Shaping Nations: Constitutionalism and Society in Australia and Canada

By Burgess, Michael | British Journal of Canadian Studies, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Shaping Nations: Constitutionalism and Society in Australia and Canada


Burgess, Michael, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Linda Cardinal and David Headon (eds), Shaping Nations: Constitutionalism and Society in Australia and Canada (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2002), xvi + 330pp. Cloth. $29.95. ISBN 0-7766-0533-X.

This is an intriguing volume of essays that brings together the work of Australian and Canadian scholars around five core themes: constitutionalism; colonialism; national identity; republicanism; and governance. Its title derives from an international conference hosted in December 1999 by the Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa. The editors claim to have put together 'a collective narrative that will enlighten readers ... about the drama, pragmatism and vision of nineteenth-century debate and, at the same time, canvas the challenges presented by recent constitutional history in both countries' (p. 1).

Part I contains three chapters under the broad rubric of 'Constitutionalism'. John Williams looks at Canadian influences on the Australian Constitution then and now, and Helen Irving explains why Australian federalists rejected the Canadian model. Both of them remind us that all federal constitutions are consciously derivative and fossilise elements drawn from diverse sources that are refashioned in unique ways. Chapter 3, by Errol Mendes, explores the historical bases of Canada's democratic pluralism as its 'foundational principle', arguing that it can be reconciled with traditional notions of constitutionalism through the law and justice of proportionality.

Part II similarly contains three essays under the heading 'Colonialism'. Jeff Brownrigg underlines the combined significance of cross-border trade and the obstacles of colonial customs duties, exploring the key role of borders in the origins of federal thought in Australia, while W. Wesley Pue draws some interesting comparative conclusions about the operation of British legal culture as a means of implanting Britishness in both Canada and Australia. To complete this section, Angelika Sauer paints a vivid set of comparative historical-cultural images that play on the 'imperial-national' theme and point up the destinies of mutual greatness that were anticipated by both countries.

The central focus of the four chapters of Part 111 is relations between Australia and Canada. Galen Perras examines the nature of Australian-Canadian relations during the inter-war years in terms of foreign, defence and security policies as diplomatic dilemmas, while Kim Nossal catapults us into the world of 'kincountry' as a conceptual framework, derived from Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' thesis, for exploring Australian-Canadian relations. …

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