Sunday, February 17, 2013

An Act to Confer the Electoral Franchise Upon Women 1918


In the fall of 1918 a Mr. Cockshutt congratulates Prime Minster Borden on his bill An Act to Confer the Electoral Franchise Upon Women.

I don't have the bill, but I have the debate (in French) found with the Minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association at Montreal City Hall.

In a letter of the era, Margaret Nicholson of Threshold Girl (an Amazon ebook about Canada in 1910) refers to the debates in Parliament and calls them "silly."

There are silly bits, but the debate is interesting in that it refers to the earlier Wartime Elections Act-  because this 1918 bill is a mix of the wartime elections act (not a very nice bill) and various provincial laws, and that's a problem, especially when it comes to Quebec.

Mr. Cockshutt says: (and I roughly translate) I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister to have kept his promise and quickly at the start of this session introduced this bill. This bill will be welcomed across the country, even if some of our friends (of the coastline) are less impressed by the bill than Ontarians and Westerners.

Earlier, an MP finds a problem in the bill. The wartime elections act  gave women who had men on the Front the privilege to vote - and they had only to have lived in their district for three months. Men in federal elections have had to live in their districts for a year.

So now, as the bill stands, it could happen that a woman could vote in a federal election when her husband could not.

Premier Borden suggests it is an oversight by the editor of the Bill.

In Quebec, apparently, according to Sir Wilfrid, to vote a person had to be a property owner or locatiere de bien-fonds (whatever that is, renter of property?) make over 300 a year OR be a school master or something similar. (Democracy with reservations).So if you were a school master and made a pittance you could vote... maybe that clause was specifically for religious workers..

In municipal elections a man merely had to be paying a rent of over 2 dollars a month. Montreal was a city of renters. Women property owners could vote too.  If only property owners ONLY could vote in the municipal elections, the Montreal Council of Women would not have needed to get involved in City Elections as the Reformists would have already been in control. (They had debates in the 1920's and especially the Depression era at the municipal level suggesting universal man suffrage was a bad thing.)

Funny, when the MontrealCouncil of Women got mixed up in the debate over the Conscription Election of 1917, they claimed they were a non-partisan and non political body.

 When someone pointed out the Council had been  were VERY active in municipal elections, getting out the spinster vote, they said those efforts weren't about politics, but about good governance. (Lame statement if there ever was one!)

All goes to show, the great 'ideals' which seem to have imbued American politics (at least as their mythology goes) did not pervade Canadian politics, but I think we have since borrowed from the American.