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Local Government of Canada, 1915 — British Columbia

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British Columbia

By S. D. SCOTT, Vancouver, B.C.

British Columbia became part of the Dominion of Canada on July 20, 1871. The province had been organized in 1866 by the union of the colony of Vancouver Island, whose government had been established in 1849, with that of British Columbia (the mainland) which dated from 1858. About the time that British Columbia entered the Confederation, local responsible government began. Previously, the colony had been administered by a governor and a mixed elective and appointed council. The administration is vested in a lieutenant-governor and a cabinet of eight members as follows: Attorney-General and Commissioner of Fisheries; Minister of Finance; Provincial Secretary and Minister of Education; Minister of Lands; Minister of Mines; Minister of Public Works; Minister of Agriculture; President of the Council. With the exception of the Premier, who holds one of these offices and receives $3,000 a year in addition to the salary of his portfolio, and the President of the Council, who is unpaid, the salary of each of these ministers is $6,000. The first administration after Confederation contained only five ministers. The Department of Mines was separated from other portfolios, with a minister of its own, in 1900. The Department of Public Works was separated from that of Lands in 1908. In 1916, Agriculture, previously under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Finance, became a department with a minister of its own.

British Columbia

Legislative.—British Columbia has a single chamber legislature of 47 members, increased by Act of 1915 from 42. The number of members after Confederation was 25. But as new settlements arose and others grew into cities and towns redistribution took place from time to time. For example, Vancouver city, now represented by six members, first became a constituency in 1894 with two members. In the Legislature elected in 1916, Vancouver had six representatives, Victoria four, all elected at large, while the other 37 ridings returned single members. The term of the Legislature from Confederation until 1916 was four years. The thirteenth Legislature (1912-16) made the term five years, the change to go into effect the succeeding term. The sessional indemnity is $1,600, and an allowance of $1,500 is made to the leader of the Opposition.

Judicial.—Justice is administered in British Columbia by a court of appeal, composed of a chief justice and four puisne judges; a supreme court, comprising a chief justice and five puisne judges; and ten local county courts, each with one judge, except that of Vancouver, which has three. There are also minor courts with criminal jurisdiction held by stipendiary magistrates, police magistrates and justices of the peace and magistrates having civil jurisdiction under the “Small Debts Act.” Victoria and Vancouver have juvenile courts.

Police.—In addition to the local police maintained by the municipalities, there is a body of provincial police with general jurisdiction, which maintains order in the unorganized districts, looks after the Indians, renders assistance to local authorities in the pursuit of criminals and performs other services required in a pioneer country. These are directly under the control of the Attorney-General's Department.

Provincial Taxes.—British Columbia imposes direct taxation to a greater extent than any other province, and has received from this source as much as $1,200,000 in a year. These taxes include a small assessment on improved property outside of incorporated municipalities, an assessment of four p.c. on assessed value on wild land (which tax is intended to encourage improvement and settlement), a progressive income tax, taxes on corporations, succession duties and certain license fees.

Agriculture.—The Department of Agriculture is organized with a minister, a deputy minister and various heads of branches, including live-stock commissioner, provincial horticulturist, instructor in poultry raising, inspector of fruit pests, market commissioner, cold storage commissioner, veterinary inspector, dairy instructor, seed commissioner and plant pathologist.

Farm Credit.—In 1916 an Agricultural Credit Commission was established, with authority to advance money by way of loan to farmers on the security of their holdings, for the purpose of clearing and improving their properties, providing buildings and equipment. This advance is to be repaid in installments, with interest at a rate sufficient to meet the charge on Government bonds and cost of management.

Lands, Etc.—The Department of Lands is under a minister and deputy minister, a surveyor-general, chief forester, geographer, irrigation supervisors and other officials. It maintains a forest protection service, with a staff of rangers to guard against the destruction of timber by fires. By the co-operation of the lumber interests, this protection includes public and private property. Land has heretofore been sold for agricultural purposes to applicants at prices which, have been gradually raised. From time to time areas have been withdrawn and reserved for pre-emption or homesteads. By legislation of 1916, the lands previously sold on deferred payments, on which unpaid amounts remained, reverted to the crown to the extent of the part unpaid for, and are held as homesteads for returned soldiers.

