Quebec in the News

Since Quebec is in the news today, I offer this comment by Louis Joseph Papineau. He is speaking in Lower Canada’s Legislative Assembly in 1830. (I apologize for the incomplete reference.)

“[Britain’s] best laws have become ours, while our faith, our property, and the laws by which they were governed have been conserved … Now religious tolerance, trial by jury, the wisest guarantee which has ever been established for the protection of innocence; security against arbitrary imprisonment, thanks to the privilege of the habeas corpus, equal protection guaranteed by law to the person, honor, and property of citizens, the right to obey only laws made by us and adopted by our representatives – all these have become our birthright, and will be, I hope, the lasting heritage of our posterity.

Papineau was not always as enthusiastic about British rule and British rights as I do not need to say. In the Rebellions of 1837 and 38, he took up arms took up arms against colonial authorities. By then the flaw in the Constitutional Act, 1791, the Act that gave Upper and Lower Canada representative assemblies had become apparent to all.

Good Bye, Bonne Chance. Leave the Loonie Behind, Thanks

At a Conference sponsored by the Canadian Study of Parliament Group in the fall of 1991 to mark the bicentennial of the Constitutional Act, 1791, Liberal Claude Ryan remarked on Canadians’ “living attachment” to parliamentary institutions. “The grant of elective legislative assemblies to the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada in the Constitutional Act of 1791,” he said, “marked the beginning of a long evolution which led in 1848 to the achievement of responsible government and in 1867 to the creation of the federal system. Very rare are the modern political societies that have such a long tradition of living attachment to their parliamentary institutions. Beyond all the political differences that may separate us, we have every reason to be proud of the Canadian parliamentary system.

Ryan’s statement is something to keep in mind now that the matter of Quebec’s separation looms again. I have no doubt that Quebeckers will not give up parliamentary institutions.

The question for Canadians outside Quebec is whether an independent Quebec will  bid for a shared currency. Here’s Jane Jacob’s opinion: “Two of the things René Lévesque wanted for Quebec – independence and a shared currency with the rest of Canada – are simply irreconcilable.” (Jacobs, The Question of Separatism (New York, Random House, 1980), 102. And see the whole of Chapter Seven.

Imagining New Orleans

The American Political Science Association has cancelled its annual meeting, which was to have been held in New Orleans. The tornado won. I was never planning to go; too many obligations here. But I was looking forward to imagining myself at the awards dinner, glass of wine in hand.

My book, The Canadian Founding, John Locke and Parliament (2007) won the Seymour Martin Lipset Award for best book in political science. I am a co-recipient, sharing the prize with Stephen Clarkson (University of Toronto) for his Does North America Exist? Governing the Continent After NAFTA and 9/11 (2008).

I’ll have the glass of wine anyway.


Nova Scotia Emancipated

Anne Leavitt writes from Halifax to remind me that Nova Scotia was the first colony in British North America to achieve responsible government. Yes! And from Wikipedia I learn that Nova Scotia was the first British colonial possession to achieve it. A plaque in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly reads: “The first Executive Council chosen exclusively from the party having a majority in the representative branch of a colonial legislature was formed in Nova Scotia on 2 February, 1848.”

Responsible government ensures a colony’s emancipation. On 2 February, 1848 Nova Scotia became an independent country. It was no longer a British “possession.” No doubt Nova Scotians had reason to continue cooperating with the world power that was Britain. But that cooperation and the degree of cooperation became a matter for local debate.

Anne notes: “There are none of those mythical “red-tories” in this story at all. The Tories, if we can call them that, are bigoted, intolerant elitists wanting to hold on to power, representing a minority of the population.”

No doubt true. Parties are like that. Responsible government gives us a way of coping with partisan ambition. What is surprising is that George Grant, Gad Horowitz, and others who promulgated the red-tory thesis for so long persuaded Canadians that there was something inherently benign and kindly about oligarchy and absolutism when administered by Tories of United Empire Loyalist descent.

