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Part 2 - Canadian Political System

Political Canada in 1867

by Bruce Ricketts

Just recently (August 2001), the Premiers of the provinces in Canada got together to formulate demands that the Federal Government hand to them over money and power.  The argument for this is rooted in their belief that the federal government is too strong, the country is too centralized.  

Would it surprise you to learn that the Fathers of our Confederation were very concerned that the Provinces might get a little too uppity like this?  In fact the political system in Canada was constructed with a strong central government, for the benefit of all Canadians.

In 1864 during debates on Confederation, John A. MacDonald gave us a very clear picture of the motives which formed the basis of our federal system as outlined in the British North America Act.  In part he said;

"...The Conference having come to the conclusion that a legislative union, pure and simple, was impracticable, our next attempt was to form a government upon federal principles, which would give to the General Government the strength of a legislative and administrative union, while at the same time it preserved that liberty of action for the different sections which is allowed by a Federal Union. And I am strong in the belief -- that we have hit upon the happy medium in those resolutions, and that we have formed a scheme of government which unites the advantages of both, giving us the strength of a legislative union and the sectional freedom of a federal union, with protection to local interests. In doing so we had the advantage of the experience of the United States...."

What experience in the US was he talking about?  MacDonald continues;

"Ever since the union was formed the difficulty of what is called "State Rights" has existed, and this had much to do in bringing on the present unhappy war in the United States. They commenced, in fact, at the wrong end. They declared by their Constitution that each state was a sovereignty in itself, and that all the powers incident to a sovereignty belonged to each state, except those powers which, by the Constitution, were conferred upon the General Government and Congress."

Think about it.  The fundamental basis of the American civil was not slavery, as is the popular belief..  It was, rather, the belief that the central government did not have the right to tell the southern states how to run their lives.  The US constitution was constructed to allow for sovereign states and the war was fought over the belief that slavery was an inalienable right of the southern states  (I wonder if there will be a war over the inalienable right to bear arms?).

John A MacDonald, and others in the Constitution Debate believed that a strong central government was crucial in the Canadian make-up.  He said;

"Here we have adopted a different system. We have strengthened the General Government. We have given the General Legislature all the great subjects of legislation. We have conferred on them, not only specifically and in detail, all the powers which are incident to sovereignty, but we have expressly declared that all subjects of general interest not distinctly and exclusively conferred upon the local governments and local legislatures, shall be conferred upon the General Government and Legislature. -- We have thus avoided that great source of weakness which has been the cause of the disruption of the United States. We have avoided all conflict of jurisdiction and authority, and if this Constitution is carried out,...we will have in fact, as I said before, all the advantages of a legislative union under one administration, with, at the same time, the guarantees for local institutions and for local laws, which are insisted upon by so many in the provinces now, I hope, to be united...."

When you take a look at the dis-harmony in Canada in 2001, maybe our politicians should read a little more about the reasons why this country is better off with a strong central government.

At the recent meeting of Provincial Premiers, they spent a great deal of time sniping at the Prime Minister of Canada and the federal Liberal party.  Would it surprise you to know that the BNA Act did not even mention the position of a Prime Minister or of political parties, let alone Premiers?  In our next segment entitled The Prime Minister and Premiers who aren't, we will discuss this situation.

 

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