Series GR-0444 - Executive Council records

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Executive Council records

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  • 1859-1913 (Creation)
    British Columbia. Executive Council

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Originals, 7 m; microfilm (neg.), 1859-1913, 35 mm, 28 reels [B16931 - B16958]

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Minutes of Colonial and Provincial Executive Council, ministerial reports, State Books, orders-in-council, registers, and indices (1859-1913), along with petitions, dispatches, and correspondence inward to Lieutenant- Governor in Council (1871-1909). The Executive Council papers are among the most important of the early provincial government records held by the B.C. Archives. The value of the papers stems from the fact that the Council itself is the most important and influential level of government in the province. It is at the Executive Council level that government policies and regulations are discussed, formulated, and implemented; it is at this level that decisions are made regarding the overall running of the province. During the Victorian-Edwardian years - the period covered by GR-0444 - it was also the responsibility of the Executive Council to handle the many contentious issues which affected Dominion-Provincial and Imperial-Provincial relations. The Executive Council received and considered virtually all of the dispatches sent to the Lieutenant-Governor from Ottawa or London. Most of the petitions and memorials submitted by individuals or groups in the province to the Lieutenant-Governor were considered by the Council, too. In addition, the Executive Council dealt with correspondence from private citizens, as well as reports emanating from government ministries, departments, and agencies. In short, the Executive Council dealt with a myriad of issues - as is evidenced by the volume, range, and diversity of the papers in this record group. In British Columbia, the Executive Council is synonymous with the cabinet, which is composed of the Lieutenant-Governor's principal advisors or ministers. While an advisory council of sorts had existed in Vancouver Island since 1851, a distinct Executive Council (separate from the legislature) was not established on the island colony until 1863. A similar body was not established on the mainland colony of British Columbia until 1864. In both colonies the councils were appointed by the Governor, and even after the union of 1866, the Executive Council of British Columbia was responsible only to the Crown, not to the popularly selected Assembly. Not until British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871 and assumed responsible government were members of the executive accountable to the legislature. The Executive Council of British Columbia, unlike the cabinets of most of the other provinces of Canada, was created by letters patent, rather than by statute. B.C.'s Executive Council was, nevertheless, regulated by provincial statute, notably by the Constitution Act of 1871 (34 Vict, c.3.). Sections 2 - 5 of the Act provided for a council that would be composed of "such persons as the Governor from time to time thinks fit". Officers of the council were to include the heads of important government departments and were to serve at the pleasure of the governor. Yet while nominally appointed by the Crown's personal representative in the province, Executive Councillors are, in fact, chosen by the Lieutenant-Governor's chief minister, the Premier. The Premier usually serves as President of the Executive Council and it is expected that he will choose his cabinet colleagues from members of the legislature. It is instructive to note, however, that there is no legal connection between the Executive Council and the Legislative Assembly of the province; that is, it is possible for a person to be a member of the Council without holding elected office. Of course, the conventions of constitutional monarchy and responsible government are normally upheld, and it is unlikely that a lieutenant governor would maintain a minister against the wishes of the elected majority. Similarly, although there have been exceptions to the rule, a premier would not normally take into his cabinet anyone who had not been elected to the House. It is also instructive to note that British Columbia is one of the few provinces in Canada where the size of the Executive Council is limited by statute. Indeed, only Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have similar legislation. At present, the cabinet comprises twenty-three members, nineteen of whom are entitled to receive the salaries of Executive Councillors. In 1871 the Council was limited to five members. By the terms of the Constitution Act members were to include the Colonial Secretary (who, after 1872, was styled the Provincial Secretary), the Attorney-General, and the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works. Two years later (1873) the Constitution Act was amended and the Council enlarged to six members, including the Minister of Finance and Agriculture. Further revisions followed and by 1911 the Council had increased to eight members, six of whom were entitled to ministerial salaries. The Executive Council then included the Provincial Secretary, the Attorney-General, the Minister of Finance and Agriculture, the Minister of Mines, the Minister of Public Works, the Minister of Railways, and the President of the Council. Since the cabinet is the executive arm of the government, it has the authority to enact regulations, as defined by the Regulations Act (RS 1979 c. 361), Regulations, so defined, include rules, orders, proclamations, and bylaws of a legislative nature, made under or by the authority of any act passed by the legislative assembly. Among the regulations are Orders-in-Council which are formally described as "official documents promulgating Government decisions concerned with the day-to-day operation of the Province. Researchers consulting GR-0444 should note that Orders-in-Council are made under the authority of the Lieutenant-Governor or, more precisely, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. The