Just last Thursday, we posted an item about a recent conversation happening on the website of our affiliated project, Bring Back the Act. (You can read that post by clicking here.) Today brings another exchange on the uniqueness of Canada’s Constitution that we hope is of interest to our Canadian Experience readers; it was sparked by a comment originally posted yesterday on the Bring Back the Act website by Marc-Albert and responded to by Ian Wilson, the project’s Interim Working Group Chair. (The thread is posted below, but you can also read it on the BringBacktheAct.ca Feedback page) …
I am curious on how this will work. For a constitution to be valid (legal definition) the citizens must vote and accept this constitution. Since this never took place, the “act” cannot be brought to Canada since it does not exist in a legal manner. The only way a proper constitution can ever be brought to Canada is if the citizens actually vote on one. The BNA act was a corporate merger by law, nothing to do with citizens voting.
Today, Ian Wilson responded to Marc-Albert’s comment, indicating some unique differences between Canada’s Constitution and the American Constitution of 1787 …
… Marc-Albert raises an important point regarding the relationship of citizens and our constitution. Canada is a constitutional monarchy, a federal state and a parliamentary democracy. Through centuries of precedent and practice, all sovereign powers:– treaties, legislation, appointments, contracts, honours– are exercised in the name of the Queen of Canada as represented by the Governor General. But such powers are only exercised on the advice of our prime minister and cabinet, responsible to the elected House of Commons. Our Citizenship oath begins with a personal commitment to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty”. Dr. Michael Jackson, former Director of Protocol in Saskatchewan, has expressed the guiding principle: “The Queen and the Crown are guardians of the constitutional rights of all Canadians. They symbolize the unity of the people beyond political parties, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and regional differences.” One of the key phrases in the BNA Act, “peace, order and good government”, defines the mutual commitment of the Crown and citizens.
Unlike the American Constitution (1787) which begins with the words: “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” the Canadian constitution reflects our historical processes of continuity and stability. We did not have violent revolution but chose evolution.
The BNA Act opens with a series of clauses noting that through our elected representatives: “the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom;”. It proceeds then to affirm that through our Parliamentary processes:
“3. It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, to declare by Proclamation that, on and after a Day therein appointed, not being more than Six Months after the passing of this Act, the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick shall form and be One Dominion under the Name of Canada; and on and after that Day those Three Provinces shall form and be One Dominion under that Name accordingly.”
The broad vision of our Fathers of Confederation found expression in one of these explanatory clauses: “And whereas it is expedient that Provision be made for the eventual Admission into the Union of other Parts of British North America.” Through this and over almost a century and a half Canada has grown from sea to sea to sea.
The British North America Act is at the centre of our constitution and has guided the governance and development of Canadian society since 1867. It came into being, not through revolution, but through the gradual evolution of our institutions. It came into being through the request of our elected representatives. It is valid. It is uniquely ours.
If you are interested in this kind of discussion, please let us know and post a comment below or on the BringBacktheAct.ca’s feedback page.
If you haven’t already, you may also be interested in two of Ian’s essays on the Bring Back the Act website: “MIA: The Canadian Constitution“, and “Our Constitution: A Study in Complexity“.