Our History and Timeline
The history of the institution now known as the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island covers almost 250 years, dating back to July 7, 1773. On that day, local representatives elected by residents of the Island formally met for the first time in Charlottetown. Today residents still elect local representatives to meet, pass laws, approve the use of public money, hold government to account and debate the public affairs of the Island. But the institution has evolved considerably.
In 1773, what is now PEI was a British North American colony known as St. John's Island. The British had gained control of the Island in 1758. French settlers had previously established themselves on Île St. Jean in 1720. The Mi'kmaq people had lived on Epekwitk for thousands of years beforehand. The Island was renamed Prince Edward Island in 1799, after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.
In 1769, the British colonial authorities severed St. John's Island from the colonial administration of Nova Scotia and appointed Walter Patterson as the Island's first Governor. Patterson appointed a council of advisors early on, but under British law, an assembly of popularly elected local representatives was also required in order to enact legislation. Thus in 1773 the first House of Assembly was elected. At that point, the Island's legislature became a two-house, or bicameral, institution, with the Legislative/Executive Council considered the Upper House and the House of Assembly considered the Lower House. It remained bicameral for roughly 120 years. The Governor continued to lead the executive branch of government, assisted by the appointed members of the Council.
Early sessions of the Assembly met in private homes and taverns. A doorkeeper of the time is reputed to have remarked that this made for a “damn queer parliament”, for which he was punished by the House. In the early decades of the Assembly, rudimentary rules were established. The House also asserted the rights and privileges necessary for it to function, such as the freedom of speech in debate and the right to regulate its own affairs. The House appointed committees of members charged with the discussion and analysis of particular matters, which took some of the work load off the main body of the House.
PEI’s early legislature often remained in office for an indefinite time, until the Governor saw fit to dissolve it. In 1833 the term was set to four years, with exceptions for dissolution by the Governor or upon the death of the King or Queen. Today, the term of the Legislative Assembly may last for up to five years from the day of the return of the writs for a general election. Otherwise, it may be dissolved earlier by the Lieutenant Governor with the advice of Executive Council. It is no longer automatically dissolved upon the death of a sovereign.
A permanent home for the legislature was built in the 1840s. The legislature first met in the Colonial Building, later known as Province House, in 1847, and continued to do so until the building was closed for restoration in 2015.
At the same time that Province House was being built, pressure grew for responsible government to be granted. In a responsible government system, the executive branch is accountable to and must maintain the confidence of the legislative branch. This is mainly demonstrated in the convention that, for a government to remain in power, the legislative branch must approve of the Speech from the Throne which lays out government's plans for the session, and the budget, which indicates how government proposes to spend public money. In this system government is also normally formed from among the elected representatives of the legislature. In the first half of the 19th century the Island did not have responsible government; executive government was formed by the appointed Governor and members of the Council, not from among the elected members of the House of Assembly. The House of Assembly did not have the power to defeat the government by expression of non-confidence.
In 1839 the Council, whose members had previously acted in both an executive capacity and a legislative capacity to review legislative measures put forward by the House of Assembly, was separated into distinct Executive and Legislative Councils. Some members of the House of Assembly were also appointed to Executive Council. A year later, the House of Assembly requested that the Queen grant responsible government to PEI, but it took several more years and much disagreement between the houses of the legislature and successive governors before it was finally granted in 1851. At this point, leadership of executive passed from the Governor to the Premier, who, along with the other members of Executive Council, was an elected member of the House of Assembly. PEI's first Premier under responsible government was the Honourable George Coles.
In September, 1864 representatives of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and the Province of Canada (as Ontario and Quebec were then jointly known) met in Charlottetown to discuss a potential union of their colonies. Out of these meetings and subsequent conferences, the Dominion of Canada was formed on July 1, 1867. PEI opted not to join the new nation at first, in favour of remaining a colony, albeit one with the independence it had achieved through responsible government. PEI ultimately did become the seventh province of Canada in 1873, following the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories.