Call For Responsible Government in BNA From 1806?

David Schneiderman (Toronto) says that he has been enjoying my book, The Canadian Founding, John Locke and Parliament, especially the chapter on Pierre Bédard. Thank you, David.

I argue that Bédard, first leader of the  French Party in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada,  is calling for responsible government in the British North American colonies colonies from 1806, while John Ralston Saul contends that the principle of responsible government was only imperfectly understood by the British North Americans until until Robert Baldwin came along.

“Firming up your point” says David, “I found this in Kennedy’s book of documents: “The “Canadian Party in Lower Canada either believe or affect to believe that there exists a Ministry here, and that in imitation of the Constitution of Britain that Ministry is responsible to them for he conduct of government.” (Correspondence from Governor Craig (Lower Canada) to the secretary of state for the colonies, Viscount Castlereagh, ( Statutes, Treaties and Documents of the Canadian Constitution, 1713-1929, edited by W.P.M. Kennedy (Oxford University Press, 1930), 224.)

Very nice!  So the Governor of Lower Canada knew exactly what Bédard was doing and how he was mocking the Governor. I missed this document when I was writing about Bédard.

It’s an invaluable book, Kennedy’s Documents.

Does the Prime Minister Wield too much power?

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is hosting a debate on this well-worn topic. (May 10, Tabaret Hall, University of Ottawa, 6:30 p.m. Sheila Copps and Andrew Coyne are participants. Sound familiar?

This year’s Donner Prize winners, Mark D. Jarvis, Lori Turbull, and the late Peter Aucoin tackle the same issue in their Democratizing the Constitution; Reforming Responsible Government, proposing rules to constrain the prime minister’s power over confidence votes and the summoning, prorogation, and dissolution of Parliament. (I had better read this book.) But curiously they also suggest that leaders should be dissuaded from acting on behalf of party interests. It will never fly. More important: party politics ensures political freedom by keeping debates alive and legitimating political opposition. Every step away from partisan politics is a step towards oligarchy.

In the National Post of Friday, May 4, F.H. Buckley, Professor, George Mason School of Law, takes a refreshingly unfamiliar tack. He likes the Westminster system! He believes it superior to the American Congressional form of government. “Getting legislation passed or repealed in the United States is like waiting for three cherries to line up in a Las Vegas slot machine. Absent a super-majority in Congress to override a presidential veto, one needs the simultaneous concurrence of the president Senate and House. In a parliamentary government, however, one needs only one cherry. In Canada, neither the governor-general nor the senate has a veto power … All that matters is the House of Commons, dominated by the prime ministers’ party.” Note Buckley’s emphasis on repealing laws. A stiff system like the American Congress can leave in place policies discredited by experience.

How Gad Horowitz Survived Israel Apartheid Week

A message from Gad Horowitz. Enjoy.


israel apartheid week drove me up the wall.
the term is supposed to induce guilt but is equally likely to induce fury…
as a leftist i have always wondered why so many of my relatives and friends who were socialists in the past have become right wingers on almost every issue. now i understand. but it won’t happen to me. because I will not be sucked in.  instead i will emulate the “language poets” who play with word-viruses in order to divest them of their hypnotic power.  so here we go: (best declaimed aloud to ward off the demonization-demon)
End Israeli sardines
End Israeli marsupials
End Israeli pincushions
End Israeli matzohballs
End endodontic apartheid
End fingerlickin apartheid
End testicular apartheid
End macadamianut apartheid
End frapuccino apartheid
End umbilical apartheid
End kakapoopoo apartheid
End arootintootin apartheid
End applecorrie apartheid
End deliverdeletterdesoonerdebetter apartheid
End blueish apartheid
that’s funny, you don’t LOOK blueish

End monosodium glutameit
End jambalaya afartfeit
End mouthfrothish hyperboleit
End gefultefush expansionheit
End slithery hypocrateit