Constitutional Politics and Federalism

Essay by [KTF]S.E.S.A, February 2004

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Are the constitutional politics discussed in the readings necessary for the survival of the Canadian federation or, perhaps, a hindrance in this respect? Historically, constitutional politics have proved to be a burden and we have seen numerous failures, and only minimal success. But because the Canadian Constitution is so intricately tied to Canadian federalism, it remains important to analyze how deep, and how important it exactly is. Critics may suggest, and even question that such a specific focus and adherence to constitutional politics isn't necessary. But to argue that Canadian federalism can adequately endure without finalizing the document upon which political power is to be based on seems foolish. Constitutional politics are necessary, one way or another.

The Westmacott article summarizes the major provisions of the Charlottetown Accord and divides them into four sections; 'the Canada clause; institutional reform; distribution of legislative authority between Ottawa and the provinces; and the inherent right to self-government for aboriginal peoples.'

(Westmacott, 1997: 102) Though he provides a sufficient enough summary, it was difficult to find his position on the matter. He does acknowledge that the Charlottetown Accord to have arisen out of necessity due to the emerging separatist movement in Quebec, and the mutual desires from provinces and the federal government to accommodate the number of different, competing interests, but he lacked a firm stance on whether or not the kind of constitutional politics that were taking place benefited or hindered the Canadian federation. Hence, in regards to my question, reference to the Westmacott article will be minimal.

The Smith article engages the concepts of the formal and informal constitution in Canada and how a habit of divergence was prevalent throughout Canadian history with respect to the application and interpretation of the many documents of the Canadian constitution. This habit of...