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Local Government of Canada, 1915 — Prairie provinces

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Organization of Prairie Provinces

Representation of Provinces in the Dominion Parliament.—The representation of the prairie provinces is determined by the British North America Act, which provides for readjustment after each census, and by the various acts establishing the provinces themselves. The following schedule indicates the present representation and that which will obtain upon dissolution of the present Parliament:

Parliament representation of the provinces, 1915
Province Senators Members of House of Commons
    At Present In Future
Manitoba 4 10 15
Saskatchewan 4 10 16
Alberta 4 7 12

Organization of Prairie Provinces Provincial Constitutions.—The Constitutions of the prairie provinces are determined by the following Acts and their amendments: the British North America Act, the Manitoba Act, the Saskatchewan Act and the Alberta Act.

Executive Power.—Each province has a Lieutenant-Governor, appointed by the Dominion Government, who holds office for five years. Within his term he is not removable except for cause assigned, communicated to him in writing. His powers are exercised in accordance with the principles of responsible government, with the advice and consent of the provincial cabinets.

Each province has in its cabinet a Minister of Public Works, an Attorney-General, a Minister of Agriculture, a Provincial Treasurer, a Minister of Education and a Provincial Secretary. A feature peculiar to the prairie provinces is the Department of Municipal Affairs under the supervision of a Minister in Saskatchewan and Alberta, of a Commissioner in Manitoba. More than one department or sub-department is frequently under one responsible minister. Thus at present in Manitoba the premier is President of the Council, Provincial Land Commissioner and Railway Commissioner; the Minister of Agriculture is also Minister of Immigration; the Provincial Secretary is also Municipal Commissioner. In Saskatchewan the premier is President of the Council and Minister of Education; the Provincial Treasurer is also Minister of Telegraphs and Telephones; the Attorney-General is also Provincial Secretary; and the Minister of Railways has in charge the administration of highways. In Alberta the premier is also Minister of Railways and Telephones, but each minister has in charge a single department.

Legislative Power.—Each province has a Legislature consisting of the Lieutenant-Governor and the Legislative Assembly. There must be a yearly session. Though the Assembly may be dissolved at any time it must not continue longer than a fixed period of years after a general election. Section 92 of the British North America Act enumerates the exclusive powers of the Provincial Legislatures.

Municipal Government.—The school district constitutes at once the most important and elementary unit of self-government on the prairies. Of municipal organization there are five different forms: (a) Local Improvement Districts; (b) Rural Municipalities; (c) Villages; (d) Towns; (e) Cities.

Local Improvement Districts.—These consist of those sparsely settled areas where there exists either no municipal organization whatever or organization of a very simplified and elementary character. As a rule, each local improvement district has exactly the same area as the rural municipality into which it may subsequently be transformed. This is generally the territorial unit of 18 miles square or nine townships. The form and size of these units occasionally vary to fit into the physical features of the country. The local improvement district is not regarded as a permanent organization. Its powers are circumscribed. In Saskatchewan the local improvement and supplementary revenue taxes are collected by the Department of Municipal Affairs and spent for public works through the Board of Highway Commissioners. A certain portion of them is disbursed for wolf bounties. In Alberta a council is elected, a councillor from each of the six wards or divisions. The power of this council is very limited. It has the right to levy a small tax, at a rate fixed at so many cents, never exceeding five, on the acre. It can expend the revenue so raised in payment for work on roads and bridges, a little assistance to agriculture and the running expenses of the district.

Rural Municipalities.—The rural municipality is a permanent institution and a body corporate. It passes by-laws for the general welfare of the community. These relate to such matters as public health, nuisance grounds, cemeteries, hospitals, granting aid to the sick and worthy indigent, providing for tree planting in public places, imposing fines for light weight and short measurements, preventing cruelty to animals, restraining the running at large of dogs, the application of herd and pound laws, preventing prairie fires, licensing hawkers and pedlars, regulating speed on highways, granting aid to agricultural societies, the destruction of noxious weeds, the acquiring of land for public purposes, the erection of municipal buildings and similar matters. They have charge of the collection of school taxes in rural districts within the limits of the municipality. In order to perform permanent improvements a rural municipality can borrow by debentures.

The rural municipalities have authority to collect certain license fees, but taxation constitutes their principal source of revenue. Each council appoints its own auditor, but the books of the municipality are subject to departmental inspection. Under conditions that vary with the provinces the electors of the municipalities may vote to come into provincial, group or co-operative hail insurance schemes. They are not allowed to bonus railways or commercial enterprises of any kind. The method of election varies with the provinces. In Alberta, for instance, the council is elected at large by the electors of the municipality, and the reeve is chosen at the first meeting of the council; in Saskatchewan the reeve only is elected at large and each of the six councillors is chosen by a division of a township and a half; in Manitoba the Council consists of the reeve and six or four councillors as determined by by-law. A secretary-treasurer appointed by the council levies the assessment and collects the taxes.

