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Legislative Council

Today, the Nova Scotia Legislature has one body of representatives – the elected House of Assembly. Before 1928, however, Nova Scotia had two bodies of representatives: the Legislative Council, or upper house, and the House of Assembly, or lower house. The Legislative Council was appointed and had its roots in the Council of Twelve.

Council of Twelve

The Council of Twelve (1719 – 1837) advised the governor and acted as the upper house of the Legislature. Between 1760-1775, England’s Board of Trade, which was responsible for directing matters in British North America, presented nominees to the governor, who had little choice but to appoint them. Apparently Joshua Mauger, “king-pin” merchant and accepted Nova Scotia representative at the Board of Trade, held a lot of power. The merchant class’ power declined after the revolutionary period and the governor was then able to select his nominees himself. The governor could also make temporary appointments to ensure a quorum. Sir John Wentworth, the first civilian governor, in particular, took advantage of temporary appointments. The resulting Council effectively became filled by the governor’s friends and supporters, which gave him considerable power in the province.

After 1815, governors tended to fill all vacancies themselves, but they did adhere to the instructions provided in their commission from the Crown. Nominees had “to be well disposed towards government.”

As in Ontario, Nova Scotia had a bit of a “family compact.” In The Government of Nova Scotia, J. Murray Beck notes that a genealogist could connect, with two or three exceptions, the members of the Council.

Separate councils created

Until 1837, there was one council. On February 6, 1838, following recommendations of Lord Durham’s Report, this single council was split into the Legislative Council and the Executive Council. Members of both councils were still appointed, but there was representation from the House of Assembly on the Executive Council. These councils were based on Howe’s Resolutions, which were presented to the governor in 1837.

The Statutes of Nova Scotia 1838, c. 18 set out the powers of the two councils: “that the powers formerly vested in the Council of the said Province, as far as respected the enactment of Laws, should be and were thereby vested in the said Legislative Council, and that all other powers whatever, vested in the said Council, should be and were vested in the said Executive Council.” Essentially, the Legislative Council was responsible for laws while the Executive Council handled everything else.

Responsible government

In 1848, Nova Scotia became the first British colony governed by responsible government when all members of the executive council were chosen from members of the elected assembly.

After 1848, there were numerous attempts to eliminate the Legislative Council, but this didn’t happen until 1928, when its members voted in favour of abolishing it.