Thoughts on political philosophy
Janet Ajzenstat/ Emeritus Professor/ Political Science/ McMaster University
I found your blog.
I’m a producer at TVO who was behind a discussion around Widdowson’s and and Howard’s book on the Agenda with Steve Paikin.
Here is a link:
The attack on Frances Widdowson shouldn’t surprise anyone. I have been back in Canada for three years and have witnessed many examples of government and a willing population that demonstrates a lack concern regarding individual freedom. In Halifax, in a 12 month period, the police issued over 20% of all motorists a ticket and yet nobody complained. Corruption by politicians and yet nobody complained. Reports of waste of millions of tax dollars and yet nobody complained. I have been told by many people I have talked to who invariably state that Canadians are a passive people. They say that without any idea how dangerous that is. Ms Widdowson touched on a point that should be obvious too anyone and that is all members of society must grow at near the same rate and be given the same opportunity to do so. That it is silly to believe that segments of society can hold on to beliefs that keep them from progressing and contributing to the over all good of that society while at the same time taking advantage of the progress that the society makes.
Hi Dr. Ajzenstat,
Do you know where I can locate some resources that trace the debates surrounding the provisions that were to be included in federal and provincial areas of jurisdiction? In other words, why did the founders choose to make health care a provincial as opposed to a federal area of jurisdiction? Were there some founders that argued that criminal law should be a provincial matter?
I’ve read your book on Canada’s Founding Debates and found it very helpful. I’m just hoping to add some missing pieces to the “founding puzzle.”
I don’t know of anyone who argued that criminal law should be a provincial matter. The founders had the example of the U.S. where criminal law is a state matter. But I do not know of anyone who argues for it in Canada. Good question. This is something that Peter Russell might be able to tell you more about. (I haven’t read everything!)
I presume that Cartier argued for health as a provincial matter because hospitals in Quebec were run by the Church, or by orders of nuns. It was no doubt seen as as aspect of the Catholic culture of Quebec. Another good question.
The Parliament of Canada was to get only matters that affected each and every person in the federation equally. I guess you could say that’s why the criminal law fell to the national level. We are all interested in law and order, the public safety, and I think you could say that we all have an interest in upholding the idea that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.
I was a grad student of Peter Browne’s in the late seventies and just came across a reference to you having recently edited or contributed to a new re-published version of Peter’s Documents on the Confederation…
Did you know Professor Browne? Did you write a new Foreword to his volume? I still have my copy and adore it as a reference.
Hello Richard. It’s very interesting to hear from a student of Professor Browne’s. I did not know him. I admire his collection. And his Index – always a clue to a scholar’s abilities.
Do try to buy the new edition. If you have trouble write me again. We’ve retained Browne’s Introduction and added one by Ajzenstat. You an get it through Amazon. Or McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Hullo Professor Ajzenstat; I am re-reading your book “The Once and Future Canadian Democracy” in an ongoing attempt to understand the “Why”of Canadian politics. I’m a political junkie and a bit of an history buff. Your book has helped me to understand the strange state of politics in Canada, but I am baffled by the inability of Canadians to make the most of their own country. It is a national neurosis to be constantly looking at the US as some kind of magic mirror while saying “Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?” as if they will hear something to prove that they really are better than what they’re afraid they are! Sadly,I believe a lot of the same characteristics that enabled the Family Compact are alive and well today. Anyway, I am delighted to have discovered your blog and I look forward to reading your thoughts and commentaries. All the best David Stern
Below is a compilation of references to John Locke in recent federal parliaments. – CP
39th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 011 Tuesday, October 30, 2007.
Mr. Dean Allison (Niagara West—Glanbrook, CPC.:-
Second, for centuries the right to own and use property has been the necessary prerequisite to political freedom. Indeed, it has long been at the centre of the human rights movement. As John Locke has argued, if the state was to have legitimacy in the eyes of the people, it had to secure these rights.
39th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 156 Thursday, May 17, 2007
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, CPC):
After the English civil wars, John Locke famously argued that the rights to life, liberty and property were natural, inalienable rights, and if the state was to have legitimacy in the eyes of the people, it had to secure these rights.
