MANITOBA’S FIRST LEGISLATURE

MANITOBA’S FIRST LEGISLATURE

A government of peace and reconciliation

by George Siamandas

On March 15, 1871 the first session of the Manitoba legislature met to consider the business of the new province of Manitoba. Adams Archibald the benevolent despot that ran the show had been born in Truro Nova Scotia in 1814. He became a lawyer and politician in Nova Scotia were he served as Attorney general. He strongly favoured the union of British North America and was involved in the drafting of the terms of confederation. In 1870 he became the Lieut Gov of Manitoba. Archibald was the right man at the right time. He had sufficient knowledge of the running of government, had good legal training for the passage of basic laws, was a strong believer in confederation, and he had a genuine stance of conciliation towards those involved in the rebellion. As soon as he got to Red River in Sept 2 1870 Archibald met with local leaders and avoided extreme individuals like Schultz and Riel and his top men. Two weeks later on September 20 1870, he appointed an Executive Council comprising Alfred Boyd and Marc Girard both of whom were relative newcomers.

THE FIRST PREMIER

Boyd is listed as being Manitoba’s first premier and appears as such in the Canadian Parliamentary Guide. But according to Bruce Donaldson the Province’s head of History, Archibald really functioned as Manitoba’s first premier. It was Lieut Gov Adams Archibald who really wielded power and was in effect the premier. Till the first legislature opened on March 15 1871 Archibald and his executive council ruled by proclamation. They arranged for a census set up electoral boundaries and planned the first election for December 30, 1870. While essentially operating as an autocrat, Archibald often consulted with people like Tache and James McKay in order to be made aware of local feelings and personalities.

They met for six weeks and they passed a lot of bills. For the first session Archibald had planned a set of 32 bills in order to keep the new legislators “busy and (to) fend off abstractions”. In short order they set up a court system, a school act, a law society, electoral boundaries and regulations, and laws on deeds, wills and estates. The system of public schools was like in Quebec, while the system of justice and courts was modeled after the one in Ontario.

The election was held Dec 30 1870. The census for Manitoba was interesting. It showed 558 Indians, 5,757 metis, 4,083 half English half-breeds, 747 white natives of red River, 294 canadians and 525 Britishers and Americans. There were 24 constituencies following the old parish boundaries: 12 French and 12 English. During the election Archibald did his best to ensure that moderate candidates made themselves available for election. There were no formal political parties yet.

Some of the same men that had been part of Red River society helped form the first government; men like AGB Bannatyne, John Norquay, and John Sutherland.

The Canadian Party comprised Britishers like Alfred Boyd, and Henry J Clarke. The French community was represented by Canadians like Joseph Royal, Marc Girard, and Joseph Dubuc all lawyers who helped draft Manitoba ‘s constitution after that of Quebec. Of the 24 elected to Manitoba ‘s first legislature, James A Jackson writes that 17 of them were sympathetic to the provisional government and its leader.

When you compare today it seems the first legislature was meeting right after a coup d’etat. It seems to have been a cordial affair considering the seriousness of the issues of the day. Archibald was a pragmatic fellow. And his actions suggest the freedom a person can exercise who is seeking solutions. There were issues of the Riel rebellion that somehow had to be both forgotten, yet addressed. Joseph Royal was elected first speaker. Manitoba was in transition from a fur trading are to an emerging gateway of agricultural commerce. Awaiting was the complex job of setting up a civil service. There was no treasury or a means of raising taxes. There were no roads or other signs of infrastructure.

Archibald got into trouble with the English press for being too cosy to Riel. The amnesty that had been promised by Ottawa was not forthcoming. But Archibald refused to take any action against Riel or any of the other “criminals”. It made for bad press in Ontario but went over well in Red River.

There was no legislature. That was not built until 1884, so they met at one of the members homes; the home of Andrew Bannatyne. They chose not to use the Council chamber of Fort Garry perhaps because of its associations with Riel and the provisional govt. But they carved a mace from a portion of Fort Garry’s flagstaff and from the hub of a red river cart.

In the fall of 1872 Archibald was replaced by Alexander Morris. He had tired of the heavy pace of the two years at Red River. He became Lieut Gov in Nova Scotia and later won a seat in Parliament. He died in 1892.

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