UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The western Canadian regional governments and federal system, 1900-1930 Hromnysky, Roman


"There is good reason for the belief that local self-government is the cornerstone of democracy."¹ One might employ this statement to describe the value of having autonomous provincial or state governments operating within a federal system. These governments are usually very sensitive to the opinion of the electorate. Thus in Canada one often finds Territorial or provincial premiers not only taking action in matters within their actual or intended jurisdiction, like education and the control over local commerce. In particular after 1900, they have also spoken frequently upon certain wider national questions. Constitution-makers attempt federalism to give the people of distinctive geographical regions a sense of pride in the operation of their political institutions.² This attitude is conducive to the growth of national unity. Having already achieved improvements in constitutional status, the provincial or state governments will be all the more willing to adopt a cooperative approach in their relationships with the national authorities. The following discussion indicates why the provincial governments in certain federal states deriving from the British Empire have often practiced, during the twentieth century, conciliatory and sometimes even overly cautious ideas of constitutional status. Heterogenous states possessing a unitary constitution normally find it easier to implement sudden changes of policy than do the national governments of federations. On the other hand, in unitary states slight attention is often given to the views characterizing a remote or thinly settled region.³ In federal states, it is possible for political parties to defend distinctive ideas of the regional and the national interest upon two levels of government. As a result, the inhabitants of remote districts in federal states generally acquire a more rewarding experience in politics. Likewise, they are likely to obtain more satisfactory economic services than would groups outside the policymaking elite in a unitary state.⁴ Workable local and regional governments are able to provide some services directly. Further, they frequently can mobilize public opinion within their territory upon any political or economic issue whatever. As will be shown in this study, their shortcomings sometimes result precisely from failure to concentrate upon the most promising and best defined objectives. Besides setting up certain regional governments, a federal constitution normally provides for a theoretically impartial tribunal to resolve or arbitrate conflicting interpretations of law. Not only are jurisdictional disputes expected to decrease in number as the regional political units use the opportunities available within the constitutional framework for constructive initiative, but the very presence of somewhat detached adjudicators has made the relevant issues more intellectual in nature. The remaining legal cases will often be highly significant. To buttress their position, the participants will often put up carefully made up arguments. The discussion will tend to concern matters of principle. Sometimes, the divergent ideological premises will appear clearly and immediately. One might well apply this statement to the litigation between the governments of Ontario and Canada during the nineteenth century. During a historical period when the court has explained to the satisfaction of representative political figures the existing legal status quo, the regional governments will have to make the further important choice as to whether they should insist upon additional functions and revenues to be gained from the national authorities. This situation prevailed in Canada during the movements then shared with other regional governments in Canada fundamental agreement upon the ideas of self-government. The regional Governments in Western Canada were all interested in making certain fairly modest jurisdictional and subsidy gains. Still, one finds several distinct responses being made to the serious constitutional problems then baffling Parliament. In the Canadian Confederation, provincial governments have been entities "largely independent, in the constitutional sense, from the Dominion government."⁵ The regional governments have generally been successful in maintaining rights given by the British North America Act of 1867 and subsequent amendments.⁶ Even the Legislative Council of the Northwest Territories took far-reaching action to protect its favorite legislative plans, as in language matters, even at a time when Parliamentary approval was essential. The Northwest Territories made a steady advance to the legal status enjoyed by the governments of Manitoba. Meanwhile, the Cabinets of Manitoba and British Columbia kept sponsoring certain legislative measures opposed by the federal Government. Notable were the provincial railway charter acts and regulations pertaining to Crown lands.⁷ After I89O, the federal Government allowed the great majority of disputed provincial acts to stand. The Western administrators undoubtedly enjoyed legislative sovereignty in substantial degree. Politically, the federal parties have exerted only restricted influence with even friendly Territorial and provincial Cabinets. Legally and in everyday conduct of business, the latter made public policy mostly on their own initiative. Hence the nature of the constitutional proposals submitted by the Western regional Governments to Parliament, and the nature of direct challenges to federal policy in their legislative programs, often indicate reliably the ideology held by representative regional leaders. This study will define ideology so as to clarify the different approaches taken, between1900 and 1930, to the federal system.⁸ This writer takes ideology to mean not merely the belief in traditionally held personal liberties. It is not restricted to new concepts of economic organization. Any precise concepts of political figures concerning the division of powers must be included. Thus one might speak of a decentralist ideology. Indeed, one rarely finds the Western Canadian political figures expressing theoretical arguments. It is, therefore, often necessary to infer beliefs from specific policies or proposals. For instance, by analyzing the demands made by the Roblin Government (1900-1915) in Manitoba upon Parliament, one may deduce the strong belief held by numerous Conservatives from the Western Provinces in the necessity of modifying the constitutional restrictions resulting from the British North America Act of I87I and small federal subsidies.⁹ The similarities of belief characterizing the representative Canadian regional politicians during the period in question are significant, and will receive considerable attention in this study. Still one finds certain variations both in the jurisdictional positions taken by provincial parties and in typical attitudes shown in matters undisputably under the authority of Parliament. This study will suggest that certain ideological differences were actually the most important factor determining the nature of emphasis and the degree of urgency given either fundamental set of issues. The reader will find all these concepts carefully defined in the introductory chapter. So are the non-ideological factors behind the regional attitudes. The regional viewpoints to be studied will be termed autonomist, qualified cooperative, and partisan nationalist. For reasons given later, this writer will classify all the Territorial and provincial governments in Western Canada prior to 1905 as autonomist. Such also were the Conservative Governments in Manitoba and British Columbia between 1905 and 1914. The Liberal Governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan during the latter period will be considered partisan nationalist. They remained of this type until at least 1918. The label qualified cooperative is applicable to all the Western provincial Governments holding office from 1918 to 1930. No conclusive statements will be made to the ideology held by Members of Parliament from Western Canada. It will only be suggested that the great majority of them, after 1900, have shown political attitudes similar to those of the provincial partisan nationalists. A different study is required if one is to account in detail for the ideologies held by the regional governments in Western Canada. In the following pages, their viewpoints will be mainly employed to explain specific actions taken to change the existing division of functions in the Canadian federal system. Other factors, which also influenced Territorial and provincial governments in the choice of policies include electoral motives, the influence of federal parties, and the degree of financial hardship felt in the respective region. Since numerous writers have already analyzed the financial issues at stake in Canadian inter-governmental relations, the political aspects listed above must now obtain the greatest degree of attention.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.