Sins of Commission: A Royal Commission to Investigate Abolishing Parliament?

AuthorPass, Forrest D.
PositionSketches of Parliaments and Parliamentarians

A 1949 "Royal Commission" contemplated the unthinkable: the abolition of Parliament. Fortunately, for parliamentarians past and present, the resulting report was a Parliamentary Press Gallery parody that was "disrespectfully submitted" and not a real prescription for shuttering the Parliament Buildings. In this article, the author explores this elaborate joke text. He notes that while some of the humour probably still holds up today, the racism and sexism within the document means most readers will not shed any tears in learning this text has been long forgotten and gathering dust--just like some of the real commission reports it parodied.


Reading royal commission reports is either a perk or an occupational hazard for parliamentarians and historians alike. I have thumbed through my fair share over the years, from the Kellock-Taschereau Commission report on the Gouzenko Affair of 1946, which reads a little like a John Le Carre novel, to the Report of the National Transcontinental Railway Investigating Commission (1914), which reads like, well, the Report of the National Transcontinental Railway Investigating Commission. Still, when I came across one such report at an Ottawa estate sale, it took me a moment to realize that I was holding a long forgotten parody rather than the genuine article.

Even in these days of digital deep fakes, there is much to appreciate in the analog artistry of this mid-century prank. As an object, the Report of the Royal Commission to Investigate the Proposal that Parliament be Abolished painstakingly mimicked the look and feel of genuine royal commission reports, from its blue cover and its typeface down to the printing block used for the coat of arms on the cover and title page. Perhaps the King's Printer was in on the joke. Besides the title, the date of the order-in-council appointing the commission --April 1, 1949--is the clearest indication that the proposal to abolish Parliament was not made entirely in earnest. The culprit was the Parliamentary Press Gallery, which prepared the "report" as a keepsake for its annual dinner.

At a mere 46 pages, the Report was, by its own admission, a little smaller than a typical royal commission deliverable. "You will find it short, as Royal Commission reports go," the commissioners apologized in their letter of transmission, before quipping, "Where do they go, incidentally?" However, noting that "this brevity has been a matter of concern," the commissioners noted...

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