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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons


Hon. Sir James David Edgar

James Edgar, a lawyer and railway entrepreneur, was nothing if not persistent in his political ambitions. Elected to the House in 1872, he was defeated in his re-election bid and was subsequently defeated in five consecutive attempts to regain a seat before winning one in an 1884 by-election. During that period he became Liberal Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie’s unofficial Ontario organizer; he had previously served as the party’s chief whip in the House of Commons, and on his re-election served again as a whip and railway critic for Liberal Leader of the Opposition Edward Blake. Mackenzie had used Edgar to negotiate a new railway clause for British Columbia’s entry into Confederation, and under Blake he revitalized Liberal fundraising.

Despite these activities, Edgar’s influence was in decline when Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier put together his 1896 Cabinet. Wanting more forward-looking individuals in his Cabinet, Laurier instead nominated him for the Speakership. The Opposition’s concerns focused less on Edgar’s strong partisanship than on the fact that, as Leader of the Opposition and former Prime Minister Sir Charles Tupper regretted, “it has been found necessary to depart from the time-honoured precedent of having the Speaker alternately French and English,” as the previous speaker had been an anglophone as well.

To honour Edgar, Laurier appointed him to the Privy Council, and he was knighted in 1898. By this time Edgar was noticeably suffering from nephritis, a kidney disease, known then as Bright’s disease. After Edgar’s sudden death — the first and only time a House Speaker died in office — Laurier praised him for his fairness and “general acceptance to both sides of the House.” Speaking for the Opposition, Conservative George Foster noted slightly ambiguously that “his decisions have been as fair and equitable as he in his position could make them.”

Known for his literary achievements, Edgar wrote the popular poem “This Canada of Ours” to commemorate Confederation.

Next Speaker: Thomas Bain

Previous Speaker: Hon. Peter White

Artist: Alphonse Jongers
Date: circa 1899

Born: Hatley, Canada East, 1841

Died: Toronto, Ontario, 1899

Professional Background:
Law, Journalism, Business

Political Affiliation: Liberal

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: