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HOME / A HISTORY OF DEMOCRATIC EVOLUTION IN PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND /


The Creation of Colonial Government

Aside from the traditional forms of governance developed by aboriginal peoples over thousands of years and Île Saint-Jean's status as a satellite of the Royal government in Louisbourg, there was little framework for local government on Prince Edward Island1 before the advent of British rule in 1763. In 1769, the island was granted colonial status, with all of the administrative machinery that came with it, including provision for a governor (after 1784 reduced to a lieutenant-governor), a council and an elected assembly (MacKinnon).

Frontier conditions dictated how the trappings of colonial government were translated to the new colony. When Governor Walter Patterson named his first Council in 1770 from among "the principal inhabitants" of the colony, there were too few "principal inhabitants" to fill the initial complement of twelve councilors and he began with only seven. (MacKinnon) For similar reasons, Patterson was reluctant to summon an elected assembly and only did so in July 1773 when doubts were entertained about whether his government could enact legislation without the consent of the governed. In a colony lacking both settlers and transportation infrastructure, Patterson found it expedient to treat the entire colony as a single constituency and to limit the size of the House of Assembly to 18 members.

British practice was to restrict the right to vote to substantial property owners (with property initially defined as land) on the principle that only civic-minded property owners, having a greater stake in the country, should have a say in governing it. But on Prince Edward Island, principle had to be sacrificed to pioneer realities, and the only qualification required of its first voters was that they be male, Protestant and residents. With the convening of a House of Assembly, the Council began a dual function, acting as an upper house, or Legislative Council, “to advise and consent,” while retaining its role as an Executive Council, “to advise and assist.” In 1784, the Executive Council was set at nine members and the Legislative Council at twelve, but since the former was chosen from the latter, it was difficult in practice to distinguish between the two. (Carruthers)


1 Although the province's current name was not officially adopted until 1799, for simplicity's sake, "Prince Edward Island" is used throughout.
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