A six-part interview with R. Rogers Smith examining the formation of Canada

The following is an excerpt from an interview by George Barr, KING’S Council, with R. Rogers Smith sometime in the mid 1940’s and on “Ligue pour l’Union Federale”, 822 Sherbrooke Est, Mtl. (Acquired from the Ka-Nee-Ka-Neet collection)

Question s by G. H. Barr, King’s Council

Answers by R. Rogers Smith

Mr. Barr: The Imperial Privy Council-jurisdiction, functions and authority. What, Mr. Smith, is their authority, or what is their jurisdiction?

Mr. Smith: It may be said that the Imperial Privy Council for Canada is a body delegated by the British Government to carry on the executive government of Canada. Three members of this council reside in London-Lord Beaverbrook, Lord Greenwood and Lord Bennett. Their functions are to administer matters in relation to Canadian Foreign Affairs. Those residing in Canada had certain duties and acts to perform, such as the administration of the affairs of Canada n the absence of the Governor General. This particular duty was exercised by Sir Lyman P. Duff. The duties of the Rt. Hon. MacKenzie-King are to act as one of the Vice-Presidents of the parliament of Canada; to warn of any impending legislation by the parliament of Canada which would interfere with the rule of the governor General and also to scrutinize any enactments emanating in Provincial legislatures. It it is necessary to appoint a Chairman of a Royal Commission, the R. Hon. William Thomas White could serve on such a commission or to regiment the people of Canada into a straitjacket by the formation of a Selective Service for Canada Dr. T. J. McNamara, another member, would carry out the orders of the British Government. At the present time, if you will consult the parliamentary Guide, you will find only 9 members of His Majesty’s Privy Council.

Q: The King’s Privy Council-jurisdiction?

A: The King’s privy Council for Canada is constituted by the Governor General. The method is set forth in section 11 of the British North America Act, as follows;

 There shall be a Council to aid and advise in the government of Canada, to be styled the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada; and the persons who are to be members of that Council shall be from time to time chosen and summoned by the Governor General and sworn in as privy councilors;  and members thereof may be from time to time removed by the Governor General”.

Q: What are their functions and jurisdiction, Mr. Smith?

A: The jurisdiction and functions of the King’s Privy Council for Canada may be said to be that of an ancillary body, similar to the ladies Aid of the United Church. The ladies Aid of the United Church advise the Moderator and I think have as much influence in the activities of the united Church as the King’s Privy Council for Canada have in connection with the government of Canada.

Q: Would it be true then, Mr. Smith, to say that their function is purely advisory? They have no executive authority at all?

A: Their function is purely advisory for the reason that if they, or any of them, were to attempt to impose their ideas upon the Governor General, the Governor General has the power to remove them and appoint another in his stead.

Q: In common practice, what do they do? Does not the Governor General act upon the advice of his Cabinet, which is a part of the privy Council?

A: I will answer your question, Mr. Barr, by asking you a question. If it came to matters of real importance, would you not, even if you were a dictator, take the advice of your Cabinet?

Mr. Barr: That would likely be the course anyone would take. But would it be fair then to say that in common practice in Canada as it has developed, the Governor General is supposed by the average man to act on the advice of that portion of the Privy Council constituting the Cabinet for the time being, but legally if it came to an issue as between what the representatives of the people wanted on the one hand and what the Governor General felt was necessary on the other in the matter of Imperial policy, his viewpoint would prevail in spite of the recommendations of the privy Council or any members thereof?

A: The popular conception is that the Governor General acts upon the advice of his Privy Council for Canada but I know of many instances in Ottawa where the Governor General has acted without consulting any of the members of His Majesty’s Privy Council or of the King’s Privy Council for Canada—using his prerogative which is given in section 12 of the British North America Act-that he may act individually as the case requires.

Q: If required, could you give specific instances, Mr. Smith, to prove this statement?

A: I could.



The Cabinet consists of what are commonly spoken of “Minister of the Crown”, each with a portfolio, having charge of certain departments of Government. The Cabinet, with the Prime Minister, are generally spoken of as “the Government”, as distinct from the House of Commons itself.

Q: What is their jurisdiction Mr. Smith?

A: Individually each member of the Cabinet is given a specific task to perform. They are chosen and appointed to their positions by the governor General and are generally elected members. But it will be remembered that after the election of 1935 Mr. Dunning was appointed as Minister of Finance before he had a seat as an elected member of the House of Commons. Any of their acts in the performance of their duties may be nullified by the Governor General or the member may be removed from office. As an instance of this, the R. Hon. MacKenzie King was removed by Lord Byng and Arthur Meighen appointed to his position of the first Minister of the King’s Privy Council for Canada.

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