THE WORDING OF the Independence of Parliament Act was clear:

"No person holding any contract with Her Majesty shall be eligible as a member of the House of Commons, nor shall he sit or vote in same."

In the early years of Confederation, no law of Canada was ever more universally ignored.

In opposition since 1874, the Conservatives launched a major offensive in the House of Commons on April 7, 1877.

Mackenzie Bowell (North Hastings) moved that the Liberal Speaker and member for Gloucester, N.B., Timothy Anglin, had breached the Acts because a company he owned held a printing contract with the federal government. The resolution was defeated 111-72. Instead the House decided to refer the Anglin affair to its Committee on Privileges and Elections.

Under the Act, any individual could sue and if the accused-member was convicted, the $2,000/day fine was payable to the plaintiff!

litigationRecognizing the Pandora's Box the opposition was opening, Liberal Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie responded by introducing emergency amendments to the Act to protect members "who sat in the House under a bona fide belief that they were qualified to sit."

Tory leader John A. Macdonald refused to let up. He angrily denounced Mackenzie's amendments. "To pass a whitewashing bill of this kind will be to make Parliament the laughing stock of the whole country," he argued in the House on April 26.

By then, the litigation craze was in full swing. A dozen writs had already been taken out against members of the Commons, some for as much as $1-million! A writ was even served against Macdonald by Liberal backbencher, Alfred Dymond.

In one impassioned plea in favour of the bill, one of the defendant-members, declared that:

"... it is unjust to attack the seats of hon. members who, from circumstances beyond their control, are impugned because they had sold a claw-hammer or a jackknife to a department of government. I do not believe hon. members should be placed at the mercy of every scoundrel in Lower Town to have writs issued against them."

One of Mackenzie's ministers took on the former prime minister and made some startling revelations.

This was followed by an amusing and apologetic admission by Dymond.

DAVID MILLS - Minister of the Interior (Bothwell, Ont.): Sir, the hon. member for Kingston (Mr. Macdonald) declared that this measure is an unprecedented one; that no such legislation has ever before been attempted in Canada. The hon. gentleman is mistaken. He himself introduced a bill to exempt Sir George Cartier for having accepted a certain position. The tune was changed when the other ox was gored! It was an entirely different thing! The Speaker was attacked when he has not an opportunity to say a word in defence!

The hon. member for Kingston must expect his own side to be attacked. If hon. members on my side of the House see their friends attacked and do not attack hon. gentlemen opposite, they would be unworthy of sitting here! We will not see our friends attacked unfairly and improperly without attacking in return!

I think [the prime minister's] measure is a proper one under the circumstances. The seats of hon. gentlemen are attacked for acts that have been notoriously permitted to pass with impunity ever since confederation. If a new rule is to be laid down, at all events one that has not hitherto been supposed to be binding upon members, it is only fair to the House that, for this session at all events, there should be relief from the penalties.

ALFRED DYMOND (North York): Sir, I feel it my duty to state that I had facts placed before me which I intend to formulate and bring before the House, constituting a charge of a breach of the Independence of Parliament Act against the right hon. member for Kingston.

I communicated the fact to the Minister of the Interior that morning.

I told him at the same time, just as the hon. Minister has stated, that I did not feel at all disposed to give any encouragement to assaults of this kind, but that I believed I had evidence of a most flagrant breach of the law on the part of the right hon. gentleman. I was not going to allow him to escape if gentlemen on the government side of the House were attacked.

I am not, nor have I ever been on such terms with the right hon. gentleman as would justify my approaching him personally on the subject. I am, perhaps, the only member of the House who has not been introduced to the right hon. gentleman! I did not think, under those circumstances, that it would be becoming on my part to approach him with a communication of this kind, verbally.

Minutes later, Second Reading of the Independence of Parliament Act Amendment Bill carried 97-45.

Two days later, it was announced in the Senate Chamber that Royal Assent had been given to the amendment to the Independence of Parliament Act.

The litigation craze was over.

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