The Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly

Article excerpt

Province House is perhaps best known to Canadians as the Birthplace of Canada, where the Fathers of Confederation met in 1864. A sandstone structure with Greek and Roman architectural lines, it was completed in 1847. It is now a national historic site, tourist mecca and still continues as a legislative chamber. Over the years, it has been witness to Royal visits, state funerals, countless demonstrations, protests, sit-ins, celebrations, rallies, vigils, debates, deliberations and occasional random acts of graffiti artists. This paper will examine the evolution of the legislature, the electoral system, the Island's political culture and how it is reflected and legislative procedures and processes.

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The Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly, established in 1773, is the second-oldest parliament in Canada, the first having been established in Nova Scotia in 1758. The establishment of the colonial government, and its subsequent evolution, was the result of one of the most unusual arrangements in British colonial history. Land in the colony, then part of Nova Scotia, was awarded by lottery to proprietors in 1767 who undertook, as part of the conditions of their grants, to settle the colony with Protestants, pay quitrents (a form of taxation) to the Crown and to fulfill various other conditions. The new proprietors, many of whom were to not fulfill the conditions of their grants, petitioned the Crown for the establishment of a separate government free from the influences of Nova Scotia. In return, the proprietors agreed to defray the expenses of the new colonial government. Prince Edward Island thus became a separate colony in 1769. The subsequent conflicts between absentee proprietors and tenants, known as the "Land Question," dominated Island politics for more than a century.

At first, administration of the new colony was limited to the Governor, an appointed Legislative Council and a Supreme Court. Although provision was made for a twelve member Legislative Council, the first Governor, Walter Patterson, limited the number to seven because he could not find enough suitable candidates in the small and struggling colony. Despite his best efforts, Patterson was unable to enforce collection of quitrents. The establishment of an assembly to reflect the popular will of the inhabitants was seen as a means of validating the administration's actions, and so, on July 7 of 1773, the Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly convened for the first time. Its first acts confirmed the previous proceedings enacted by the Governor and Legislative Council.

Because of the small size and limited range of skills of the colony's residents, the number of members of the new assembly was limited to eighteen. They were elected at-large by male, Protestant residents over the age of 21. Folklore has it that the first assembly met in a Charlottetown tavern. Surveying the elected members, the sergeant-at-arms is reported as observing, "This is a damned queer parliament." He was fined for the outburst. (1)

In the small confines of Island politics, personal rivalries emerged; disputes occurred among the various factions of the population; there were ongoing disagreements and disputes with the Colonial Office; enforcing the conditions imposed upon the proprietors was proving difficult, if not impossible; corruption was widespread; and the progress of the colony was constrained. Less than 15 years after Prince Edward Island was made a separate colony, it was once again placed under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Nova Scotia. The rank of the Prince Edward Island Governor was reduced to that of Lieutenant-Governor. In a letter from the Colonial Office to Patterson, it was noted that, "The Civil Establishment still continues a Burthen upon this country." (2)

Then as now, the governmental structures in Prince Edward Island demonstrate the operation of elaborate constitutional provisions in a small province. …