A Critical Review of Peter H. Russell's Essay "Can the Canadians be a Sovereign People?"

Essay by SKDbagUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, January 2007

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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...