latter implies the Lieutenant Governor acting by and with the advice of, or by and with the advice and consent or in conjunction with, the Executive Council" (Interpretation Act, RS 1979, c.206). Thus, the term "Lieutenant-Governor in Council" occurs frequently with reference to business conducted by what is otherwise known as the Executive Council, or cabinet. The intricacies of the Executive Council in the colonial period are discussed in James E. Hendrickson, ed., The Journals of the Colonial Legislatures of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, 1851-1871. (Victoria: Queen's Printer, 1980), I, xxvi-xlviii. The nature and limitations of the provincial Executive Council are detailed in A.B. Keith, Responsible Government in the Dominions, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926), vol. 1. John T. Saywell's The Office of the Lieutenant Governor (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957) is also useful in understanding the constitutional character and complexities of the provincial cabinet. Maps and plans from this group of records have been transferred to the map collection, Map Accession M856010, registration numbers 20086B, and 20094 to 20193. A list of the files from which the plans were removed exists in the Map Accession file. Related records include GR-0819 (Vancouver Island. Council. Minute Books of the Council of Vancouver Island, 1851-1961) and GR-1223 (Vancouver Island Executive Council. Minutes, Mar 26 1864-Jun 27 1865; Jul 18 1865-Nov 19 1866). GR-0819 and GR-1223 have conservation restrictions and researchers should use Hendrickson's published journals (as noted above). The B.C. Archives also holds transcripts and photocopies of additional executive minutes for Vancouver Island in GR-0303, (Vancouver Island. Governor. Minutes of Heads of Departments, 12 Aug 1861-14 Mar 1864). Minute books of the Executive Council (Jan 1908-Nov 1916) are catalogued with the W.J.Bowser papers, MS-0699 and MS-0702. The records of the British Columbia Executive Council were transferred to the Provincial Archives of British Columbia (PABC) from the Premiers' Office at various dates. Some of the records were catalogued in the PABC as "miscellaneous records;" others were entered under a variety of headings in the Archives' Old Manuscript card catalogue. These records, along with an extensive collection of previously uncatalogued correspondence, registers, and indices, have been brought together and arranged as part of a single government record unit, GR-0444. Appendix I Minutes of Executive Council The Executive Council no longer keeps minutes of its meetings. Until the early 1900s, however, the Clerk of the Council recorded the proceedings of each meeting, even though the meetings were held in camera. During the colonial period, copies of the Minutes were sent at regular intervals to the Colonial Office in London; after 1871, transcripts were sent to Whitehall or to Ottawa only when members of the provincial cabinet felt it expedient to do so. The minutes held by the BC Archives cover the period from the late 1850s through to the early 1900s. They provide a singular record of the government's operation at the ministerial level. A few of the volumes are incomplete, and in some instances rough notes, rather than a detailed account of proceedings, are entered in the minute books. In such cases, researchers should consult James Hendrickson, ed., Journals of the Colonial Legislatures of the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, 1851-1871 (1980), Vol. IV, or GR-1224, Great Britain: Colonial Office (copies of B.C. Executive Council Minutes, 10 Jan 1865 - 7 Jul 1871). Appendix II Registers of executive council reports and state books The registers provide a list and a brief description of reports presented by members of the Executive Council. The reports (or memoranda as they were sometimes called) recommended that certain actions be taken by the Cabinet with regard to specific issues that were of concern to individual ministries or departments of the government. If a report was accepted by the Executive Council - as was usually the case - a Minute of Council, embodying the report, would be drafted by the Clerk of the Council. The Minute was then referred to the Lieutenant-Governor, for his consideration. Once his approval had been received the Executive Council could take action on the report, by announcing an appointment to the public service, issuing a proclamation, or, generally, by passing an Order-in-Council. Orders-in-Council (i.e. regulations made by the Cabinet under the authority of the Lieutenant Governor) were then transcribed by the clerk into a large volume known as the state book. The Clerk of the Council, who was responsible for keeping the state book, for recording cabinet minutes, and for receiving much of the Executive Council correspondence, was expected to follow a number of rules and procedures when conducting cabinet business. The paper copy of the finding aid contains a copy of the regulations which were in effect from the 1870s to the early 1900s. In order to locate a particular report, researchers should first consult the registers. As well as providing a brief description of the report, the registers provide: the number of the report (such numbers were known properly as "page numbers" and were entered in the left-hand column of the Registers); the name of the ministry of department responsible for the report, the date when the report was submitted and the date when the report was approved by the Lieutenant-Governor. Having determined the date and number of a report, the researcher should turn to the appropriate volume of GR-0444, since copies of the reports were often filed with correspondence inward. The researcher might also consult Executive Council Minute Books (GR-0444 vols. 20-26) for mention of the report. The researcher should then consult the state books, wherein will be found full particulars of the report, along with a letter-book copy of the Order-in-Council implementing the report's recommendations. Lastly, the researcher might consult the British Columbia Gazette, which will provide confirmation of Orders-in-Council, as well as a record of