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The Speakers of the Senate of Canada


Hon. Robert Duncan Wilmot
P.C. (1878–1880)

As with many senators appointed in the first year of Confederation, Robert Duncan Wilmot had had an active political career long before his summons to the Senate. In the colony of New Brunswick he held an elected seat in the Legislative Assembly from 1846 to 1861, and again from 1865 to 1867, including 15 months as Associate Premier. He also served on the Executive Council as a member of the ministries of two administrations.

A well-known opponent of Confederation, he gradually came to see the benefits of union for New Brunswick, and in 1866–1867 attended the London Conference that provided the framework for the British North America Act, 1867. Two weeks before the 1st Session of the 1st Parliament of the Dominion of Canada opened on November 6, 1867, Wilmot took up his appointment as senator.

After nearly 11 years in the Senate, he accepted Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald’s invitation to join his second ministry as Minister without Portfolio, and simultaneously Macdonald’s nomination for appointment as Speaker of the Senate. While unusual in Canada, dual appointments were analogous to the practice in the United Kingdom, where the Speaker of the House of Lords was until 2006 the Lord Chancellor, invariably a member of the Cabinet.

Wilmot had a very clear understanding of the role of the Senate: it was established with “territorial representation especially for the purpose, among others, of guarding the interests of the smaller Provinces, and to resist any encroachment on the part of the larger Provinces.” He went on to observe that the Senate “should be in a position to check hasty legislation and more popular clamor, and give time to allow public opinion to assert itself.”

In February 1880, after 15 months in the chair, Wilmot resigned as Speaker and senator on being recommended for appointment as the Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick.

Wilmot was the first senator to be appointed simultaneously as Speaker and also as a member of the Cabinet.

Next Speaker: Hon. David Lewis Macpherson

Previous Speaker: Hon. David Christie

Portrait of the Honourable Robert Duncan Wilmot

Born: Fredericton, New Brunswick, 1809

Died: Belmont, New Brunswick, 1891

Professional Background:
Shipping, Business

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: