Note: [molson052305.FTW] Canadian parliamentarians of the last century were frequently wealthy, better educated than their constituents and often related to members of the social and business elite. George Airey Kirkpatrick was typical of the political patrician of that era. His father, Thomas, a prominent Kingston lawyer, served as mayor and later sat in Parliament until 1870. George Kirkpatrick was born in Kingston in 1841. He attended Kingston Grammar School, went to high school in Quebec City and completed his education at Trinity College in Dublin. Upon his return to Canada Kirkpatrick joined his father's law office. As a matter of course he associated with the leading men of Kingston including Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. Kirkpatrick was related by marriage to three prominent families: the Macauleys, the Molsons and the Macphersons. In 1870 the local Conservative organization approached Kirkpatrick to contest the Frontenac seat held by his late father. He accepted and at age 29 began his parliamentary career. On most issues Kirkpatrick agreed with the Conservative position. He opposed free trade. He believed in Macdonald's National Policy based on protective tariffs, railway building and immigration. But Kirkpatrick was also a friend of Edward Blake and was not averse to supporting the Liberal leader on certain issues such as proportional representation. During debate over the Pacific Railway scandal Kirkpatrick was courted by Blake and the Liberals. After some hesitation he refused to change political allegiance despite distaste for some actions by his own party. In 1875 Kirkpatrick introduced a resolution taking issue with the Governor-General's right to pardon Louis Riel without the advice of his ministers. The rules prevented his resolution from being debated but within three years the British Government had issued new instructions to the Governor-General in line with the argument outlined in Kirkpatrick's resolution and in Edward Blake's memorandum on the Office of Governor-General and the Prerogative of Mercy. Kirkpatrick also fought for one of his father's favourite causes: the protection of sailors from shipowners who went bankrupt. Year after year he introduced legislation to authorize liens for seamen's wages. It finally found expression in Blake's Maritime Court Act passed in 1877. Kirkpatrick took a dignified and gentlemanly approach to debate. He rarely delivered long or highly-partisan speeches but made numerous short interventions. He served as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee during the fourth Parliament and after the 1882 election Macdonald nominated him to succeed Blanchet as Speaker. Macdonald praised Blanchet for presiding over the House with great dignity, saying how difficult it had been to find someone equally qualified to hold that important position. Macdonald's logic was too much for Blake who, despite his friendship with Kirkpatrick, chastised Macdonald for changing Speakers unnecessarily. Kirkpatrick was not overjoyed at being elected Speaker. He would have much preferred a cabinet position but Kingston already had two ministers. In 1885 he told Macdonald his health was deteriorating from a lack of exercise caused by long hours in the chair. The Prime Minister prevailed upon him to remain until the end of the Parliament. Despite a lack of enthusiasm for the job Kirkpatrick was probably the best or, at least, the most impartial of 19th century Speakers. This was due partly to his financial independence but also to his friendship with Blake and other leading Liberals but it worked against his hopes for a cabinet position. In 1888 Macdonald told Kirkpatrick that many Conservatives felt he had been too weak a Speaker, too afraid of Blake and too prone to decide questions against the Conservatives. Kirkpatrick did receive an offer to join Mackenzie Bowell's cabinet in 1896 but by this time he was no longer interested. After leaving the Chair Kirkpatrick lost much of his earlier interest in public life. He had always been active in industry as president of the Kingston Waterworks, president of the Canadian Locomotive Works, director of the Kingston and Pembroke Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Canada Life Assurance Company, the Imperial Loan and Investment Company and many others. Toward the end of his parliamentary career his interventions dealt mostly with private bills associated with these interests. A year after Macdonald's death his successor, Sir John Abbott, appointed Kirkpatrick Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, a position he held for five years. Kirkpatrick was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1897. His last years were devoted to charitable and community work. He died in Toronto at age 59.
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