage for who was the boss;
9. The Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen.
10. The Provisions of this Act referring to the Governor General extend and apply to the Governor General for the Time being of Canada, or other the Chief Executive Officer or Administrator for the Time being carrying on the Government of Canada on behalf and in the Name of the Queen, by whatever Title he is designated.
11. There shall be a Council to aid and advise in the Government of Canada, to be styled the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada; and the Persons who are to be Members of that Council shall be from Time to Time chosen and summoned by the Governor General and sworn in as Privy Councillors, and Members thereof may be from Time to Time removed by the Governor General.
12. All Powers, Authorities, and Functions which under any Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, or of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or of the Legislature of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Canada, Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, are at the Union vested in or exerciseable by the respective Governors or Lieutenant Governors of those Provinces, with the Advice, or with the Advice and Consent, of the respective Executive Councils thereof, or in conjunction with those Councils, or with any Number of Members thereof, or by those Governors or Lieutenant Governors individually, shall, as far as the same continue in existence and capable of being exercised after the Union in relation to the Government of Canada, be vested in and exerciseable by the Governor General, with the Advice or with the Advice and Consent of or in conjunction with the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, or any Members thereof, or by the Governor General individually, as the Case requires, subject nevertheless (except with respect to such as exist under Acts of the Parliament of Great Britain or of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) to be abolished or altered by the Parliament of Canada.
Let us understand what the Act is saying. In Section 9, the Queen is Chairman of the Board. In Section 10, she assigns a Governor General as her CEO. In Section 11, she sets up a council of elected Canadians (members to be elected by the people) and allows the GG to appoint whomever he wishes to the Queen’s Privy Council (analogue to what is now the Cabinet). In Section 12, she vests all the power into the hands of the GG and his Lieutenants in the Provinces.
Just in case any body does not get the point from the above, Section 15 will crystallize it for you;
15. The Command-in-Chief of the Land and Naval Militia, and of all Naval and Military Forces, of and in Canada, is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen.
The Act then goes on the set up the structures of power. The Parliament of Canada is to have an Upper House, the Senate, and a House of Commons.
The 96 member Senate is populated with appointees of the GG. They number 24 from Ontario, 24 from Quebec, 12 from New Brunswick and 12 from Nova Scotia.
The first House of Commons consisted of One hundred and eighty-one Members, of whom Eighty-two were elected for Ontario, Sixty-five for Quebec, Nineteen for Nova Scotia, and Fifteen for New Brunswick.
The manager of the House of Commons was to be a Speaker elected by the Members.
Nowhere in the BNA Act is a Prime Minster or a Provincial Premier even mentioned or hinted at! Neither was there any mention of political parties.
In our next segment we shall discuss how power and responsibilities were shared by the federal and provincial governments.