Archive for August, 2012

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.