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A Critical Review Of Peter H. Russell's Essay "Can The Canadians Be A Sovereign People?"

1075 words - 4 pages

This review will summarize and assess Russell's "Can the Canadians be a Sovereign People?" Above all, his article is an account of the politics of making and changing Canada's constitution from Confederation to 1991, when the article was published. Russell's thesis statement, though not clearly stated, seems to be that as of yet the Canadian people are not a sovereign people but it is a possibility for the future.Russell starts his argument with two passages taken from very different people with very different views about the Constitution. The first, written by three fathers of confederation, suggests that the Canadian Constitution is provided by the Imperial Government and so does not derive from the people. While the second, written in 1990, states that, the Constitution belongs to the Canadian people. This transformation of how the constitution is viewed is very important. The problem with it though, is that "not all Canadians have consented to form a single people in which a majority or some special majority have a right to act and conclude the rest" It is difficult to create a nation state and have sovereignty when a defined nation is not present. Canadians differences on fundamental political questions and collective identity present a continuous problem for Canadian sovereignty.Russell argues that there was not a trace of popular sovereignty in Canada's confederation movement, and thus, at Canada's founding the people were not sovereign. He argues that the imperial stewardship of constitutional politics allowed the country to be founded while keeping public participation and debate to a minimum.He provides qualitative historical data to support this claim. He then points out that immediately after the Confederation sovereignty became an important issue, but not sovereignty of the people; sovereignty of governments and legislature. The provincial legislatures and governments claimed a top-down kind of sovereignty. Russell shows us hints of a more democratic constitutionalism, through arguments from Robert Vipond. In addition, he quotes provincial leaders in referring to the legislature as "the constitutional rights of those to whom the people have entrusted with certain powers..." Of all of the provinces, Quebec felt the power of this change the most, but this created two conflicting concepts: the concept of the founding provinces against the concept of the founding peoples. Russell continues to show us, using qualitative historical evidence, that as Canada takes a step toward sovereignty it takes another step back by creating another conflict.Russell then brings to light that in 1927 the federal and provincial leaders were faced with the daunting task of amending the Canadian Constitution. The left argued for flexible amending formula, calling for a majority of provinces to agree, which would slowly move Canada in the direction of much needed reforms of Canadian federalism. While others insisted that all provincial governments needed to...

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