Foreign titles laughed to death in Parliament

Conrad Black, former newspaper publisher, author, television host and U.S. felon, renounced his Canadian citizenship to accept a British title, Baron Black of Crosshabour. Lord Black is a lifetime member of the British House of Lords, currently on leave of absence, and no longer a Canadian citizen.

“A proposal for a return to titles for Canadians seemed to have been laughed to a permanent death” during two days of heated debate in the House of Commons, according to the Toronto Globe, February 15, 1929. Yet former Prime Minister R.B. Bennett would late defy the law to become a Lord, while publisher Conrad Black would give up his Canadian citizenship for the same honorific.

In 1919, on the heels of the First World War, the House passed a resolution asking Britain not to confer Lordships or Knighthood on Canadians, declaring that the Canadian government would oppose any such foreign titles, honours or decorations. Ten years later, Charles H. Cahan, a Montreal Conservative Member of Parliament, asked that the ban be rescinded. Most MPs opposed restoring foreign titles.

During the First World War “they were conferring titles on the hog kings, the bacon kings, the jelly kings, tobacco manufacturers and cigarette millionaires, and all the rest of them, until the country got sick and tired of it, with men fighting in the trenches for $1.10 a day and those at home conferring titles on themselves,” declared Toronto Conservative Member Thomas L. Church.

Progressive Party Member Agnes McPhail wanted such titles restricted to “farmers and labourers who made less than $1,000 a year,” instead of such people as Lord Beaverbrook (Max Aitken), “a great Canadian who made tremendous amounts of money by making cement so dear that in Western Canada they had to lay board sidewalks.”

Alberta Labour member William Irvine said the proposal should be buried “in the way the old lady buried the cat—face and nose downwards, so that, if it comes to life again and starts to scratch, the more it scratches the deeper it will go.”

When it came to a vote, the Progressive and Labour members were solidly against it, but the issue split the Conservative and Liberal parties, and even the cabinet. Opposition Leader Richard Bennett supported the resolution, but a few of his Conservative members voted against it. Only Prime Minister Mackenzie King and two other members of the cabinet voted against restoring titles, while seven cabinet members voted for it. The resolution to restore granting foreign titles to Canadians was defeated 114 to 60.

It was, however, far from the end of the matter. When the Conservatives were in power in 1930 to 1935 under Prime Minister Bennett, British titles were once more bestowed on Canadians. The 1919 ban, Bennett said, “was as ineffective in law as it is possible for any group of words to be.” In 1941, Bennett was rewarded with his British title, Viscount Bennett of Mickleham, Calgary and Hopewell.

The issue arose again in 2001 when British Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed to elevate publisher Conrad Black to the British House of Lords. Prime Minister Jean Chretien advised Britain that Canada would object, citing the 1919 resolution that had sought to ban such titles. Black renounced his Canadian citizenship to become Lord Black of Crossharbour. Later, after he had been sentenced in the United States to 78 months in jail for obstruction of justice and mail fraud, Black sought to regain his Canadian citizenship.

Unfamiliar Canadian History


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