Balfour Report

The Balfour Report of 1926 was an important document in Canada’s evolution to become a fully self-governing nation. The report declared that Britain and its Dominions were constitutionally equal. The findings of the report were made law by the British Parliament in the 1931 Statute of Westminster. This was the founding document of the modern Commonwealth. Canada remained linked to Britain politically. But legal power shifted decisively to the Canadian Parliament and its prime minister. This shift quickly led to an independent Canadian foreign policy and to the creation of its diplomatic service. It took several decades before Canada assumed all of its other powers under the Statute.



Statut de Westminster

Confederation

On 1 July 1867, the Dominion of Canada was established. (See Confederation.) It comprised a union of the British North American colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada (which became the provinces of Ontario and Quebec). Other provinces and territories would join later. (See Confederation: Timeline.) The Dominion had its own Parliament. However, Britain had the legal — but never used — power to veto any legislation passed by the Canadian parliament.

Britain retained other powers over Canada and other semi-autonomous parts of the Empire. The government in Ottawa, for example, did not fully control Canadian foreign policy. More importantly, only the British Parliament could change the British North America Act. This constitutional statute forms the bedrock of Canada’s system of government. (See also Constitution of Canada.)

William Lyon Mackenzie King
Chef du Parti Libéral de 1919 à 1948, période au cours de laquelle il est premier ministre durant prês de 22 ans, King est le personnage politique dominant d'une époque de grands changements.

Imperial Conference

By 1926, the question of who had ultimate constitutional authority had been raised in Canada in the King-Byng Affair. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had challenged the powers of Governor General Julian Byng in the context of a heated federal election campaign.

The King-Byng debate was one of the factors that led to the Committee on Inter-Imperial Relations. It met at the 1926 Imperial Conference in London. (See Colonial and Imperial Conferences.) The committee was led by Lord Arthur J. Balfour, a British Cabinet minister and former prime minister. It examined and redefined the legal relationship among self-governing nations of the British Empire.

Mackenzie King and South African Prime Minister J.B.M. Hertzog played a key role in developing the Balfour Report. It was an important document in Canada’s evolution to become a fully self-governing nation.

La déclaration d'indépendance du Canada

“Equal in Status”

The Balfour Report clarified the new relationship between Great Britain and the Dominions of Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Irish Free State.

“Their position and mutual relation may be readily defined,” the report begins. “They are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.”

The findings of the report were made law by the British Parliament in the 1931 Statute of Westminster. It is the founding document of the modern Commonwealth. Canada remained linked to Britain politically. But legal power shifted decisively to the Canadian Parliament and its prime minister. This shift quickly led to an independent Canadian foreign policy and to the creation of its diplomatic service. It took several decades before Canada assumed all of its other powers under the Statute.

The final act of legal autonomy was the passing of the Constitution Act, 1982. This marked the patriation of Canada’s Constitution from Britain.

See also: Document: Balfour Report 1926; Constitution of Canada; Constitutional Law; Constitutional History; Collection: The Constitution.