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Peace, order, and good government

In many Commonwealth jurisdictions, the phrase "peace, order, and good government" is an expression used in law to express the legitimate objects of legislative powers conferred by statute. The phrase appears in many Imperial Acts of Parliament and Letters Patent, most notably the constitutions of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia and, formerly, New Zealand and South Africa. Contrast with "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness", a spiritually-similar phrase found in the United States Declaration of Independence.


  • Canada 1
    • Interpretation doctrines 1.1
      • The Gap or Purely Residual Branch 1.1.1
      • The Emergency Branch 1.1.2
      • The National Concern Branch 1.1.3
      • Current approach to interpretation 1.1.4
    • Sociological value 1.2
  • Elsewhere in the Commonwealth 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


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In Canada, "peace, order and good government" (in French, "paix, ordre et bon gouvernement"), often abbreviated POGG, is often used to describe the principles upon which that country's Confederation took place. Originally used in the Constitution Act, 1867 (originally enacted as The British North America Act, 1867), enacted by the Imperial Parliament, it defines the principles under which the Canadian Parliament should legislate. Specifically, the phrase appears in section 91 of the Act, which is part of the block of sections that divide legislative powers between the federal and provincial levels of government. POGG is a head of power arising from opening words of section 91 and is distinct from the enumerated powers under that section. The broad language suggests that there is a comprehensive grant of residual legislative authority to the federal government. Although the residual nature of the clause remains, the scope of the clause has been limited by the jurisprudence of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC). The JCPC narrowed the scope of the clause to the three distinct branches which remain while also broadly interpreting the scope of provincial authority over property and civil rights under section 92(13) of the Constitution Act, 1867. The jurisprudence has been defined into three branches: Emergency Branch, Gap or Purely Residual Branch, and National Concern Branch.[1]

Interpretation doctrines

Although the text of the Act gives Parliament residuary powers to enact laws in any area that has not been allocated to the provincial governments, subsequent jurisprudence has limited the scope of the "peace, order, and good government" power. The limitation on the scope of this clause stems from the narrow interpretation of its branches and the expansive interpretation of provincial powers under section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Particularly limiting is the breadth of provincial power over property and civil rights under s. 92(13). Although the Emergency Branch and the National Concern Branch may be viewed as delimited federal competencies like the enumerated clauses under section 91 (see e.g. AG Canada v AG Ontario (Labour Conventions), [1937] AC 326 (PC)), the clause remains residuary. The powers under POGG must be interpreted in light of the subsequent jurisprudence on the limitations of the clause and the expansive powers of the provinces under their enumerated heads of power. If a matter does not fall within one of the enumerated classes in section 92, section 91, or the emergency or national concern branches, then it falls within the narrowly defined residual branch of POGG. The POGG power is best understood as a narrowly defined residual power limited to the following three branches.

The Gap or Purely Residual Branch

The gap branch is rarely relied on because there is so little left to default to the federal government after taking into account the enumerated provincial power over property and civil rights under section 92(13) which applies to any transaction, person or activity that is found within the province.[2] Practically, it covers issues such as drafting oversights and matters not within the boundaries of a province. Drafting oversights include things the drafters of the Constitution forgot to think about but would unambiguously have allocated to Parliament if they had. For instance, section 92 allocates responsibility for provincially incorporated companies to the legislatures but section 91 says nothing about federally incorporated companies: the gap branch allocates this jurisdiction to Parliament. Matters not within the boundaries of a particular province include Canadian territorial lands and waters that are within provincial boundaries such as the seabed off the coast of Newfoundland, Reference Re Seabed and Subsoil of Continental Shelf Offshore Newfoundland, [1984] 1 S.C.R. 86. Simply because a matter is historically new, such as aeronautics, does not mean that it falls residually to the federal government.

The Emergency Branch

Parliament may invoke emergency powers under the emergency branch of POGG. This began in 1882, when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (then the supreme authority over Canadian law) ruled in Russell v. The Queen that the federal government could legislate with regard to alcohol, because even though this would probably have been considered provincial jurisdiction in ordinary circumstances, the federal government was acting to ensure order in Canada. This concept further evolved during the 1920s, when in the 1922 Board of Commerce case, it was stated that POGG could be invoked in times of war and famine, to allow Parliament to intervene in matters of provincial jurisdiction. POGG was later used this way in the Anti-Inflation Reference of 1976, when the Supreme Court of Canada allowed Parliament to regulate inflation on the grounds that it posed a considerable economic problem for Canada. In that case, a great degree of deference was exercised in accepting what the federal government deemed to be an emergency.

