Canada Without a Government?

Canada's Prime Ministers from 1867 to 1963
Canada’s Prime Ministers from 1867 to 1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of the story of William Lyon Mackenzie King was told in my post on my April 21 post The Amazing Canadian. He was Prime Minister of Canada for more than 20 years, a longer record of service than any other man. It was interrupted only twice and one of those occasions happened on June 29, 1926. The episode, one of the most exciting in the history of Canada‘s Parliament, has come to be known as “the constitutional crisis.” Canada had no prime minister or cabinet.

There had been a general election in October 1925, where the Conservatives under Arthur Meighen won 117 seats to 101 for the Liberals. Mackenzie King had been beaten in his own constituency of North York. Progressives, Independents, and Labour had won another 30 seats among them. Mackenzie King maintained that the so-called “splinter parties” would support him. With their 30 seats plus the Liberals 101, he could carry on the government. Governor-General Lord Byng (who had commanded the Canadian Army at Vimy), agreed that King should be given the opportunity. The Liberal member for Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, resigned to give a safe seat for Mackenzie King. He won the necessary by-election there and was able to take his place in the House of Commons.

Coalition with the splinter parties might have kept the government in power for a long time. Prime Minister King won their support by promising to bring in old-age pensions and liberalize the Immigration Act, Naturalization Act and Criminal Code. However, there was a scandal in the Customs Department in which a Liberal Minister, Jacques Bureau, was involved. The government faced the possibility of being beaten in the House of Commons. It would have been the first time it had ever happened in Canada.

Prime Minister King paid several calls on Governor-General Byng at Rideau Hall and urged that Parliament be dissolved. He wanted another general election. The first discussions were on an informal basis. On the occasion of his last call, Mr. King arrived in top hat and formal attire. He made it clear that he had come officially as prime minister to advise the Governor-General. Once again, he advised Lord Byng to dissolve Parliament to make possible another general election. Lord Byng refused. He felt that Opposition Leader Meighen should be given a chance to form the government. It was a very serious decision for a governor-general to reject the advice of his prime minister.

Thereupon, on June 28, 1926, Mr. King handed his resignation to the Governor-General. so on June 29, technically, Canada had no government.

Lord Byng then asked Mr. Meighen to form a new government and he agreed. In those days, when a Member of Parliament was appointed to the cabinet, he had to resign his seat and run in a by-election. Therefore Mr. Meighen, although prime minister, had to give up his seat in the House of Commons. He kept the members of his cabinet there by making them “acting ministers” only. They did not draw pay as cabinet ministers. Neither did they take an oath of office. The Meighen government lasted until July 2 when it was defeated by one vote, after a very exciting division in the House. It was then necessary to hold another general election. One of the chief issues was whether a Governor-General had the right to reject the advice of his prime minister. The Conservatives won only 91 seats and the Liberals had 119. With the support of the Liberal-Progressives and a number of independent members, Mackenzie King formed a government.

One again he was prime minister.


  1. “Mackenzie King,” a name I deem synonymous with tenacity. At lease, as far as I know, he didn’t have the arrogance to call it the “Mackenzie King” government. (Hope I’m not wrong on this…it will REALLY spoil my sarcasm.)


    • I totally get your “sarcasm” and I’m glad someone else took the time to write it! Arrogance, indeed!!
      As for King, I was reading another account of D’Arcy McGee the other day. How King interacted with McGee is quite … touching is not quite the right word; I think inspiring might be closer.
      Thanks again, Maurice, for dropping by! 🙂


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