THE RIGHT TO VOTE is a fundamental right accorded freely to citizens of modern democratic societies. But in the early history of Canada, much like everything else, the right to vote was severely restricted along guidelines that modern Canadians would find repulsively discriminatory. The most significant of these archaic limitations denied women their right to vote.

There were in fact three attempts to allow women to vote in federal elections. The first attempt was made on April 27, 1885, right in the middle of the second Riel rebellion by Sir John A. MacDonald in his Electoral Franchise Bill.

At the time, Canadian laws were very much modelled after British legislative initiatives but this time Sir John was not waiting for a British precedent which, in any case, seemed improbable in the near future. In fact, from 1866 to 1884, eight proposals to give voting rights to women had already gone down to defeat in the British Parliament when the Canadian bill was tabled. MacDonald knew he would have difficulty with his proposal and had tried to anticipate the objections by restricting suffrage to unmarried women or widows.

Joseph RoyalIt was not long before a member Charles Townsend (Cumberland), moved to the amend the first clause of Macdonald's bill, to the effect of striking out women suffrage. Replied the prime Minister.

"I had hoped that we in Canada would have had the great honour of leading in the cause of securing the complete emancipation of women, of completely establishing her equality as a human being and a member of society with man.

"I say it is a mere matter of time. I am fighting contra spem. I believe a majority of this House is opposed to female suffrage."

He was right.

John Charlton, the Liberal member for North Norfolk added that "the enfranchisement of the females of the Dominion of Canada would not be detrimental to the interests of the country. I believe it would create a large vote which would be on the side of moral, social and religious reform."

But the prized response to this avant garde proposal came from a Franco-Manitoban.

JOSEPH ROYAL (Provencher): I regretted very much to hear for the first time such logic from the right hon. Premier. Evidently he was not in his sphere.

He was evidently for a time not a Conservative Premier.

The hon. gentleman speaks of woman suffrage.

She is not taught politics.

To give women a vote at parliamentary elections means the addition of a new element in the education of females.

The program that prevails at present in our educational institutions for females is large enough and perhaps too large for the young females who attend them, without encumbering it with political economy.

Woman has been created for another kingdom. Her kingdom is powerful enough. They are supreme in almost everything.

If you admit them to the political arena, we shall have to concede our places to them.

It is all very well where a lady of property and rank may object that her butler has a vote while she has not. But that is due to the fact that the lady is a woman and the butler is a man. That is all. The reason is very plain.

It may be said that there have been very illustrious women who have made their mark in history. But I should like to see any hon. member stand up and say that he would wish to be the husband of one of those illustrious women. If he were, he would be known as the husband of that illustrious woman and nothing else. He would be called the husband of Mrs. So-and-so.

I hope that this Canadian Parliament will never sanction the theory of woman suffrage, a theory which I regard as most radical and which I dare to affirm it will be the duty of every well meaning Conservative to vote down.

On Royal's cue, the debate continue to degenerate. Some members had to be called to order for making cat-like noises. It was a lost cause and would remain that way for eleven years.

In 1888, on the advice of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, Joseph Royal was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories.


See Act II.