In the legislature, the Legislative Council continued to exist beyond the granting of responsible government, but its influence gradually diminished compared to that of the House of Assembly. In 1862 it became an elected, rather than appointed, body. However, rather than abolish its Upper House as other Canadian legislatures had done, in 1893 the House of Assembly and Legislative Council merged to form the Legislative Assembly. In this new, unicameral legislature, half of the members were elected as Assemblymen and half as Councillors, and each of the 15 electoral districts elected one of each for a 30-member legislature. This double-representative system was unique in Canadian politics. In 1966 the riding of 6th Queens was created, which brought the total membership in the Assembly to 32.
In 1994 the Election Act and Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended a shift to single member representation for 30 districts. The House later passed a Private Member's Bill that redrew electoral boundaries according to a 27-district system. The bill received Royal Assent on May 19, 1994, and survived provincial and federal Supreme Court challenges by the City of Charlottetown and other urban centres. The 1996 election was the first time the Legislative Assembly was elected based on one member for each of 27 district, a system it continues to follow today.
The most recent change to electoral boundaries took effect in the 2019 provincial general election, but kept 27 districts, adjusting boundaries and updating district names where required.
Many other notable developments have occurred at the legislature through the years. The timeline below lists some of the major ones.
|1769||PEI’s first Governor, Walter Patterson, is appointed. The position would be reclassified as Lieutenant Governor in 1784, but the term "Governor" continued to be used.|
|1770||The first Act passed by the Prince Edward Island government aims to protect the walrus fishery, but is unsuccessful.|
|1773||The first members of the House of Assembly are elected. The House joins the Legislative Council, whose members are appointed, to form a bicameral, or two-house, legislature.|
|1774||The Quit Rent Act is passed in an attempt to force absentee landlords to pay fees toward civil administration and infrastructure on their land, but it is largely unsuccessful. This is the first attempt to resolve what came to be known as the “Land Question”.|
|1781||Through a process called escheat, Governor Patterson expropriates almost half of the Island from landlords who have not paid their quit rents. Three years later the Crown overturns the Governor’s actions.|
|1792||The Island’s first Criminal Code is passed.|
|1806||Five members of the Loyal Electors are elected to the House of Assembly. The Loyal Electors is the first organized political party on PEI, and possibly in all of Canada.|
|1812||John Plaw completes a building in Queen’s Square to house the legislature and courthouse. Until this time the legislature had met in private homes and taverns.|
|1825||Slavery is outlawed on PEI, nine years earlier than it is officially abolished in the British Empire.|
|1830||An Act for the Relief of His Majesty’s Roman Catholic Subjects is passed, allowing Roman Catholic males to hold public office and to vote.|
|1833||The term of members of the legislature is set to four years. Prior to this time the term was determined solely according to the will of the Governor. Today the term is a maximum of five years after the return of the writs for a general election.|
|1838||The Escheat Party, lead by William Cooper, wins a majority in the legislature, on a platform of repossessing the lands of proprietors who have not fulfilled their commitments under the land grant of 1767 and redistributing those lands to tenants. Cooper takes the cause to the Colonial Office in London, but it unsuccessful and the Escheat Party soon disintegrates.|
|1839||The Legislative Council is separated into the Legislative Council and the Executive Council, and some members of the House of Assembly also serve on Executive Council.|
|1840||A request is made to the Queen that Prince Edward Island be granted Responsible
|1847||The legislature meets in the newly constructed Colonial Building for the first time. It later came to be known as Province House, and remains the permanent seat of the legislature to this day.|
|1851||Responsible Government is granted. George Coles, a strong supporter of Responsible Government, becomes the first Premier under the new system.|
|1852||The Free Education Act is passed, and is the first Act in British North America to require that students should not have to pay tuition to attend school.|
|1853||The Land Purchase Act is passed with the intention of solving the Land Question. It empowers the government to purchase land from proprietors (who often did not live on the Island and did not meet the financial responsibilities of land ownership) for re-sale to tenants (who lived on and worked the land, but had no legal claim to it). But proprietors can not be forced to sell and there is a lack of funds for purchasing, so the land issue continues.|
