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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons


Hon. Peter White
P.C. (1891–1896)

Peter White holds the unique distinction of presiding over the House during the ministries of four prime ministers: Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir John Abbott, Sir John Thompson and Sir Mackenzie Bowell. A wealthy Ontario lumberman, he was successful in seven and defeated in five federal elections between 1872 and 1904.

After the 1891 general election (and only five weeks before he died in office), Macdonald nominated White as Speaker rather than inviting him into his Cabinet. “I do not know on either side of the House,” he said, “any honourable member who would prove, from his demeanour, conduct and ability, more acceptable, without reference to political questions, than my friend.” Leader of the Opposition Wilfrid Laurier sourly noted that he was not “altogether disappointed at the choice,” but he questioned why the Deputy Speaker, John Wood, was not chosen instead.

White was Speaker during a difficult time in the House of Commons for Conservative prime ministers: Senator Sir John Abbott — the first Prime Minister to be a senator — reluctantly succeeded Macdonald, but cancer forced him to retire in 1892; Sir John Thompson took over until he suddenly died of a heart attack in 1894; Senator Sir Mackenzie Bowell followed (the second senator to become Prime Minister) and was ousted by his colleagues in 1896.

Debate was particularly heated and divisive during the Manitoba Schools Question in 1896. Manitoba’s Liberal government had abolished public funding of Roman Catholic schools. The Conservative federal government had the authority to pass remedial legislation, but Laurier — supported by anti-French and anti-Roman Catholic forces — blocked it. The election of 1896 was largely fought on the issue. Although White opposed the Conservative position, he wisely kept his own counsel while in the Chair. He was defeated in the 1896 general election, and resigned the Speakership during Sir Charles Tupper’s 69-day term as Prime Minister. Laurier appointed him to the Privy Council in 1897.

White and his brother Andrew were lumber barons in Pembroke, Ontario, a town founded by their father in 1828.

Next Speaker: Hon. Sir James David Edgar

Previous Speaker: Hon. Joseph-Aldric Ouimet

Artist: Robert Harris
Date: 1894

Born: Pembroke, Upper Canada, 1838

Died: Pembroke, Ontario, 1906

Professional Background: Business

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: