Gary Levy is Editor of the Canadian
This year marks the beginning of
celebrations to mark the bicentennial of the American Constitution. At first
glance This hardly appears an event of particular interest to Canadians. The constitutions
of Canada and the United States, like the nations themselves, are unique and
reflect different political, social and philosophical antecedents. Canadians
have their own distinct history, culture, and political institutions.
At the same time American politics
has often exerted a strong influence north of the border. Sir John A. Macdonald
was well informed about the American constitution when he and other Fathers of
Confederation sat down to discuss Canadian union in the 1860s. Macdonald's copy
of Madison's "Draft Constitution for the United States" is still
extant with his own pencilled notations in favour of a strong central
government. Although a staunch monarchist Sir John A. was never one of those
who, in the wake of the American Civil War, dismissed the American constitution
as a failure. He called it "one of the most skilful works which human
intelligence ever created and made many references to it in his arguments to
create an even better constitution for Canada. Neither Macdonald or anyone else
could have anticipated the forces that have brought about such a high degree of
interdependence between the two nations over the past several decades.
Despite this close relationship
Canadians frequently complain about being taken for granted or are shocked by
the average American's limited knowledge of Canada. On the other hand we often
mistaken if think we understand American politics because we are familiar with
its popular culture. But there are relatively few scholars, journalists or
politicians who have a profound understanding of the American political system.
The bicentennial is an opportunity for Canadians to learn a little more about
political institutions in the United States and, at the same time, work toward
raising the consciousness of Americans about Canadian politics. The task is not
easy but the job of redefining our relations with the Americans is too
important to be left to a few experts on the free trade negotiating team or
representatives in the Department of External Affairs and other departments.
Another reason for following
bicentennial activities with some interest is that in just four years citizens
in Canada's two largest provinces have a bicentennial of their own. The first
legislative assemblies of Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) were
created by the Constitution Act (1791). While British colonies such as Nova
Scotia already had representative government, the Constitution Act was an
important step in Canada's political development and no doubt some appropriate projects
will be undertaken to mark. the event. As suggested in the article by Roger
Davidson, close observation of the American experience may help us to learn
from their successes and avoid some pitfalls.
In general Canada and the United
States tend to approach similar political issues; from different perspectives.
It is often useful to see how someone else deals with questions such as
representation by population (this issue) or jurisdiction over legislative
buildings (next issue). In the past we have published articles on Parliament
and Congress, on televising Congressional proceedings, on staffing in American
legislatures, on lobbying and on many aspects of American politics. Despite
differences in the two political systems there is always much to be learned
about ourselves by keeping a. close eye on the Americans.
Finally, a bicentennial, whether
Canadian or American, offers an opportunity for individuals in the two
countries to think beyond short term issues and reflect upon about the future
political relationships between the two countries. Two hundred years from now
will the traditional reasons for separate and independent countries still
exist? The argument for Canadian independence is made most eloquently by a
former American in the interview which appears in this issue. But in the long
term have not other separate peoples worked out different political
arrangements that might well be better suited to the peculiar relationship that
exists between Canadians and Americans? The European Common market is the
obvious example but what about England and Scotland, France and Monaco or even
Puerto Rico and the USA!
Perhaps constitutional reformers
inspired by the present and upcoming bicentennial in the two countries will
turn their attention away from debate over the merits of increasing the length
of the congressional terms or agonising over whether Quebec signs the 1982
Charter of Rights and Freedoms and look at the larger question of whether there
is any constitutional arrangement that would. satisfy the political, social,
cultural linguistic and economic aspirations of all individuals who share the
North American continent.