|1862||A new Act requires that the Legislative Council no longer be appointed, but elected.|
|1864||The Charlottetown Conference, which lead to Confederation and the birth of Canada as a nation, takes place.|
|1873||Prince Edward Island joins Confederation.|
|1875||The Compulsory Land Purchase Act finally resolves the Land Question. Proprietary estates larger than 500 acres are forced into sale to the provincial government, made possible by a loan from the federal government. By the early 1880s the province had purchased 844,000 acres and resold 624,000 to farmers.|
|1893||The Legislative Council and House of Assembly are merged to form the Legislative Assembly, with 30 members. Each of the 15 electoral districts elected an Assemblyman and a Councilor, a system that was unique in Canadian politics until its abolition in 1996.|
|1896||Married women in PEI gained the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property, as well as to enter contracts, to sue and be sued.|
|1900||The Prohibition Act is passed, which bans the sale of alcohol in all but a few cases. It is the first Act of its kind in post-Confederation Canada.|
|1908||A bill is passed to outlaw cars on Island roads, as they are considered dangerous to horse carriages and their passengers.|
|1913||An Act is passed to require secret balloting for provincial elections.|
|1916||A special War and Health Tax is imposed by the provincial government, and renewed in 1917. The province also expropriates vacant farms for the use of soldiers returning from the War.|
|1919||The government lifts restrictions on automobiles on Island roads.|
|1923||Under a new Election Act, women vote for the first time in a PEI election.|
|1935||For the first time in the Commonwealth, one party sweeps an election: the Liberals win all 30 seats in the PEI legislature.|
|1948||In a provincial plebiscite Islanders vote to replace prohibition with government-controlled liquor sales.|
|1964||The legislature establishes the provincial flag.|
|1965||The Lady Slipper, Cypripedium acaule, is named the provincial flower.|
|1966||The riding of 6th Queens is created, meaning that the Legislative Assembly increased to 32 members from 30.|
|1966||Whereas the 1935 is the only election sweep in Island history, the 1966 election results in another rarity: a tie of 15 seats to 15. Through a by-election victory of both the remaining Assemblyman and Councillor seats, the Liberals went on to form the government.|
|1968||The University of Prince Edward Island is created through a bill that merged St. Dunstan’s and Prince of Wales Colleges.|
|1970||Liberal candidate Jean Canfield becomes the first woman elected to the Island legislature.|
|1974||The provincial and federal governments sign an agreement in which Province House will continue to belong to Prince Edward Island but will be leased by Parks Canada, which will in turn be responsible for its maintenance and interpretation.|
|1979-1983||Province House is restored to an 1850-1860 appearance.|
|1983||Marion Reid becomes the first female Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. She had previously (in 1979) been appointed the first female Deputy Speaker, and in 1990 she became the first female Lieutenant Governor.|
|1990||Pat Mella becomes the first female leader of a provincial political party.|
|1993||Catherine Callbeck becomes the first female Premier of PEI, and in all of Canada.|
|1994||The Election Act and Electoral Boundaries Commission recommends a shift to single member representation for each district. In the same year, a bill is passed to redraw the electoral map with 27 districts.|
|1996||The 1996 general election is the first time an Assembly is elected under the system it continues to follow today: single member representation for each of 27 electoral districts.|
|2000||The ceremony in which the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod taps on the door of the Chamber to request permission for the Lieutenant Governor to enter is added.|
|2002||Her Excellency Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, presents a Full Achievement of Arms to Prince Edward Island, and the Legislative Assembly establishes the Island’s Coat of Arms via the Coat of Arms Act.|
|2011||The Legislative Assembly celebrates the 160th anniversary of responsible government.|
|2014||Prince Edward Island celebrates the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference.|
|2015||Province House closes for extensive structural repairs and restoration. The Speech from the Throne for the First Session of the Sixty-fifth General Assembly is delivered on June 3rd in the neighbouring Honourable George Coles Building, marking the first time since 1847 that the full legislature has sat anywhere but Province House.|
The history of the Legislative Assembly of PEI dates back to July 7, 1773, when men elected to represent the citizens of the colony of St. John's Island met as the first House of Assembly.