Manitoba's Legislative Council

by Murray S. Donnelly

Manitoba Pageant, April 1959, Volume 4, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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When Manitoba became a province of Canada in 1870 provision was made for a legislature of two houses. The lower house, which was the equivalent of the present legislature, had twenty-four elected members and the upper, or Legislative Council, had seven who were nominated to hold office for life. A law was valid only after passage by both groups and signature by the Lieutenant-Governor. This arrangement lasted only six years. The Legislative Council was abolished in 1876.

Why was it abolished? Records indicate that it was rather a useful body. It was useful largely because its members were men who had been particularly prominent in the community and government under the old regime of the Hudson's Bay Company. Their advice and experience often helped to smooth the way in a difficult period of transition to provincial status. However, the new province could afford no such luxuries. The total revenue at that time was less than one hundred thousand dollars as compared to a hundred million at present. Moreover, ninety percent of this money came from grants made by the federal government.

Hon. Colin Inkster, last speaker of the Legislative Council
Source: Archives of Manitoba

The province was growing far faster than its revenues were expanding and in 1874 bankruptcy appeared to be just around the corner. Two members of the government went to Ottawa to ask for a loan and an increase in the grant. The federal cabinet agreed to help but on condition that expenses be cut by abolition of the seven-man Legislative Council. Manitoba had no choice but cooperation and a bill to do away with the upper house was introduced at the next session and passed the lower house without dissent.

However, the council was not yet ready to agree to this plan for its own extinction. It rejected the bill which could not become law without its assent. The same bill was introduced a second time one year later and met with the same fate as its predecessor. The solution to the impasse appears to have been provided by Lieutenant-Governor Morris. He brought pressure on the members of the council, pointing out that money had been obtained from Ottawa on the understanding that their salaries should cease. He also made arrangements to provide some of the members with equally good jobs elsewhere. The way was thus prepared. The bill was introduced for a third time in 1876 and this time it passed by a majority of one.

Page revised: 30 June 2009