Today in Canada’s Political History: R.B. Bennett foreshadows his establishment of the Bank of Canada

Canada’s future Prime Minister, R. B. Bennett, took to his feet in the House of Commons on this date in 1910 to call for better regulation of Canadian banks during a debate on the Bank Act.  Of course, when he was prime minister two decades later, Bennett established the Bank of Canada, perhaps his greatest accomplishment in high office.

Bennett’s biographer, John Boyko, writing in his book R.B. Bennett: The Rebel Who Challenged and Changed a Nation, describes Bennett’s motive in delivering his June 2, 1913 speech in the Commons. “The speeches advocating the Bank Act changes again demonstrated his belief that the immediate power of business interests should stop at the foot of Parliament Hill,” he wrote. “The country’s elected representatives should base their decisions not only on what was best for big business but also for the country as a whole. Decrying what he saw as the corporate, financial, and business elite having too much power in the halls of Parliament was a theme to which he returned many times.”

Boyko then quotes from the speech Bennett made that day. “The vital question is whether or not a few capitalists shall control the actions of this Parliament,” Bennett said. “The Bank Act of 1913 is the Bank Act of twenty years ago without any change, without any single forward motion towards progress and reform …. And I say this not in accordance with the spirt of our institutions.”

“Shall or shall not Parliament impose a restriction on the rate of interest the banks may change?” Bennett thundered as his address continued. “I think there should be a restriction …. Parliament had a right to hold a bank to the strictest account, and in the exercise of those powers this Parliament must stipulate that they shall be exercised for the public interest and not for the benefit purely of private individuals.”Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist.  He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy.  A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.