The King-Byng Affair and the Balfour Report can be considered two different events, one influenced by the other. However, when considered as a part of a chronological sequence of events, the King-Byng Affair and the Balfour Report can be merged into one phenomenon, bringing about a revolution of Canadian identity.
Cause and Consequence
The King-Byng Affair is considered Canada’s most significant constitutional crisis, pitting the powers of the Governor General and the Prime Minister against each other, in 1926. In October 1925, the results of an election had resulted in a Conservative majority. The Prime Minister at the time, William Lyon Mackenzie King, was a Liberal and refused to hand over power to the Conservative majority. It was here that the crisis truly began.
During a motion in 1926, Prime Minister King asked Governor General Lord Julian Byng of Vimy to dissolve Parliament and call new elections. The Governor General refused. Calling for dissolution while a motion was in debate? Preposterous! It had never been done before. Inadvertently, this refusal sparked a series of events that resulted in another election that took place on September 14th, 1926. The Liberals won, flooding into Parliament as the majority once again. This victory sparked a realization within Canadians, that Britain did not, and should not have power over Canadian governance.
It was this newfound sense of identity that Prime Minister King brought with him to the Imperial Conference in London. This conference took place from October to November in 1926, just a month after the success of the Liberals, and brought together the Dominions of Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the Irish Free State. All the Dominions had something in common; a sense of identity separate from Britain. During this conference, Canada and the other Dominions, especially South Africa, advocated strongly for their independence, questioning the constitutional authority of Britain over their own proceedings. With their combined efforts, the Balfour Report was written, formalizing the status of the Dominions as constitutionally equal to Britain. The King-Byng Affair brought upon the mindset of independence and the Balfour Declaration confirmed it; Canada was an independent state.
The people at the time were just like the people of today. It was political drama! Political scandals and rivalries flooded the news, attracting the attention of Canadians. However, this allowed the Liberals and the Conservatives to use this to their advantage. It was through their campaigns that they dramatized the event, doing their best to sway the people; they needed votes for the upcoming election. The Conservative’s platform fired off attacks against the Liberal party, accusing them of scandals and misconduct, in an attempt to slander their name. On the other hand, the Liberals accused the Conservative party of scheming with the Governor General, that Britain was trying to limit Canada’s autonomy and right to govern themselves. What did the Canadians think?
At this point in time, Canadians were divided over the concern of whether they were British or not. The values from the Laurier Era had taken root, and World War I had only pushed Canadians to feel the rift between their own identity as subjects of a Dominion and as Canadians, but there was no clear definition. However, with the results of the 1926 election, it became evident that the majority of Canadians disproved of the Governor General’s defiance of the request for the dissolution of Parliament and of British interference with Canadian governance. The Liberals achieved a resounding victory, seizing a majority government that would remain powerful for future terms.
Continuity and Change
The King-Byng affair altered the way Canadians viewed themselves. If the Laurier Era and World War I had planted the seeds, grew the roots that would become a unique Canadian identity, the King-Byng affair was what made it sprout. As this sense of identity grew and grew, Prime Minister King carried the nascent sapling of Canadian identity with him to the Imperial Conference, hoping that a grand tree would sprout someday in the future. With the Balfour Report, Prime Minister King’s hopes were well on their way; Canada was free to grow their own sense of identity, separate from British influence. It’s partly because of the King-Byng affair that the Balfour Report was pushed forward, resulting in the Canada we see today. The Canadian identity we are so proud of today, our strong Maple Tree, has only come to be because of the great care that our predecessors have put into protecting the little sprout.
As mentioned previously, the King-Byng affair and the Balfour Report brought Canada to become a state independent of Britain. This marked the creation of the Commonwealth, a new time where the Dominions were equals to Britain. The time of British imperialism was coming to a close and a shift of global powers was set into motion. In Canada, this meant that politics was no longer controlled by the British government and autonomy over self-governance was finally achieved. Even the power of future Governor Generals evened out; no Governor General ever refused the advice of a Prime Minister in the history of Canadian politics. Canada was separate. LIke a child entering adulthood, Canada officially became a country who had their own say at the table amongst other countries.