Empire & Commonwealth: Studies in Governance and Self-Government in Canada

By Chester Martin | Go to book overview

VI
THE COMMONWEALTH AND ITS COROLLARIES

RESPONSIBLE government has been the most dynamic achievement of Canadian politics, and the Commonwealth may fairly be said to have begun when the principles were conceded which made it inevitable. More than a score of British provinces and Dominions have since passed from governance to self-government. Scarcely less dynamic than the change itself has been the method, for nothing has been more serviceable than this in enlarging the scope of responsible government to include all the attributes of nationhood. The resulting change from the second Empire to the Commonwealth has transformed the whole basis of its unity.

In the old province of Canada both the method and the change itself were quickly overshadowed by other issues. The decade from the MacNab-Morin administration of 1854 was filled with kaleidoscopic coalitions, all of them revolving about the axis of racial dualism. The system of 'double majorities' to include both races, was the last device of desperation. At its best it meant duplication of offices and expenditures, from 'the double-barrelled premiership' downward; at its worst it sanctioned the racial dualism and led to 'creeping paralysis and deadlock'. The escape from this 'chronic sectional hostility and discord' came only through Confederation.

This also tended to obscure both the method and the true import of responsible government. The essence of federalism is the bond which defines the relationship between the constituent provinces and the federal government; and since this, by its very nature, is a 'written' instrument, it came to be associated not only with the series of statutory 'constitutions'--the Quebec Act, the Constitutional Act, and the Act of Union--which had already complicated the evolution of self-government in Canada, but with a 'written constitution' like that of the United States. There has been a tendency to regard the British North America Act of 1867 as the 'constitution of Canada'. The conflict between federal and provincial powers in sections 91 and 92 of the Act bulks almost as large in our constitutional law as the issues of state rights in the United States. Thus Lord Bryce refers to 'the Canadian Constitu-

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Empire & Commonwealth: Studies in Governance and Self-Government in Canada
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents xi
  • INTRODUCTORY xiii
  • I - THE OLD COLONIAL SYSTEM 1
  • II- Nova Scotia and the Old Empire 56
  • III - 'NEW SUBJECTS' IN QUEBEC 94
  • IV - NOVA SCOTIA AND THE SECOND EMPIRE 148
  • V - RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT IN CANADA 240
  • VI - THE COMMONWEALTH AND ITS COROLLARIES 327
  • Index 357
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