A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
Chapter 43, Responsible Government

We have already reviewed The British Reform Act of 1832. In history, this act is considered to be a major milestone in the development of responsible government. However, as we have already observed, years were to pass before there was much of a difference in the composition of the British Parliament. Things ran along much like things did in the past, that is to say as "a continuous, animated, after-dinner discussion."1 Further, the act of 1832, and for a long time after, did not change one of the principal problems, that is to say, there was a large portion of the population not represented. "In 1830 the British Commons represented an electorate [male property owners] of about 220,000 out of a total population of approximately 14 million, or about 3 percent of the adult population."2

Needless to say, that if in England one could not see too many observable changes in the political operation of the country, in Nova Scotia one would have seen no changes, and those that did occur as the 19th century wore on, came as a result of hard political infighting. One of the changes:

"Just before the 1840 election, the Assembly enacted a bill that established the times and places for holding the polls for each township and county. It ensured, more than ever before, that polls were moved to a larger number of communities, but there was no attempt to initiate either pre-registration of the electorate or simultaneous polling."3
Brian Cuthbertson continued and reminded us of how slow-going reform was:
"The first election with simultaneous polling was held on 5 August 1847. Although the new Assembly, which ushered in responsible government, was faced with ten petitions to void contests, no contests involved the organized violence characteristic of previous elections; this was to be true, equally, for succeeding elections. The 1847 act had not dealt, however, with pre-registration of voters, voter qualifications, and redistribution. An act in 1859 eliminated township representation entirely and required that voting be by counties only. In 1863, another act called for the annual preparation of voter lists and the use of electoral rolls. The issue of voter qualifications or the franchise was not to be resolved until 1920, when Nova Scotia introduced universal suffrage for men and women."4
One of the considerable improvements during these years, was, of course, to bring to an end the appointment, from here and abroad, aristocratic favourites to rule the province. With the election of James Boyle Uniacke as the Premier of the Nova Scotia, in 1848, came a major change to the old system. The time had come when the premier could choose his advisers or cabinet members "without any restriction on his choice." Thus it was, in 1848, that the practice of appointing friends of the crown to the executive or governing council in Nova Scotia came to an end and a new era of responsible government in Nova Scotia came into being.5

NEXT: [Chapter 44, Party Government]


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Peter Landry