Magazine article Inroads

Hamiltonian Canada, from Macdonald to Trudeau

Magazine article Inroads

Hamiltonian Canada, from Macdonald to Trudeau

Article excerpt

Hamiltonian Canada, from Macdonald to Trudeau Stephane Kelly, Les fins du Canada: selon Macdonald, Laurier, Mackenzie King et Trudeau. Montral: Boreal, 2001. 288 pp.

STEPHANE KELLY IS A LEADING FIGURE IN A RISING YOUNGER generation of Quebec intellectuals. Kelly's first book, La petite loterie (1997), described how the British administration secured the collaboration of French Canada after 1837. He has also recently edited a book on new trends among Quebec historians. In between, he tackled the Canadian political tradition in Les fins du Canada. Instead of examining our history along the usual left/right, liberal/conservative or nationalist/federalist fault lines, Kelly starts from the thesis that the driving force since Canada's inception has been the search for stability.

He focuses on the unusually long reigns of Canada's four foremost prime ministers: John A. Macdonald (20 years in office), Wilfrid Laurier (15), William Lyon Mackenzie King (21) and Pierre Elliott Trudeau (15). The total time in office of these four prime ministers amounts to more than half the span of Confederation. He contrasts these long reigns with the situation in the United States where a president can be elected for two four-year terms at most.

Reference to the American political tradition is a significant feature of the analysis. Kelly first sets out the two conflicting political ideals that have characterized our neighbour's history since the Revolution, Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism. Jeffersonian doctrine proposes a decentralized form of federalism, champions the self-sufficient small landowner, prescribes laissez-faire, and counsels an isolationist foreign policy. By contrast, Hamiltonian federalism is centralized, its economic philosophy is based on industrialization and a class division of labour, its vision of the state tends toward intervention (with the attendant corruption and clientism), and its foreign policy is characterized by interventionism and imperialism.

In the United States, Jeffersonianism triumphed with the Revolution, and while it waned significantly with the rise of industrial capitalism and America's increased international presence in the two world wars, it remained a factor. In contrast, argues Kelly, Canada unambiguously embraced Hamiltonianism from the very first days of Macdonald. While both Laurier and Mackenzie King (the grandson of well-known republican rebel William Lyon Mackenzie) started out on the Jeffersonian end of the spectrum, they both were forced by circumstances to turn to Hamiltonianism. And Trudeau, he argues at length, embraced Hamiltonianism with no reservations whatsoever.

Most interestingly, Kelly adds four features which run like a common thread and constitute a secondary prerequisite to political longevity in Canada: Scottish ancestry or influence; legal training; the support of the French Canadian compound as a counterweight to Ontario; and tyranny of the centre, or building large coalitions for the sake of stability.

The description of Trudeau is the one that resonates most fully, especially since the author very wisely decided to avoid any mania - pro or con - in regard to the man whose stamp has marked the country so heavily in this past generation. A perfectly bilingual man torn between his French paternal and Scottish maternal lineages, Trudeau was deeply influenced both by Harold Laski's Fabianism and the personalism of Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier. …

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