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King's Position on Constitutional Authority of Prime Minister


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Letter from William Lyon Mackenzie King to Governor General Byng, 28 June 1926

Your Excellency having declined to accept my advice to place your signature to the Order-in-Council with reference to a dissolution of parliament, which I have placed before you to-day, I hereby tender to Your Excellency my resignation as Prime Minister of Canada.

Your Excellency will recall that in our recent conversations relative to dissolution I have on each occasion suggested to Your Excellency, as I have again urged this morning, that having regard to the possible very serious consequences of a refusal of the advice of your First Minister to dissolve parliament you should, before definitely deciding on this step, cable the Secretary of State for the Dominions asking the British Government, from whom you have come to Canada under instructions, what, in the opinion of the Secretary of State for the Dominions, your course should be in the event of the Prime Minister presenting you with an Order-in-Council having reference to dissolution.

As a refusal by a Governor-General to accept the advice of a Prime Minister is a serious step at any time, and most serious under existing conditions in all parts of the British Empire to- day, there will be raised, I fear, by the refusal on Your Excellency's part to accept the advice tendered a grave constitutional question without precedent in the history of Great Britain for a century, and in the history of Canada since Confederation.

If there is anything which, having regard to my responsibilities as Prime Minister, I can even yet do to avert such a deplorable and, possibly, far-reaching crisis, I shall be glad to do so, and shall be pleased to have my resignation withheld at Your Excellency's request pending the time it may be necessary for Your Excellency to communicate with the Secretary of State for the Dominions.

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Source: NAC/ANC, King Papers, Letter from William Lyon Mackenzie King to Governor General Byng, 28 June 1926.

Byng's Statement on Arthur Meighen's Chance to Govern

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Letter from Governor-General Byng to William Lyon Mackenzie King, 29 June 1926

I must acknowledge on paper, with many thanks, the receipt of your letter handed to me at our meeting yesterday. In trying to condense all that has passed between us during the past week, it seems to my mind that there is really only one point at issue.

You advise me "that as, in your opinion, Mr. Meighen is unable to govern the country, there should be another election with the present machinery to enable the people to decide". My contention is that Mr. Meighen has not been given a chance of trying to govern, or saying that he cannot do so, and that all reasonable expedients should be tried before resorting to another Election.

Permit me to say once more that, before deciding on my constitutional course on this matter, I gave the subject the most fair-minded and painstaking consideration which it was in my power to apply.

I can only add how sincerely I regret the severance of our official companionship, and how gratefully I acknowledge the help of your counsel and co-operation.

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Source: NAC/ANC, King Papers, Governor General Byng to William Lyon Mackenzie King, 29 June 1926.

Byng's position on Constitutional Responsibility of Governor General

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Letter from Governor General Byng to Mr. L. S. Amery, The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, 30 June 1926

As already telegraphed, Mr. Mackenzie King asked me to grant him dissolution. I refused. Thereupon he resigned and I asked Mr. Meighen to form a Government, which has been done. Now this constitutional or unconstitutional act of mine seems to resolve itself into these salient features. A Governor General has the absolute right of granting dissolution or refusing it. The refusal is a very dangerous decision, it embodies the rejection of the advice of the accredited Minister, which is the bed-rock of Constitutional Government. Therefore nine times out of ten a Governor General should take the Prime Minister's advice on this as on other matters. But if the advice offered is considered by the Governor General to be wrong and unfair, and not for the welfare of the people, it behooves him to act in what he considers the best interests of the country.

This is naturally the point of view I have taken and expressed it in my reply to Mr. King (text of which is being telegraphed later).

You will notice that the letter in question is an acknowledgement of a letter from Mr. King (text of which is also being telegraphed later) appealing that I should consult the Government in London. While recognising to the full help that this might afford me, I flatly refused, telling Mr King that to ask advice from London, where the conditions of Canada were not as well known as they were to me, was to put the British Government in the unfortunate position of having to offer solution which might give people out here the feeling of a participation in their politics, which is to be strongly deprecated.

There seemed to me to be one person, and one alone, who was responsible for the decision and that was myself. I should feel that the relationship of the Dominion to the Old Country would be liable to be seriously jeopardised by involving the Home Government; whereas the incompetent and unwise action of a Governor General can only involve himself.

I am glad to say that to the end I was able to maintain a friendly feeling with my late Prime Minister. Had it been otherwise, I should have offered my resignation at once. This point of view has been uppermost in my mind ever since he determined on retaining the reins of office (against my private advice) last November. It has not been always easy but it was imperative that a Governor General and a Prime Minister could not allow a divergent view-point to wreck their relationship without the greatest detriment to the country.

Mr. King, whose bitterness was very marked Monday, will probably take a very vitriolic line against myself -- that seems only natural. But I have to wait the verdict of history to prove my having adopted a wrong course and this I do with an easy conscience that, right or wrong, I have acted in the interests of Canada, and have implicated no one else in my decision.

I would only add that at our last three interviews I appealed to Mr. King not to put the Governor General in the position of having to make a controversial decision. He refused and it appeared that I could do no more.

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Source: NAC/ANC, Byng Papers, Letter from Governor General Byng to The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, 30 June 1926.

Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs Defines Position of British Government on Rights of Governor General

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Letter from Mr. L. S. Amery, The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to Governor General Byng, 3 July 1926

I am truly sorry that at the close of your wonderfully successful term in Canada you should have had to face so difficult and unpleasant a situation as that which Mackenzie King's behaviour has created for you. It is not for me from here to attempt to judge the weight of all the factors which determined your decision that the possibilities of Parliamentary situation were not exhausted and that you ought to give Meighen a chance of trying his hand. It was a courageous decision and a difficult one, and it is enough for me that you took it. I imagine that will be enough for the people of Canada too, who know quite well that no party or personal motive, nothing but your conviction of the public interest, could have influenced you. I can only add that it was no less wise than courageous of you to refuse flatly Mackenzie King's preposterous suggestion that you should cable to me for advice or instructions. He, of all people, should have been the last to try and invoke, in his personal interest, that dependence of Canada upon an outside authority which he has always so strenuously denounced in public. He has cut a contemptible figure in the whole business. His letter to you, with its threat of an Empire wide agitation, was scandalous and nothing could have been better than your reply. Nor can I imagine that his public denunciation of you, with its talk of Crown Colony Government etc. will do him anything but harm in the greater part of the country.....

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Source: NAC/ANC, Byng Papers, Letter from Mr. L. S. Amery, The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Governor General Byng, 3 July 1926.


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Source: NAC/ANC, Byng Papers, Letter from Mr. L. S. Amery, The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Governor General Byng, 3 July 1926.



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