The National Concern Branch

The "national concern" doctrine (sometimes referred to as "national dimensions") was an alternate means of applying the POGG powers that found use in the mid 20th century. It allowed Parliament to legislate on matters that would normally fall to the provincial government when the issue became of such importance that it concerned the entire country.

The doctrine originated from a statement by Lord Watson in the Local Prohibition case, wherein he stated:

Their Lordships do not doubt that some matters, in their origin local and provincial, might attain such dimensions as to affect the body politic of the Dominion, and to justify the Canadian Parliament in passing laws for their regulation or abolition in the interest of the Dominion.

After this case the doctrine was completely ignored until 1946 when Viscount Simons brought it back in the case of Ontario v. Canada Temperance Foundation, [1946] A.C. 193 (P.C.). The test as stated in Temperance Foundation was whether the matter "goes beyond local or provincial concern or interests and must from its inherent nature be the concern of the Dominion as a whole".[3]

Current approach to interpretation

The above branches of the power are currently governed by the principles stated by Le Dain J. in R. v. Crown Zellerbach Canada Ltd.:[4]

Sociological value

Despite its technical purpose, the phrase “peace, order and good government” has also become meaningful to Canadians. This tripartite motto is sometimes said to define Canadian values in a way comparable to “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity) in France or “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the United States. Indeed, peace, order and good government has been used by some scholars to make broad characterisations of Canada's political culture. US sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset, for example, contrasted POGG with the American tripartite motto to conclude Canadians generally believe in a higher degree of deference to the law.[5] As Canadian historian Donald Creighton argued in his report to the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations,[6] the expression was used interchangeably in the 19th century by Canadian and Imperial officials with the expression Peace, Welfare and Good Government. The term Welfare referred not to its more narrow modern echoes, but to the protection of the common wealth, the general public good. Good government referred to good public administration, on the one hand, but also had echoes of what we now talk of as good governance, which incorporates the notion of appropriate self-governance by civil society actors, since one element of good government was thought to be its limitation to its appropriate sphere of responsibility.

Elsewhere in the Commonwealth

The phrase "peace, order and good government" appears in many 19th and 20th century British Acts of Parliament, such as the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865, the British Settlements Act 1887, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900, the South Africa Act 1909, and the West Indies Act 1962 and the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

In Ibrelebbe v. The Queen [1964] AC 900, 923, the words "peace, order and good government" contained in the Ceylon Constitution Order-in-Council (1946) were said by the Privy Council to

"connote, in British constitutional language, the widest law-making powers appropriate to a sovereign".

However, those powers are not unlimited. In The Trustees Executors and Agency Co. Ltd v. Federal Commissioner of Taxation (1933) 49 CLR 220, 234, Justice Evatt of the High Court of Australia stated that when deciding whether a law was validly made:

"The correct general principle is... whether the law in question can be truly described as being for the peace, order and good government of the dominion concerned."

Recently, in R. v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, ex parte Bancoult [2000] EWHC 413, the High Court of England and Wales struck down an ordinance made in 1971 by the Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory expelling the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago to make way for an American military base at Diego Garcia, purportedly under his power to legislate for the "peace, order and good government" of the territory. Lord Justice Laws, ordering the British Government to allow the inhabitants to return to their former homes, condemned the depopulation of the islands in the name of "peace, order and good government" with the words:

"It was Tacitus who said: They make a desert and call it peace – Solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant (Agricola 30). He meant it as an irony; but here, it was an abject legal failure."

See also


  1. ^ Monahan, Patrick J. (2006). Constitutional Law, Third Edition. Toronto: Irwin Law Inc. p. 254.  
  2. ^ Monahan, Patrick J. (2006). Constitutional Law, Third Edition. Toronto: Irwin Law Inc. pp. 259–261.  
  3. ^ p. 205
  4. ^ Crown Zellerbach, paragraph 33
  5. ^ Dyck, Rand. Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches. Third ed. Scarborough, Ontario: Nelson Thomson Learning, 2000.
  6. ^ D.G Creighton, British North America at Confederation: a Study Prepared for the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations (Ottawa, Queen's Printer 1939)


  • Dyck, Rand. Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches. Third ed. Scarborough, Ontario: Nelson Thomson Learning, 2000.
  • D.G Creighton, British North America at Confederation: a Study Prepared for the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations. Ottawa, Queen's Printer, 1939.

External links

  • Canada's Constitution Act, 1867 – Section 91: Powers of the Parliament
  • Peace, Order and Good Government at Marianopolis College
  • POGG at
  • Canadians and their Government – a resource guide full of information and a wide range of activities that allow young Canadians to learn more about their government and its institutions.
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