Constitutional Odyssey

Constitutional Odyssey: Can Canadians Become a Sovereign People?

PETER H. RUSSELL
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 3
Pages: 360
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttrw2
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  • Book Info
    Constitutional Odyssey
    Book Description:

    The first and second editions ofConstitutional Odyssey, published in 1992 and 1993 respectively, received wide-ranging praise for their ability to inform the public debate. This third edition continues in that tradition.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8771-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Preface to the Third Edition
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. ix-2)
  6. 1 The Question of Our Time
    (pp. 3-6)

    Perhaps the most haunting lines in Canada’s history were written in 1858: ‘It will be observed that the basis of Confederation now proposed differs from that of the United States in several important particulars. It does not profess to be derived from the people but would be the constitution provided by the imperial parliament, thus remedying any defect.’¹ These words are from a letter signed by three Fathers of Confederation, George-Etienne Cartier, Alexander Galt, and John Ross. The letter was addressed to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the British colonial secretary. The future Dominion of Canada then consisted of a string of...

  7. 2 The Sovereignty of the People
    (pp. 7-11)

    The term ‘popular sovereignty’ does not describe where political power actually resides. In political communities of any scale, all the people or even a majority of the people can never be the effective political sovereign. Popular sovereignty is a theory of political obligation which holds that political authority is legitimate and ought to be accepted only if it is derived from the people. In modern times the people have replaced the gods as the highest source of political authority.

    In societies where popular sovereignty is the prevailing political theory, the people can be said to be the moral sovereign if...

  8. 3 Confederation
    (pp. 12-33)

    There was scarcely a whisper of popular sovereignty in Canada’s Confederation movement. This was because the leading politicians in British North America at the time of Confederation were thoroughly counter-revolutionary in their political orientation. Earlier, the ideologies of both the American and French revolutions had found significant followings in Britain’s northern colonies. Papineau’s Patriotes in Lower Canada and Mackenzie’s rebels in Upper Canada were stirred by more radical conceptions of democracy.¹ But the rebellions of the 1830s were totally crushed. By the 1860s the constitutional theories associated with the rebellions were in total eclipse. The political elites who put Confederation...

  9. 4 Provincial Rights
    (pp. 34-52)

    The great conceit of constitution-makers is to believe that the words they put in the constitution can with certainty and precision control a country’s future. The great conceit of those who apply a written constitution is to believe that their interpretation captures perfectly the founders’ intentions. Those who write constitutions are rarely single-minded in their long-term aspirations. They harbour conflicting hopes and fears about the constitution’s evolution. The language of the constitution is inescapably general and latent with ambiguous possibilities. Written constitutions can establish the broad grooves in which a nation-state develops. But what happens within those grooves – the...

  10. 5 An Autonomous Community
    (pp. 53-71)

    The Balfour Declaration was issued at the conclusion of the Imperial Conference of 1926. It recognized the political independence of the self-governing members of the British Commonwealth – Australia, Canada, Eire, New Zealand, and South Africa. The declaration described the mutual relation of these countries and Great Britain in the following terms: ‘They are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.’¹ The...

  11. 6 Mega Constitutional Politics, Round One: Fulton-Favreau to Victoria
    (pp. 72-91)

    On 14 October 1964 headlines in Canadian newspapers proclaimed the end of Canada’s long struggle to find an acceptable constitutional amendment formula. The federal justice minister, Guy Favreau, and his ten provincial colleagues, meeting in Ottawa, unanimously agreed to a complex formula (the Fulton-Favreau formula) for amending all parts of the Constitution in Canada.¹ The Constitution was coming home.

    This announcement turned out to be false news. Patriation was not to occur for another eighteen years. It did not happen in the 1960s because the government of Quebec withdrew its support for the formula and, at that time, the federal...

  12. 7 Round Two: New Constitutionalism
    (pp. 92-106)

    After the collapse of the Victoria Charter, everyone, it seemed, had had enough of constitutional politics. For the next few years constitutional politics was not front and centre in Canadian politics. It would take the election of the Parti Québécois to power in Quebec in November 1976 to quick-start another round of mega constitutional politics. In the five-year intermission that preceded this event, changes took place in the political, economic, and legal circumstances of the country that would produce an agenda of constitutional concerns considerably more complex and urgent than that of round one.

    A measure of the lack of...

  13. 8 Round Three: Patriation
    (pp. 107-126)

    The year 1980 was a watershed in Canada’s constitutional politics. That year marked an end in the attempt to achieve agreement between the federal government and all the provinces on a complete restructuring of Confederation as the basis for patriation. The way was opened for a resolution of the constitutional crisis, but the solution was doubly incomplete: the accord was restricted to a limited number of issues, and it was not entered into by the Government of Quebec. Two political events in the first half of the year had a decisive bearing on these developments: Pierre Trudeau won an election...

  14. 9 Round Four: Meech Lake
    (pp. 127-153)

    The threshold question concerning the Meech Lake round of constitutional politics is whether it could have been avoided. The patriation round was dictated by promises made during the Quebec referendum. Because of the circumstances in which the Meech Lake round failed, a fifth round, the one in which Canadians are currently embroiled, was bound to follow. But was the Meech Lake round necessary?

    A lot of Canadians think it was not. Some attribute Meech Lake to the vain wish of a single politician, Brian Mulroney, to secure his place in history by accomplishing what Pierre Trudeau could not – namely,...

  15. 10 Round Five: The Canada Round I
    (pp. 154-189)

    Simply by calling the fifth round of mega constitutional politics the Canada round is to react to the previous round. The Meech round was called by its sponsors the Quebec round because they saw its purpose as winning Quebec’s support for the changes made to the Constitution in 1982. But that very feature of the Meech accord made it highly contentious in Canada outside Quebec. The majority of Canadians outside Quebec did not accept the rationale of Meech and resented its derivation from Quebec’s demands. If this part of Canada was to give its support to further constitutional reform, the...

  16. 11 The Canada Round II: The Sovereign People Say No
    (pp. 190-227)

    On 26 October 1992 the Canadian people, for the first time in their history as a political community, acted as Canada’s ultimate constitutional authority. In the referendum conducted on that day a majority of Canadians in a majority of provinces said ‘no’ to the Charlottetown Accord. Though there may have been some doubt as to what was required for a decisive ‘yes’ vote, there was no doubt whatsoever that this result was a decisive ‘no.’ The Charlottetown Accord was dead.

    In rejecting the Charlottetown proposals, Canadians showed that, acting as a constitutionally sovereign people, they could achieve a negative result....

  17. 12 Canada Returns to Constitutional Normalcy
    (pp. 228-274)

    Canada’s fifth round of mega constitutional politics was not entirely lacking in positive consequences. Although the Canadian people in this initial exercise of direct constitutional democracy rejected the Charlottetown Accord, the experience may have taught them something useful about their capacity to act as a constitutional sovereign people. As constitutional sovereign the Canadian people could say ‘no’ to all manner of constitutional proposals, but they could not say ‘yes’ to anything that touched those matters of national identity and constitutional vision on which they were so profoundly divided. Canadians were now a sovereign people in only a negative sense. They...

  18. Appendix: Consensus Report on the Constitution, Charlottetown, August 28, 1992
    (pp. 275-302)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 303-344)
  20. Index
    (pp. 345-364)