proclamations, appointments, and miscellaneous notices arising from other Executive Council reports. The inter-relationships between the registers, the correspondence inward files, the Executive Council minutes, state books, and the B.C. Gazette, may be seen through the following example: A.The register of Executive Council Reports for 1872-78 (GR-0444 vol. 271) mentions a report pertaining to the "Comox Stock Breeding District." The register indicates that this report was submitted by the Provincial Secretary on 15 Apr 1873 and approved by the Lieutenant-Governor on 18 Apr 1873. The report is designated number 425 in the register. B.A report concerning the Comox Stock Breeding District is noted as having been "'passed and approved" in the minutes of the Executive Council on 18 Apr 1873 (GR-0444 Vol. 20, p. 161). C.A copy of the report, approved by the Lieutenant-Governor, is interfiled with correspondence inward papers (GR-0444 Vol. 45, file 1873 (I)) D.A fuller, more detailed copy of the report is entered in the Executive Council state book (GR 444 Vol. 32, p.279). (The state book copy of this report notes that a petition to the Lieutenant- Governor had been received by the Provincial Secretary from residents of Comox, asking that their district be made a Stock Breeding District pursuant to the Stock Breeding Act, 1872. That petition is recorded (under the heading, "Petitions") in the Provincial Secretary's index to letters inward, 1871-76 (GR 524, Box 1), wherein it is listed as document number 396/73. The original petition can thus be found in the letters inward files of the Provincial Secretary (GR 526). Since the files are arranged numerically and chronologically, the Comox petition (number 396) will be found among letters inward for 1873). The entry is numbered 425, which corresponds with the "page number" entered in the left-hand column of the register above. E.In the British Columbia Gazette (19 Apr 1873, p.2) a Proclamation is published stating that Comox has been declared a district for the purposes of the Breeding Stock Act of 1872. Essentially, the registers provide a convenient, chronological listing of Executive Council reports. The registers may also be used to determine the origins of various proclamations, notices, and orders-in-council which were announced to the public through the weekly issues of the B.C. Gazette. In addition, the registers may be used as a guide to the meetings of the Executive Council itself. Although minutes of these meetings were recorded by the Clerk of the Council, not all of the minute books survived. Moreover, the minute books which are extant are not indexed. By perusing the registers of reports, however, one can determine, albeit in a general sort of way, the business that was transacted by the Council at any given meeting. Appendix III Registers and Indices Volumes 37 - 44 include registers of official dispatches, departmental reports, orders-in-council, general correspondence, and other records received by the Clerk of the Executive Council. Many of these records are filed in volumes 45-74. Records which are indexed here but are not in volumes 45-74 may have been filed with the Provincial Secretary records or among the records of the Lieutenant-Governor (GR-0443). Appendix IV Manuscripts in Old MSS catalogue amalgamated with GR-0444: Appendix V Correspondence inward, 1871-1909 GR-0444 volumes 45-74 consist mainly of petitions, official dispatches, executive council reports, and miscellaneous letters received by the Clerk of the Executive Council. Although many of the petitions, dispatches, and letters were addressed directly to the Lieutenant-Governor, they were in fact reviewed and considered by members of the Executive Council. Incoming correspondence was dealt with in several ways. Official dispatches from London or Ottawa were acknowledged, via the Clerk of the Council, by the Lieutenant-Governor. Petitions from citizens, applications for mineral leases and the like, were considered by the Council but were answered by the Provincial Secretary. The Provincial Secretary also answered, or redirected, many of the miscellaneous letters. For example, a letter concerning the constabulary would be directed to the Department of the Attorney-General, while a query about the operation of a school would be referred by the Provincial Secretary to the Board of Education. In most instances, letters and petitions which had been referred elsewhere for action were returned to the Clerk of the Executive Council and so are to be found in the GR-0444 series. Researchers unable to locate particular correspondence, however, should consult the Provincial Secretary records, especially GR-0524, GR-0526, GR-0614, and GR-0644, since letters addressed to the Lieutenant-Governor or to the Executive Council were on occasion retained by the Provincial Secretary's office. Researchers might also consult the appropriate volumes of GR-0443 (British Columbia. Lieutenant-Governor). Normally, each item of incoming correspondence received by the clerk of the council was given a departmental control number. That number, along with a brief descriptive note, was entered into one of several registers, depending on the nature of the correspondence. The items were then filed numerically. But as correspondence was transferred to and from various departments and ministries, the original order or arrangement of the papers was frequently broken; moreover, in some years, different clerks used individual methods of filing. Accordingly, while a semblance of the original order has been maintained within the volumes that comprise this series of records, the papers are now arranged chronologically, by year.

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Transferred from Premier's Office at various dates.


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Maps and plans from this group of records have been transferred to the map collection, Map Accession M856010, registration numbers 20086B, and 20094 to 20193. A list of the files from which the plans were removed exists in the Map Accession file.

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Accession number(s): GR-0444; M856010

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