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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons


Hon. Sir George Airey Kirkpatrick
P.C. (1883–1887)

On April 27, 1870, one month after the death of his father (a Conservative MP), George Kirkpatrick successfully ran for his Kingston-area seat to succeed him. At the age of 29 he began 22 consecutive years in the House, aided perhaps by the fact that his Frontenac riding was adjacent to that of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, and by his late father’s close friendship with Macdonald. Despite these connections, he never secured a cabinet post.

In 1883 Macdonald decided to nominate Kirkpatrick as Speaker; with a playful reference to the Speaker’s ceremonial tricorne hat, Macdonald wrote Kirkpatrick that “I purpose, if you have no objection, to knock you into a cocked hat at the opening of Parliament next week.” In the House, Macdonald noted that Kirkpatrick’s time there “gained for him the esteem, I might almost say the affection, of his brother members.” Sir Hector Langevin, the Minister of Public Works, seconded the nomination, but commented that Kirkpatrick’s French was limited.

Leader of the Opposition Edward Blake, however, raised a more general point. He began by quoting Macdonald’s words on the re-election of Speaker James Cockburn in 1873: Macdonald said then that he “was trying to introduce the system that had obtained in England and had worked well: That after a Speaker had served well, he should not be changed capriciously at the beginning of each Parliament.” Now Macdonald had reversed himself. Why was former Speaker Joseph-Godric Blanchet not nominated again? Blake concluded by hoping that Kirkpatrick “will endeavour to maintain the dignity of this House by some more active steps, on certain occasions, than former Speakers have taken, by the repression, at the earliest moment, of incidents, which, when prolonged only become more lamentable.”

Although Kirkpatrick is reported as saying that he was not overjoyed at being elected Speaker, he has also been described as “probably the best, or, at least, the most impartial of 19th-century Speakers.” He may have irritated some Conservative MPs by ruling against the government on occasion; he certainly irritated the Prime Minister, who saw him as not strong enough in the House, and as too close a friend of Edward Blake. Macdonald did not renominate him for Speaker in 1887, and denied him a cabinet post the following year. He stayed on the backbenches until Conservative Prime Minister John Abbott recommended in 1892 that the Governor General appoint him Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.

As part of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Kirkpatrick was knighted in 1897.

Next Speaker: Hon. Joseph-Aldric Ouimet

Previous Speaker: Joseph-Godric Blanchet

Artist: Frances E. Richards Rowley
Date: 1887

Born: Kingston, Canada West, 1841

Died: Toronto, Ontario, 1899

Professional Background:
Law, Business, Military

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: