Canadian Founding

Canadian Founding: John Locke and Parliament

Janet Ajzenstat
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Canadian Founding
    Book Description:

    Convinced that rights are inalienable and that legitimate government requires the consent of the governed, the Fathers of Confederation - whether liberal or conservative - looked to the European enlightenment and John Locke. Janet Ajzenstat analyzes the legislative debates in the colonial parliaments and the Constitution Act (1867) in a provocative reinterpretation of Canadian political history from 1864 to 1873. Ajzenstat contends that the debt to Locke is most evident in the debates on the making of Canada's Parliament: though the anti-confederates maintained that the existing provincial parliaments offered superior protection for individual rights, the confederates insisted that the union's general legislature, the Parliament of Canada, would prove equal to the task and that the promise of "life and liberty" would bring the scattered populations of British North America together as a free nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7593-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    • 1 Making Parliament
      (pp. 3-21)

      SCHOLARS AGREE THAT JOHN LOCKE influenced Canadian Confederation. But they say surprisingly little to support the contention. The obvious questions are never asked. Did the Fathers read him? Were they familiar with writers and jurists in the Lockean tradition? Can we find Locke in the British North America Act? It is often suggested that the Fathers of Confederation had no “capacity for philosophy.” “Strikingly absent in British America were such figures as Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Jay, Adams, and others like them who combined a genius for hard practical politics with a capacity for philosophy and a habit of looking...

    • 2 Popular Sovereignty in the Confederation Debates
      (pp. 22-48)

      WHAT IS WANTED “IS A PROCESS that not only hears all voices but takes all experiences and aspirations into account.”¹ In the debates leading to the national referendum of 1992, many academics and lobbyists made pronouncements like this one. The idea that a decision-making arena should hear all and take all into account derives from the principle of popular sovereignty. Legitimate government rests on the consent of “the people” — the entire population, all who are subject to the law and all who stand to benefit from it, every last woman and man without exception.²

      Consider Locke on the social contract:...

    • 3 Human Rights in 1867
      (pp. 49-66)

      IN A SPEECH TO MARK THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Irwin Cotler, then Canada’s justice minister, argued that the 1982 bill had initiated a “revolution of law” in this country as grand in its way as Pasteur’s revolution in health care. Before the Charter, he said: “Canada had a history of state-sanctioned institutionalised discrimination.” “The judicial emphasis was with the powers of government, rather than the limitations of the exercise of power. There was a preoccupation with legal federalism. Although there was an implied bill of rights, there was no constitutional protection of law.”¹...

    • 4 Civic Identity
      (pp. 67-87)

      IN CHAPTERS 1 AND 2, I ARGUED that the Fathers of Confederation were committed to an inclusive constitutional process and that they expected the fact of inclusiveness to inculcate a sense of nationhood. I argued, in brief, that they intended to give the new country what we call today a “civic identity.” It is time to say more about this civic identity and more, especially, about the idea of inclusiveness. In this chapter, I focus on the Fathers’ determination to protect the inclusive character of political institutions at the national level. In the next, I discuss their proposal to strengthen...

    • 5 The Political Nationality
      (pp. 88-110)

      THE FATHERS OF CONFEDERATION PROVIDED for the preservation of the French language and defended separate schools and freedom of religion. They insisted on respect for provincial “individuality” within the bounds of the constitutional division of legislative powers. All this is known. Less well known is their belief that to secure these particular affiliations would require inclusive institutions at the national level.

      In chapters above, I have drawn the reader’s attention to the distinction favoured by today’s social scientists between “civic identity” and “cultural identity.” The Fathers called the former “the political nationality.” They used various terms to designate the latter....

    • 6 Celebrating 1791: Two Hundred Years of Representative Government
      (pp. 113-123)

      LORD SIMCOE DESCRIBED THE CONSTITUTIONAL ACT of 1791 as “the image and transcript of the British Government and Constitution.”² But was it? It divided the old Province of Quebec into Upper Canada and Lower Canada and assigned to each a representative assembly. It was clearly intended to inculcate in British North America what Charles Taylor calls the “mores of representative government.”Did it also embody the principles of “equality, non-discrimination [and] the rule of law”?³ This chapter looks at the debate on the 1791 Act in the British House of Commons.

      Among the participants were Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox....

    • 7 Canada’s First Constitution: Pierre Bédard on Tolerance and Dissent
      (pp. 124-144)

      WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE GRANT of representative institutions to the Canadas in 1791? Pierre Bédard (the subject of this chapter) and Lord Durham (chapter 8) lay the blame on the British government. Fearing that left to themselves the colonists would elect parties and politicians whose objectives were antithetical to British interests, the Colonial Office encouraged the development of oligarchies in British North America — the colonial “Family Compacts” — and kept them in power with funds drawn from the imperial purse. Here is Durham’s recommendation: “It is not by weakening but strengthening the influence of the people on its Government; by...

    • 8 Modern Mixed Government: A Liberal Defence of Inequality
      (pp. 145-162)

      MUCH CHANGED IN THE YEARS AFTER BÉDARD. In the first decade of the century, the French party had been relatively powerless. Bédard believed that it was his task to save Lower Canada from the tyranny of the “few.” By 1838, the year of Lord Durham, the French had become a powerful if disorganized presence in the provincial Parliament, dominating the legislative agenda and taxing and spending in defiance of constitutional law. Durham saw it as his task to save the province from the tyranny of the “many.” But for both Bédard and Durham the remedy was the same — the one...

    • 9 Collectivity and Individual Rights in “Mainstream Liberalism”: John Arthur Roebuck and the Patriotes
      (pp. 163-179)

      THIS CHAPTER DESCRIBES THE CORRESPONDENCE between Louis-Joseph Papineau and his agent in the British Parliament, John Arthur Roebuck. They had two things to say to each other. First: they asserted and explored their shared hostility to parliamentary government. On this subject they were brothers in arms. They saw eye to eye. The Papineau that emerges from these letters is the man of the 1837 Rebellions. He was convinced that in Lower Canada the British parliamentary form of government had become inescapably oppressive. And Roebuck assured him, over and over, that it was as oppressive or more oppressive in the Mother...

    • 10 Parliament and Today’s Discontent
      (pp. 180-194)

      IN THE GRASSROOTS INQUIRY KNOWN as theunderground royal commission, Patrick Boyer and his associates suggest that “There is no ready form, forum or procedure, no way for an individual citizen to truly connect with or evaluate our government, which means, in turn, that we cannot appreciate the consequences of the demands we make upon our government.”¹ The statement undoubtedly captures Canadian sentiment; we have long forgotten the founders’ contention that Parliament hears all voices. Cynicism, anger, and apathy prevail. David Taras says: “Where the common wisdom once held that governments had a critical role to play in protecting the...

  6. Index
    (pp. 195-199)