Debates of the Senate (Hansard) 1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 56 Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Debates of the Senate (Hansard) 1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 56 Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Hon. Jerahmiel S. Grafstein:
I commend this text to all senators studying the bill before us because it is an interesting analysis of the world of the judiciary in our country. It refers to the Act of Settlement 1701 that established the independence of the judiciary. After the “Glorious Revolution,” judges were set up as an independent body separate and distinct from the legislature and the Crown. This idea was based on the great philosophers of the time, a learned judge himself, William Blackstone, and two philosophers, John Locke and Montesquieu, all who advocated the same point: In order to have a proper democratic structure in the judiciary, there must be checks and balances and a separation between the executive, the lower and the upper houses — which we have — as well as an independent separate judiciary.
38th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 076 Tuesday, April 5, 2005.
Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat, CPC):-
There is a first question we need to ask. Why do we have governments? Why does government exist? The philosopher John Locke would argue that government exists so that we can ensure the maximum possible protection of our inherent rights. In other words, he believed that we are born with certain rights that are inalienable, that is, they are rights that cannot be taken from us. These are rights such as freedom of speech, association, religion, conscience and movement, and the right to own and use property as we choose. Locke argued that governments and courts are created by free people to ensure that the strongest simply do not override the rights of the weakest. Thus, the people delegate to government and to courts the authority to ensure that all people have their natural rights protected. But Locke and others also knew that governments themselves can be a danger to these natural rights that we are born with. That is why, going back to the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, it has been argued that the people have a duty, a moral obligation, to reject man-made law if it conflicts with natural law, the law that says we are born with these rights which cannot be taken from us.
38th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 08 Thursday, April 21, 2005.
Mr. James Rajotte (Edmonton—Leduc, CPC):-
We have to recall the abstract and history of property rights and the fact that it is intertwined completely with western civilization, going back to great thinkers like Aristotle, the Greco-Roman, the Roman civilization, working its way up to philosophers like John Locke. I would like to quote from Locke’s work at this point. I think he gives one of the best definitions.
He locates the right of property and labour. He individualizes the right of property, which is certainly an important development in western thought. This is from his Two Treatises of Government, “Chapter V Of Property”:
The “labour” of his body and the “work” of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his own property.
38th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 074 Thursday, March 24, 2005.
Mr. Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.):-
Some would say that we are at a watershed moment in the history of the relationship of the state to marriage. In the 17th century, the founding liberal philosopher, John Locke, recognized that the state could not resolve fundamental conflicts over religion. He concluded that the liberal state thus had to get out of the sanctuaries of the nation.
37th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 059. Thursday, February 13, 2003.
Mr. James Rajotte (Edmonton Southwest, Canadian Alliance):-
We should go back to the great philosophers who really developed the parliamentary principles, people like John Locke. We should heed their words and their concerns about government being too involved in our daily lives.
37th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 189 Wednesday, May 22, 2002.
John Locke said that certain rights are there prior to the existence of government and people form a government to protect those rights.
37th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 166 Thursday, April 11, 2002.
Mr. Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, Canadian Alliance):
Even the enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke articulated the very clear moral distinction between man and beast, to use the traditional language.
HOUSE OF COMMONS Friday, March 16, 2001.
Mr. James Rajotte (Edmonton Southwest, Canadian Alliance):
One only has to think of John Locke and his “Two Treatises of Government” and his important discussion of private property rights there.
7th Parliament, 1st Session EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 026 Monday, March 12, 2001.
Hon. Anne McLellan (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.):-
As Peter Russell, a respected constitutional expert, has observed, following John Locke some two centuries before him:
If government is to be based on the rational consent of human beings, adjudication by impartial and independent judges must be regarded as an inherent requirement of political society.
37th Parliament, 1st Session EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 014 Thursday, February 15, 2001.
Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat, Canadian Alliance): I make the argument that from a philosophical standpoint free trade makes sense. It is a universal human right or the consequence of a universal human right, and that right is the right to own, use and enjoy property. Remember the call of the glorious revolution of 1688 and John Locke: the right to life, liberty and property. I believe in it fundamentally and I think we should recognize it and respect it around the world. I believe that is what is implied when we agree to free trade.
