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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons


James Cockburn
Q.C. (1867-1874)

The first Speaker of the 1st Session of the 1st Parliament of Canada, James Cockburn had an extensive political history before standing for the House of Commons in 1867. His 1861 campaign in West Northumberland for a seat in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada was directed against the government of John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier; he ran as an Independent and defeated the Postmaster General. Cockburn’s re-election in 1863 as a Liberal–Conservative was by acclamation, and the following year he won a by-election. In 1864, somewhat surprisingly, he joined the short-lived administration of Macdonald and Sir Étienne Taché as Solicitor General for Canada West. A delegate to the Quebec Conference in 1864, Cockburn was thus a Father of Confederation.

Although future Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie privately considered Cockburn to be “an inferior man,” he took his seat in the new House of Commons by acclamation, and was nominated by Macdonald (now Sir John) as the Dominion’s first Speaker. Cartier seconded the motion, but Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Joseph Dufresne was not satisfied because, he said, Cockburn could not speak French. Cartier responded that Cockburn could at least understand French, and his election was unanimous.

Cockburn retained his seat in the 1872 general election, and was re-elected Speaker when the 2nd Parliament convened in 1873. This in itself was a deviation from the custom of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada since 1841, in which English- and French-speaking Speakers were elected alternately. He lost his seat in the 1874 election but regained it in 1878. In his final years, because of illness and a precarious financial situation, Cockburn relied on successive patronage appointments until his death in 1883.

The only Speaker who was a Father of Confederation, Cockburn was a delegate to the Quebec Conference in 1864.

Next Speaker: Timothy Warren Anglin

Artist: George Theodore Berthon
Date: 1872

Born: Berwick-on-Tweed, England, 1819

Died: Ottawa, Ontario, 1883

Professional Background:
Law, Business

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: