A J. Patrick Boyer Book by Dundurn

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Off the Street

Off the Street

Legalizing Drugs
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Food Security

Food Security

From Excess to Enough
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Excerpt

Introduction
More than Enough

Is it not curious, that so vast a being as the whale should see the world through so small an eye, and hear the thunder through an ear which is smaller than a hare’s? But if his eyes were broad as the lens of Herschel’s great telescope; and his ears capacious as the porches of cathedrals; would that make him any longer of sight, or sharper of hearing? Not at all. — Why then do you try to “enlarge” your mind? Subtilize it.
— Herman Melville

Agriculture’s goal is to provide surplus food. The provision of this surplus relieves those who don’t work the land or raise animals — factory workers, service providers, artists, politicians, lawyers, scholars, and others — of the task of growing food, allowing them to use their time and energy to engage in all of the other activities that contribute to the building of societies. So, clearly, agriculture is vital for functioning of healthy societies. However, today there is a crisis involving agriculture’s ability to provide surplus food. The problem is not that agriculture is currently unable to provide the surplus necessary for healthy societies; rather, the problem is that the agricultural practices commonly used today are resulting in widespread environmental destruction, making their continued use unsustainable. This approach to overproduction has costs, significant ones. Today’s surpluses are swallowing natural capital and tomorrow’s productive capacity.

Ironically, our proclivity to address our fear of scarcity by overproducing is putting us on the path toward scarcity. Only by being appreciative of what Earth provides and respectfully accessing just enough can we achieve balance and sustainability.

When I was a boy, growing up on our farm in Wellington County, Ontario, food was respected. Our family understood, in a very fundamental way, the effort required to grow crops and raise animals for food. A natural result of this was that waste was limited to unavoidable losses. We were connected to the plants and animals on the farm and this relationship fostered feelings of responsibility and caring.

I loved to follow my grandfather during his chores, which seemed more of a joyful ritual than work. Pigs grunted expectantly and squealed with gratitude or greed, or perhaps both, when Grampa called them to the trough. Chickens yielded their eggs with remarkable grace as he gently retrieved the eggs from the nests, a skill I soon learned. Of course, the chickens would find their inevitable destination in the soup pot. In the meantime, they lived well with home-grown feed, clean nest boxes, opportunities to roam near the barn, and safety at night.

My grandfather and I drove to the pasture beyond the train tracks on the small yellow tractor my uncles had somehow extracted from the farm budget. As far as I know, Grampa used it only for this purpose. His team of horses, Pete and Joe, reliably leaned into their harnesses for the real work. When Grampa called the cattle, they appeared from the edges of the pasture and sometimes the shelter of an adjacent strip of trees. As he fed them, he talked to them and noted the state of their health. Usually they followed to see us off us as we drove away. It wasn’t until I was nine or ten that I realized that on most farms, cattle were chased rather than called.

It was from Grampa I learned the wisdom of agriculture and what’s really important. He died when I was seven. The agricultural knowledge I’ve learned since then has been mostly details. Somehow, with very few words, he demonstrated respect for soil, air, water, plants, and animals, and how they connect in a web of relationships.

I don’t recall waste on the farm although there were certainly transformations — the “circular economy” of modern discourse. Nutrients would go from kitchen food scraps to pig feed to manure to soil, to be captured again by plants in Grandma’s garden or Grampa’s fields. Today, as I reflect on Grampa’s farm, I feel sad about the general diminished awareness of how food is produced. Attitudes have changed; and instead of sustainable, self-sufficient food production, there is now industrial agriculture, with one-way flows that lead to excess. Nutrients in fertilizer, from off-farm, support plant growth for export crops, which often results in food loss and waste and concomitant nutrient loss into water bodies. In our rush to produce ever greater amounts of food, we are using up too many resources; our extravagance is unsustainable and will result in our being unable to meet the real needs of today and tomorrow.

Indigenous Peoples teach us to reflect on and learn from the experience of seven past generations and to anticipate our impact on seven future generations. Today, humans extract immense amounts of oil and gas from the earth to satisfy the “needs” of modern civilization. The burning of all of these hydrocarbons has resulted in the release of a huge amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, causing climate change. We have ignored the knowledge passed on to us by previous generations about how to live with modest environmental impact; as a result, we are jeopardizing the health of the environment, of the plants and animals that we share the planet with, and in so doing we are undermining the ability of the next seven generations to live satisfied and secure lives.

If we were to travel back seven generations, we would find ourselves in the 1840s, when there were only about one billion people on Earth. In this period, there was not yet any industrial-scale drilling for oil; wood, coal, kerosene, and a few other resources provided the fuel for lighting, heating, and the primitive combustion engines that existed at the time. Astoundingly, humans now burn over one hundred million barrels of oil per day (Tertzakian, 2018). That is one big blaze, and it has resulted in an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration to over four hundred parts per million (ppm) — CO2 is one of the major GHGs that contribute to global warming. In preindustrial times, the carbon dioxide concentration was only 280 ppm. A significant portion of the fuels consumed are used to produce, transport, process, package, and prepare food. Pollution from excess nitrogen fertilizer use, derived from fossil-fuel energy, is one of the greatest risks to current ecological stability. The sooner we learn to throttle back, the better will be our chances in the twenty-first century. To sustain ourselves, we need a long, steady flame.

Moving seven generations ahead will land us in the 2190s, when cheap oil and coal will have receded into the mists of history. Our descendants will wonder why we wasted so much fuel on one brief blaze, the biggest in Earth’s history. They will wonder why we put the health of Earth, our only home, in jeopardy by indulging in such an excess of dangerous consumption.

We have the technology to extract and refine oil and gas, and our capacity to do so is increasing — fracking, the injection of high-pressure water into the earth to cause the release of oil and gas, accessing previously unobtainable hydrocarbon reserves, is one such new technology. And of course oil companies want to sell as much oil as possible to avoid the loss of current investments in potentially stranded assets. However, extracting and burning more and more hydrocarbons is causing real environmental damage and, in fact, threatens to cause a global calamity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that we have less than twelve years to cut GHGs by at least half. We must develop ecofriendly, sustainable energy systems that will allow us to leave carbon-dense products in the ground: new technologies that will enable us to replace fossil fuels, avoiding their poisonous byproducts that have such negative impacts on climate systems.

Replacing fossil fuels with wind, solar, and tidal energy will allow us reduce GHG emissions and, so, will slow climate change. However, what is needed is not just the development of ecofriendly alternatives to fossil fuels: we must also work toward decreasing our energy consumption. The proliferation of high-speed modes of transportation, luxurious and excessively large buildings, and the overproduction of food, all supported by the exploitation of fossil fuels, must end. We need renewable-energy technologies, but we also need a reconsideration of how much rich food, high-speed transportation, housing space, and other modern benefits we actually need.

If we appreciate what we have, we are more likely to know when we have enough. Lynne Twist (2003) presents a compelling argument for sufficiency. “When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, it frees up oceans of energy to make a difference with what you have. When you make a difference with what you have, it expands.”

I have been approached by several friends who have chosen to sell their cars. In each case, they acknowledged how frightened they were about the sacrifice of not having a car on demand. This fear was mostly an issue before they sold their cars. All of them told me that as time went on without car ownership, they began to appreciate how free they were from payments, maintenance, insurance, licensing, parking, et cetera. They shifted from a sense of sacrifice to one of satisfaction. Granted, they all lived in cities and not rural areas.

In January each year, many of us resolve to eat well for our health. After the feasting of the December holiday season, we tend to focus on what we will go without, and, thus, will sacrifice. The benefits of sacrifice should not to be understated, but neither should they be overemphasized. Sometimes sacrifice is just sensible.

A few weeks of eating more fruits and vegetables balanced with protein, vitamins, minerals, and calories and eating less food with fat, salt, and sugar can result in feeling healthier, better satisfied. To continue healthy habits, it may be helpful to consider what makes our bodies feel good most of the time.

Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food has a simple motto of only seven words, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” When I first read this motto, I wondered what else he expected us to eat, other than food. Right on cue, the first part of the book distinguishes real food (found on the outside walls of supermarkets) from “quasi-food” (the packaged and processed products found in middle aisles).

There are numerous words and phrases associated with eating well: “fellowship,” “enough for all,” “preserving, not wasting,” “nutrition,” “wholeness,” “health,” “vigour,” “freshness,” “savouring,” “local culture,” “favourite recipes,” and so on. Eating well can be enjoyable and satisfying.

Today, food has become entertainment, and as with other forms of entertainment, we have become accustomed to instant gratification. Planning for a local and healthy seasonal basket of sustenance, preserving local produce, and preparing nutritious meals are at odds with immediate satisfaction. So many rich processed foods provide temporary pleasure. It is on this basis that they appeal and are advertised.

Nevertheless, an increasing number of people are drawn to planning and preparing healthy diets, diets that not only include nutritious foods but also are characterized by moderation. The challenge, or perhaps the trick, is to better convey to people the benefits of this, one of which is the satisfaction of feeling energetic, permanently.

Pierre Dansereau, a well-known biologist and ecologist from Quebec, passed away in 2011, one month shy of his one hundredth birthday. He believed that it is necessary to have a happy frugality (austérité joyeuse). The term is jarring. A happy frugality? This is a step beyond satisfaction. I don’t think that he was advocating poverty; rather, I think that he wanted us to live our lives in a manner that allows us to obtain an adequate living without doing irreparable harm to the environment. To do that individually and collectively is to have a reason to be happy.

In evolved societies, and this is something evidenced, to some degree, in the Canadian social contract, there is a striving to ensure that everyone has enough to not only survive but to prosper. In Nova Scotia, a couple recently provided a wonderful example of what those with extra can do to help others to have enough. Allen and Violet Large donated most of their unexpected $11.2 million lottery winnings to family and local charities. Allen said, “We didn’t need this big of an amount,” and Violet noted, “There’s somebody worse off than I am.” They were happily frugal with their modest home, older car, and network of friends and family.

