Peter Russell on recent decades of Canadian constitutional politics

At the beginning of this book I introduced Burke and Locke as representing two different approaches to constitutionalism. For the Burkean, a constitution is thought of not as a single foundational document drawn up at a particular point in time containing all of a society’s rules and principles of government, but as a collection of laws, institutions, and political practices that have passed the test of time, and which have been found to serve the society’s interests tolerably well… From the Lockean perspective, however, the Constitution is understood as a foundational document expressing the will of the people, reached through a democratic agreement, on the nature of the political community they have formed and how that community is to be governed… The central argument of this book has been that up until the 1960s constitutional politics in Canada was basically Burkean, but for a generation – from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s – the prevailing constitutional aspiration in Canada and in Quebec was for a Lockean constitutional moment. That effort failed, for the now obvious reason that in neither Canada nor Quebec was there – or is there – a population capable of acting as a sovereign people in a positive Lockean way.

Russell, Peter. Constitutional Odyssey: Can Canadians Become a Sovereign People? (Third Edition). 2004 (first edition 1992). p. 247-8

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

3 thoughts on “Peter Russell on recent decades of Canadian constitutional politics”

  1. “Faced with such contradictory and uncertain possibilities, a man by himself may decide to take the plunge. From dignity and pride – or even in the hope of raising his own social rank – he may declare himself ready to try national independence, especially if he has intellectual or financial reserves to fall back on should the adventure miscarry.

    But this does not hold for those people who have, at best, a precarious economic security. Organizations concerned with the working classes in Quebec would plainly be irresponsible to scuttle Confederation with an attitude of ‘Come what may!’ These associations must give the benefit of the doubt to established political institutions that have helped Canadians attain the second or third highest standard of living in the world. Let the burden of proof fall upon people who would lead an entire nation into an unknown speculation.” (p. 20 paperback)

    Trudeau, Pierre. Federalism and the French Canadians. 1968

  2. Canada’s First Nations

    SIR – The popular myth that Britain betrayed Canada’s aboriginal inhabitants after the war of 1812 is just that—a myth (“These schools are our schools”, October 19th). The native peoples who were allied with the British included two big groups: those living in the Canadas and those in the United States. The latter group included a large number of warriors living in the Old North-West, comprising Ohio, and the Michigan and Illinois territories. Their interest in the preservation of Canada went only as far as their desire to halt American settlement into their area, and they successfully secured British support towards their goal in creating a native “homeland” there. In effect, they sought to sever a portion of the territory belonging to the United States with British assistance.

    The realisation of this goal ended in 1813, once the United States, after its victories on Lake Erie and at the battle of Moraviantown, terminated contact between these natives and the British. The war of 1812 demonstrated that British strategic prowess simply could not reach the interior of the continent. Thereafter, those native peoples living in modern-day Ontario and Quebec continued to play an important role in the defence of British North America. The position of these groups was not changed in 1815.

    Nor did Britain forget its allies living in the Old North-West. British diplomats successfully gained the addition of two clauses designed to protect these peoples in the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the conflict in 1815. Unfortunately, the United States chose to ignore those clauses and implemented its own policies.

    Major John R. Grodzinski
    Assistant professor
    Department of history
    Royal Military College of Canada
    Kingston, Canada

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