Responding to the increasing diversity of the Canadian population -- and to an increasing sensitivity to historical diversities -- the 1982 Constitution Act amended the British North America Act and introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, giving new powers to heterogeneous groups within the Canadian polity. These changes disturbed the equilibrium of an older, federalist Canada whose constitutional concerns were limited to the relative powers of federal and provincial governments and to French-English ethnic/linguistic questions. Cairns underlines the significance of international influences on the development of Canada's constitution, in particular the adoption of the Charter, and examines the constitution's role in shaping Canadians' civic identities and community conceptions. He argues that the constitution is a powerful mobilizing instrument that shapes the people subject to its authority. Canada is now populated by what Cairns calls "Charter Canadians," who see themselves as rights-bearers and tend to look to the federal government as the effective focus of political community. During the Meech Lake affair, the demands of Charter Canadians and politicized aboriginal peoples clashed with Quebec's constitutional aspirations as well as older élite accommodation politics.
Subjects: Political Science
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