Le Canada français et la Confédération: Fondements et bilan critique. Jean-François Caron and Marcel Martel, eds, University of Laval Press, Québec, 2016, 174 p.
With the 150th anniversary of Confederation fast approaching, a wave of scholarship is encouraging us to reflect on this formative period of Canada’s history, and the evolution of the country over the past century and a half. In Le Canada français et la Confédération, edited by historian Marcel Martel and political scientist Jean-François Caron, a group of six scholars interrogate what the original Confederation deal was supposed to mean in terms of linguistic and cultural duality, and how this dynamic has evolved since the 1860s. While in many respects this collection represents a synthesis of existing scholarship, it provides a useful primer on French-speaking Canadians’ relationship to Confederation, and their varied experiences of the system of federalism. At the same time, it inadvertently exposes the ongoing gap between Canada’s English and French scholarly communities, as many of the findings discussed here echo those of historian Arthur Silver’s excellent 1982 book, The French-Canadian Idea of Confederation.
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Made in Nunavut: An Experiment in Decentralized Government, Jack Hicks and Graham White, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 2015, 375 p.
When Jack Anawak publicly spoke out in 2003 against a Cabinet decision to transfer public service positions from his community of Rankin Inlet to Baker Lake, he was a minister in the Government of Nunavut (GN). His statement was a clear breach of the convention of Cabinet solidarity; Anawak was subsequently stripped of his ministerial portfolios and removed from the Executive Council. I was then in my first professional job, working in the GN’s Cabinet office. The incident remains, for me, a live example of Canadian constitutional conventions applied and debated in public. It is also a striking example of two decades of political quarrels in Nunavut over the policy of ‘decentralization’.
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Ces constitutions qui nous ont façonnés : anthologie historique des lois constitutionnelles antérieures à 1867 Guy Laforest, Eugénie Brouillet, Alain-G. Gagnon et Yves Tanguay, Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec, 2014, 372 pp.
Guy Laforest Eugénie Brouillet, Alain-G. Gagnon and Yves Tanguay. The Constitutions that Shaped Us: A Historical Anthology of Pre-1867 Canadian Constitutions, McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal, 2015, 360 pp.
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Joseph Tassé, Lord Beaconsfield and Sir John A. Macdonald: A Personal and Political Parallel (Montreal, 1891) Translated from the original in French by James Penny. Edited by Michel W. Pharand, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University and McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015, 85 p.
This is a welcome addition to the small production of books published in this year of Sir John A. Macdonald’s 200th anniversary. Michel W. Pharand, the long-time director of the Disraeli project at Queen’s University, brings together both the original version of Tassé’s pamphlet, first published in 1880, as well as the translation produced by James Penny in 1891. Pharand brings a rigorous scholar’s attention to the original text and the translation and alerts the reader to his numerous corrections. He also provides an admirably complete set of notes to establish context as well as enlightening explanations.
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Les surveillants de l’État démocratique : mise en contexte, edited by Jean Crête, Presses de l’Université Laval, Montreal, 216 p.
Les surveillants de l’État démocratique, edited by Jean Crête, provides an analysis of democratic accountability. More specifically, this collective work explores how institutions and mechanisms are needed to: first, ensure that leaders of democratic states do not exploit their powers, and second, identify and prevent abuse. Through empirical studies, the authors demonstrate that while constraints are an essential element of democracy, they are not without cost. The book contains seven chapters divided into two parts. The first part consists of three chapters that address the auditing of public accounts. The four chapters in the second part revolve around the theme of structural constraints associated with oversight mechanisms. Although the majority of chapters focus on the Canadian context, two take a look beyond our borders.
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Remaining Loyal: Social Democracy in Quebec and Saskatchewan, by David McGrane, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston, 373p.
David McGrane has written an ambitious book about social democracy in Saskatchewan and Quebec. His thesis is that the CCF-NDP and PQ governments were social democratic in a traditional sense under premiers such as Tommy Douglas and Allan Blakeney in Saskatchewan, as well as René Levesque and Jacques Parizeau in Quebec. McGrane believes that later governments evolved into third way social democracy under other premiers, including Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert in Saskatchewan and Bernard Landry and Pauline Marois in Quebec.
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Discovering Confederation: A Canadian’s Story by Janet Ajzenstat, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston, 158p.
Janet Ajzenstat tells us that her mentor at the University of Toronto, Allen Bloom, once advised her to take up a great book and read it sympathetically – make the best case you can for your author, he exhorted. It is easy to read this book – a welcome intellectual biography by Canada’s leading authority of its political origins – sympathetically. Indeed, there is much to admire in this glimpse at a political philosopher who came to appreciate the 1867 Canadian constitution and its version of parliamentary democracy.
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Conservatism in Canada, edited by James Farney and David Rayside, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2013, 400 pp.
Following three consecutive Liberal Party majority victories in 1993, 1997, and 2000, there was a sense among many that the Liberal domination of Canadian politics might be indefinite. Sure, Jean Chrétien may not have been beloved exactly, but when his superstar Finance Minister Paul Martin inevitably took over the party’s leadership, its majority would only expand.
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Gendered News: Media Coverage and Electoral Politics in Canada by Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2013, 246p.
In early February, Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland rose to ask her first question in the House of Commons. For most new MPs, that initiation is usually a proud, if intimidating, milestone. For Freeland, who had won a tough Toronto by-election in November, it was a test of fortitude. The former business journalist was asking about the prospects for Canada’s economic recovery when the Conservative heckling commenced. The Speaker interceded twice but the mostly male voices jeered more loudly. On her third try, Freeland finished a truncated query. Shortly after a federal minister replied with a stock answer, Vancouver Observer journalist D. Matthew Millar offered his advice: “Put on your “big girl” voice for [for Question Period],” he tweeted, “the Hon. Members water glasses are shattering.”[sic]
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Imperfect Democracies: The Democratic Deficit in Canada and the United States by Patti Tamara Lenard and Richard Simeon, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2013, 360pp.
Reforming the Senate, ensuring backbench MPs have a voice, alternative voting systems to first-past-the-post, and election finance reform are all issues that Canadians have debated since our inception as a nation. Likewise, the power of the executive branch, a do-nothing congress, political finance & Super PACs, and reforming the legal system have preoccupied policy-makers in the US. In each case, these reforms are debated on the basis that they will, or will not, help to create a more democratic society.
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