The structure of today’s government in Canada is the result of a series of changes influenced by the needs of the different regions or provinces and their desire to influence decision making concerning the development of the country, its laws and system of government.
These changes have continued to evolve for more than 200 years with the balance of power being divided along federal and provincial lines.
A significant starting point for looking at Canada’s evolution as an independent country and a former colony of Britain is June 10, 1791 with the signing of the Constitution Act. This Act resulted in the former Province of Quebec being divided into two distinct provinces, the
Province of Lower Canada (presentday Quebec) and Province of Upper Canada
(presentday Ontario). Each province was given an elected Legislative Assembly, an appointed Legislative Council, and an appointed Executive Council. Upper and Lower Canada however, both had significant differences in their administration.
Upper Canada was administered by a lieutenant Governor appointed by the Governor
General and Lower Canada was to be administered by a Direct Representative of the
Governor General. The membership of each of the councils was also different. The
Legislative Councils were to be established with no fewer than seven members in Upper
Canada and fifteen members in Lower Canada. The members were to hold their seat for life.
The Legislative Assembly was to be established with no less than sixteen members in Upper
Canada and fifty members in Lower Canada. The Governor General was given the power to appoint the speaker of the Legislative Assembly, to fix the time and place of the elections and to give or withhold assent to bills. This division ensured that Loyalists would constitute a majority in Upper Canada and allow for the application of exclusively British laws in this province. Changes also took place to allow for the coexistence of French civil law and English criminal law in Lower Canada.
Although these changes were important to the beginning of granting some independence from
Britain, and helped solve some of the immediate problems related to the settlement of the
Loyalists in Canada, the new constitution brought a whole new set of political problems.
Those problems were basically due to the fact that the Legislative Assemblies of the provinces did not have full control over the revenues of the provinces and the appointed
Executive and Legislative Councils were not responsible to the elected Legislative
Assembly.This led to a movement to reform the constitution.
The reformers from each province viewed the structure of government as illegitimate.
FrenchCanadians in Lower Canada and Loyalists and immigrants from the United States in
Upper Canada were not satisfied with the granting of elected assemblies and wanted control as well. The conservative groups around the Governors resisted. This started a cycle of hostility and frustration. Those seeking change in Upper Canada led a group calling itself the
Reform movement. These men called for "responsible government," a term which became popular in the 1830s. With responsible government, the Reformers thought, government could be more efficient and power would rest with local people rather than a British governor. By the year of 1836, rebellions broke out. They lasted until 1837 and were unsuccessful for the reformers. Although the rebellions were unsuccessful, Britain wanted to investigate why they happened in the first place. They sent a man named John Lambton (Lord Durham) to look at the causes and forces behind the rebellions of Upper and Lower Canada. After four months, Lord
Durham presented the Report of Affairs of British North America. Two of the main recommendations of the Durham report were the Union of Upper and Lower Canada and the development of responsible government in the