Villages.—In Saskatchewan 100 people must be actually resident in a hamlet before it can claim village incorporation. The number is counted by a person sent from the Department of Municipal Affairs. Each village may levy, for taxation purposes, on land at its fair actual value, and on buildings and improvements at 60 p. c. of their value, but if two-thirds of the resident ratepayers desire, by written petition, that the assessment shall be based on land values only, the council may pass a by-law to that effect.

Under the Village Act of Alberta a village is not a corporate body and has only very limited powers. A village may be established where there is any centre of population containing 25 occupied dwelling-houses within an area not greater than 640 acres. The tax, which may not exceed 2 cents on the dollar, must be levied on the actual value of the lands in the village exclusive of the improvements thereon. A village may borrow money by debentures after obtaining authority from the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

In Manitoba, villages, as in the case of towns and cities, excepting Winnipeg and St. Boniface, are incorporated under the Municipality Act. A village must have 500 inhabitants within 640 acres. The census is taken under the direction of the council of the municipality. The council consists of the mayor and four councillors. The village council, as in the case of the council of every municipality in Manitoba, may pass by-laws for exempting any industry in whole or in part from taxation for any period not exceeding 20 years.

Towns.—In Saskatchewan a village must have at least 500 people actually resident therein, in order to become a town. The census must be taken by an official of the Department. Land is assessed at its fair actual value and improvements at not more than 60 p. c. of their value, but this assessment on the latter may be withdrawn entirely within not less than four years. Power has been given to establish parks and recreation grounds, skating and curling rinks.

In Alberta a village having 700 residents may be established as a town. The Act requires that all taxes must be derived from an assessment levied according to the actual cash value of the land without regard to any improvements made thereon by the expenditure of capital or labour. Income, personal property and improvements are entirely exempt from taxation.

In Manitoba a locality containing over 1,500 inhabitants may be erected into a town on petition. The council consists of the mayor and two councillors for every ward.

Cities.—In Alberta there is no City Act. The different cities in the province carry on business under their own special charter. Accordingly the methods differ in the different cities. Where in other provinces common regulations exist here can only be observed tendencies. They are strongly inclined to own their own utilities, not to give franchises and to exempt personal property, incomes and improvements from taxation.

In Saskatchewan towns must have a population of 5,000 to become cities. A general City Act governs in each case. This strictly prohibits the granting of bonuses. A Saskatchewan city may at its own volition assess land values exempting buildings and improvements, but the change may be gradual. Land is assessed at its fair actual value and buildings at not more than 60 p. c. of their value. This 60 p. c, however, may be entirely eliminated by a gradual reduction of not more than 15 p. c. in any one year.

The three provinces, of the prairies have each a different method in regard to the appointment of city commissioners. In Manitoba is found the board of control, in Saskatchewan the appointed commissioner, in Alberta the elected commissioner.

In Manitoba, towns containing over 10,000 inhabitants may be erected into a city. The council consists of the mayor and two aldermen from every ward.

In all three provinces, cities, towns, villages and rural municipalities may pass by-laws for contracting debts by borrowing money or otherwise, and, if necessary, for issuing debentures for certain specified purposes, but in all cases the by-laws for borrowing money must receive the assent of the electors. Particularly in connection with the smaller types of corporation the limit of debt is specifically stated in the various acts governing the cases.

The legislative powers of the councils of municipalities in the three prairie provinces are in the main the same,—acquiring property for municipal or public purposes, taking census, appointing engineers, constables and other officers, enforcement of by-laws, regulations regarding public health and comfort, public safety, public order and morality, protection- from fire, care of children, regulation of streets and public places, drainage and sewerage, fences, dairies, water supply, matters relating to agriculture, public fairs, animals, dog taxes, impounding, cemeteries, coal and wood supply, libraries, advertising, markets, boards of trade, trades and occupations, licensing travellers for commercial houses, street numbering and similar matters.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta

By the REV. CAPTAIN EDMUND H. OLIVER, Ph.D., Principal of the Presbyterian
Theological College, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and Chaplain
of the 196th (Western Universities) Overseas Battalion.


Establishment of Provinces.—On the prairies there have been two distinct trends of historical and political development—that of the Red River and that of the Territories. The whole region was originally under the sway of the Honourable Company of Adventurers trading into Hudson's Bay. In the case of the Red River, responsible self-rule came with the transfer to Canada. The Territories possessed absolutely no form of government prior to their incorporation in the Dominion.