36th Parliament, 2nd Session EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 35 Monday, December 6, 1999.
Mr. Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton—Strathcona, Ref.):
Did you know, Mr. Speaker, that the campaign to end slavery in the United States was based on the principle of self-ownership, an idea that was advanced centuries earlier by philosopher John Locke. John Locke believed that the right to self-ownership is a foundation of the right to material property. I stress this point to assure my colleagues that the private property debate is not just about land and wealthy landowners; it is a debate that affects us all.
EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 168 Tuesday, December 8, 1998.
Ms. Wendy Lill (Dartmouth, NDP):-
Even the most right wing economists and classical philosophers such as Adam Smith and John Locke acknowledge that collecting taxes is the raison d’être of the state.
EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 132 Monday, October 5, 1998.
– Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC):-
The protection of property rights has long been a recognized and fundamental aspect of social and economic justice. In 1690 John Locke wrote: The great and chief end of men—putting themselves under government, is the preservation of property.
Dear Dr. Ajzenstat,
I’m a Chinese master major in Canadian history. Now i’m preparing my thesis about Canadain political history in pre-confederation period(1859-1867). It confuses me that why Canadian scholars alwasy use the term “confederation” instead of “dominion”. Can you tell me what is the real meaing of “confederation”? What’s the difference between “confederation”.”federation”and “federalism”?
Thank you kindly!
There are definitely a number of details like that to take into consideration. That may be a nice level to bring up. I offer the ideas above as normal inspiration however clearly there are questions like the one you convey up where an important factor will probably be working in trustworthy good faith. I don?t know if greatest practices have emerged around issues like that, however I’m sure that your job is clearly identified as a good game. Each girls and boys really feel the impact of just a moment’s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.
I have been reading your 2003 essay “The Once and Future Canadian Democracy”. It is perhaps the most coherent synthesis of political thought in Canada that I have read to date, and the “liberal”/”romantic” theory fills many of the gaps I had found until now.
Thank you for your work, Professor.
I am very eager to hear your thoughts on the recent developments around the F-35 file. Andrew Coyne has been on fire lately, and perhaps with reason. After all, if he is correct, the protection for property rights that you discern in the institution of responsible government is very much in question given the inability of Parliament to hold the executive to account for providing deliberately misleading information concerning the spending of public money. But I suspect that you have some ideas to complicate such an easy analysis.
I was just wondering if you still support and contribute to the Macdonald Laurier Institute.
Yes, I support the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Janet Ajzenstat
Dear Ms. Ajzenstat,
I just wanted to say firstly – I so immensely enjoy reading your blog and witty commentary.
Secondly, I was wondering if you had any advice or know of any research I could look into on the topic of equalization – more specifically I am thinking about researching and writing a paper on making the case that equalization has financially hurt Ontario over the years and that it will be the case that with equalization payments now coming to the province that the financial recession will be drawn out longer in the province. What do you think? I suppose there is more evidence for why the Maritime Provinces have had stunted economic growth.
Thanks for any help or time you can give me :)
If you want to get a great deal from this piece of writing then you have to apply such methods to your won blog.
I know this web page gives quality depending posts and other material, is there any other site which provides such things in quality?
I was reading through the earlier documents in _Documents on the Confederation of British North America_ yesterday after having come across some discussion of the earlier proposals for a federal union in British North America. Lo and behold, this morning, while reading documents 10 and 11 more closely (the official address and unofficial detailed proposal to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the recently appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies, I see they are dated 25 November 1865.
So today is the 155th anniversary of the first substantive proposal for a federal union that endured with very little in substantive changes (apart from the proposal for an elected senate), but with necessary details added, became our original BNA Act of 1867.
If the London Conference was the labour (in more than one sense!) that lead to the birth of our country in 1867, and the Quebec Conference the consummation of the first courtship at Charlottetown, the communications addressed to Bulwer-Lytton were the first clear intent to found the new family…
Happy anniversary of the first significant step to modern Canada — and thank you for again making available G.P. Browne’s important work without which understanding of our constitution would be so much shallower!
I am left embarrassed at having neglected to edit my post properly before sending it. I hope the lack of polish doesn’t cause you and any other readers undue pain.
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