Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, June 28, 2023 – The Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island is celebrating a historic milestone: 250 years of electoral politics. PEI’s first House of Assembly sat on July 7th, 1773 and closed July 12th.
That 18-member Assembly was not very diverse, even by the standards of the Island’s then roughly 1,200 inhabitants. Only Protestant males could vote or hold office, an electorate perhaps 200 strong. This excluded women, Indigenous peoples and Catholics (and by extension, most Acadians).
PEI was then St. John's Island, a young British colony ill-prepared to legislate much of anything. When Governor Walter Patterson and other key officials arrived circa 1770-1773, the Island was little more than a wilderness, and the empire was reluctant to fund improvements.
Patterson’s appointed advisory Council helped him govern until 1773, but British law also required an elected Assembly, which the Governor reluctantly established. Finding only 18 men he deemed suitable, he had them all elected as representatives at large: no separate districts, no political parties and no real opponents, making the Island’s first election one of its least competitive.
That first Assembly’s 13 pieces of legislation included retroactive approval of the Patterson administration’s actions since 1770, measures regarding small debts, licensing for the retail of “Spirituous Liquors”, permission to burn items ranging from rubbish to derelict windmills, an act devoted to extracting quit rents from landlords, and a law forbidding anyone from leaving the Island without written permission from officials.
The Assembly held its early sessions in private homes and taverns, possibly including the famous Crossed Keys Tavern, though some historians say that property may have been a vacant lot in 1773.
The original Assembly’s members were not professional politicians, but they helped develop the Island; 250 years later, today’s Assembly is building on the foundation laid by those 18 legislative pioneers so long ago.
The Legislative Assembly thanks historians Dr. Ed MacDonald and Reg Porter for their assistance.
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