Fisheries.—The administration of the fisheries is under the control of the Finance Department, which, among other things, regulates the fish canneries, the inland fisheries, and, in co-operation with the federal authorities, maintains stations and a staff for the study of the habits of the fish, methods of propagation, preservation and protection.

Education.—The Department of Education is under a minister who is also provincial secretary. The Superintendent of Education has the rank of a deputy minister. Supervision is in the hands of one high school inspector, fourteen inspectors of schools and one inspector of manual training schools. From the university to the primary school, the system is non-sectarian; English is the only recognized language of instruction in the common schools.

The provincial university, authorized by legislation passed in 1908, was organized in 1912 and 1913 by the first convocation, the appointment of the president and the first board of governors. This institution is governed by a chancellor, elected by convocation of alumni, a board of governors, appointed by the Government, and a senate partly elected by the convocation and partly representing the faculty and other teaching bodies. The university has faculties in arts, science, engineering (including mining) and agriculture.

Other educational institutions include two normal schools and over thirty high schools. There are also in the cities night schools in many departments of academic and technical instruction, with manual training and household science departments in the high schools and common schools. Text books are furnished to pupils free of cost.

The maintenance of all the city and town schools, and a large majority of the rural schools, is provided for by district or local assessment, supplemented by grants from the provincial treasury on a per capita basis. Control of these schools is vested in the local authorities subject to general regulations. There are, however, certain rural schools in the more scattered districts which are more directly under the control of the provincial department. The law provides for compulsory attendance at school for children between the ages of seven and fourteen. Cities and organized municipalities elect their school boards by popular vote. These boards appoint municipal inspectors and other officers.

Municipal Government.—For purposes of administration, counties, in the ordinary meaning of the word, are unknown in British Columbia. Local administration is at present based on the legislation known as the Municipal Clauses Act, and supplementary statutes, but municipal government existed in the colony as far back as 1860. Large powers of local self-government are conferred by the existing system. It provides for two classes of municipalities, urban and rural. An urban municipality may be formed by a community of not less than 100 male British subjects, provided the owners of more than half the land petition for it. There are 33 cities, with populations of 600 to over 100,000.

District municipalities may be organized by 30 resident male British subjects of full age. In 1916 there were in the province 28 such municipalities, having from 100 to more than 10,000 ratepayers. The city organizations are of the same general type, though differing in some details. In all, the chief executive officer is the mayor, and all have elective councils.

Neither the commission system nor the board of control has yet been introduced into British Columbia, but the board of control is authorized by provincial legislation. All the larger cities retain the ward system. Vancouver, which is the largest city, has reduced its council to eight members, one elected by and from each ward. The municipal franchise for ordinary purposes is open to adult male residents and to female householders and real estate owners. Only assessed owners of real estate, male and female, may vote on money by-laws. Such by-laws are necessary for expenditures beyond the ordinary revenue requiring the issue of debentures. They require the majority of three-fifths of the votes cast.

The chief executive of a district municipality is the reeve. In most other respects the district municipality is similar to the city government. In cities the police are under the authority of a commission, composed of the mayor and two members appointed by the provincial Government, one of whom must be chosen from the members of the city council. Under general legislation liquor licenses in cities are controlled by a commission appointed in the same way as a police commission, but special legislation for Vancouver establishes a commission of five, of whom the mayor is one member, and half the others are appointed by the Government and half chosen by the citizens at the annual election.

While the general municipal system is established by common legislation, several municipalities have secured large modifications by special enactment. Each has its own system of assessment and taxation. Vancouver, for example, levies its taxes on real estate values, exempting all improvements, and makes no assessment on personal property or income.

Provincial legislation provides for civic administration of parks. Some cities have an elective board of park commissioners, with control of the public gardens, parks, bathing beaches and open spaces. Some maintain free public libraries, museums and other institutions with public grants.