The Franchise Act of 1885 was designed to facilitate the absorption of Indians into the general population. It was framed with the Indians of Central Canada in mind and was extended to those males who were British subjects and met certain minimum property requirements. The legislation, proposed by Sir John A. Macdonald who was then superintendent of Indian Affairs as well as Prime Minister, was premised on the view that although Indians in Ontario and Quebec did not pay taxes, they were responsible for improvements on their own lands, including roads and schools, and in this regard they were the equals of non-Indians. Macdonald explicitly acknowledged that Indians in the West were not yet ready for this responsibility, and that the law would not apply there except on an individual basis to those who owned tracts of lands separate from their communities (in other words, to Native owners of private property).

Despite these restrictions, the law was vigorously attacked. Indeed, the parliamentary opposition evoked the alarming image of "wild Indians" running "from a scalping party to the polls." This picture had a forceful impact on public opinion as the legislation was introduced only days before the outbreak of the North-West Rebellion. This event allowed detractors of the legislation to ignore the fact that scalping was virtually non-existent in the Canadian West in the late nineteenth century.

Although the Conservative majority in Parliament passed the law in the face of this vociferous opposition, few Indians exercised the rights granted to them under the Act. Their opportunities to do so were limited, as a Liberal government repealed the law in 1898, discarding it as an insult to taxpaying "civilized" White people. The response to the 1895 Franchise Act indicated the persistence of the opinion that Indians were not equals, and that when Native and non-Native interests clashed, the former would prevail.

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