Until Violet died of cancer a short time later, she affirmed she was satisfied with their decision and was thankful of the opportunity to share their fortune to help ensure that others had enough. With such an attitude of gratitude, we become able to recognize when we have enough. Then we can make appropriate sacrifices, be satisfied, and sustain our lives with happy frugality.

George Monbiot ends his book Heat on a downbeat. He worries that the campaign against climate change will be resisted because “it is for austerity, not plenty, for constraint, not freedom, and thus against ourselves.” A campaign to create sustainable food production by showing the necessity of choosing less to avoid losing more, and by promoting sharing, even though that will result in having less to go around, faces similar hurdles. Yet, paradoxical as it seems, such a course can lead to more choice and greater freedom, while improving our chances for survival. Our current path of polluting the air and water and degrading the soil, while impacting climatic variability, has been shown to be already limiting our options, diminishing our access to things that we now take for granted. Changing courses now will allow for a far greater range of possibilities in the future.

Currently, in our zeal for economic growth, we humans hoard goods, while degrading and polluting the soil, water, and air needed for sustainable agriculture. By shifting focus and facing facts, however, we can dampen the fossil flameout. We can regroup in a quest to eat well, in sustainable communities.

In 1798 the dour Reverend Malthus warned that if our human population increased exponentially, food production would still only increase linearly and the race of “man” could not escape from this law. A century or so later, Fritz Haber appeared to provide humanity with the means to escape the dire fate predicted by Malthus. The use of manufactured nitrogen fertilizer enabled food production to grow to an extraordinary degree; crop yields reached previously unrealized heights. Coupled with cheap energy, this new fertilizer seemed a godsend. Food production and human population increased exponentially like rapidly climbing jets in an air show.

However, as energy supplies dwindle and as greenhouse gas emissions increase as a result of the overuse of fossil fuels and nitrogen fertilizer, we might do well to give Malthus a second reading. His warning was, after all, a warning. Were he alive today, he would surely affirm that science based on ecological realism will serve us more effectively than science based on human hubris and fantasies of unlimited growth.

It’s time for those of us in agriculture to say “Enough, already.” Agriculturalists should no longer silently accept the status quo, one characterized by ever-increasing consumption and waste. We have a moral duty to yell “Stop!” Such a declaration is necessary to help change our course. It is hard to imagine that we are so addicted that we’ll actually choose to sacrifice Planet Earth and ourselves, so it’s time to revise our worldview and reject the gospel of perpetual economic growth. It’s time to reimagine how we agree to make a living as individuals and together on Earth.

Our addiction to excess food is fueled (literally) by corresponding addictions to oil, gas, and coal. Addictions seduce and eventually control addicts by the comforts offered. But the oceans, forests, rangelands, and atmosphere cannot absorb much more of the GHGs from our big blaze of dwindling energy supplies. We need to consume less. We need to burn much less. Our choice is to adjust to Earth’s bio-chemical limits or to face the consequences.

Apart from those engaged in subsistence farming, agriculturists have always been concerned with the question, “How will we feed the world?” Throughout history, farmers have worked, despite droughts, natural disasters, pest infestations, and disease, to try to ensure that humans are able to avoid not just famines but want of food generally, doing so in spite of rapidly increasing populations. This struggle is agriculture’s raison d’etre. Agriculturalists are convinced they’re on the side of the angels. Feeding the world is a project to be proud of.

However, the more that agriculturalists have succeeded in “feeding the world” the greater the distance has become between those who eat the food and the specialists who grow, produce, and process it. Food has become a commodity, controlled largely by giant corporations. Modern agriculture has become stuck in a perpetual chase to provide excess commodities for an expanding market of consumers, each of whom is tempted to consume more. Of course, this extra consumption also leads to more waste per consumer. Globalized commodities benefit a select few financially. As for eaters, there are more who suffer illnesses from overeating, than those who suffer from not getting enough.

If we continue to allow the population to grow, per capita consumption to increase, waste to mushroom, energy use to balloon, and pollution to spiral ever upward, Malthus’s predictions will certainly be realized — it will only be a matter of time. If we follow the course we’re on, there will eventually be collapse; it will be impossible to meet the world’s needs, let alone its demands. Inevitably, there will be fear and famine. However, if we take steps now to moderate consumption, to eat well, and to dampen the big blaze, we will be able to control energy use and pollution and reduce our consumption levels to a sustainable carrying capacity. Following the latter path will involve producing and consuming just what’s needed, using local initiatives, and learning to eat well in sustainable communities. Such a society might appear scrawny in comparison to the one produced by our current indulgence. It will be one typified by a joyous frugality. In time, food may once again be more associated with nurturing and sharing than with entertainment.

It’s time to mature, get together, and work with what we have. If we continue to compete to consume more of the less that remains, we will have failed as a species. The consequences will be dire. If, on the other hand, we properly appreciate our special heritage and opportunity on Earth, if we adopt the necessary gratitude for what we have, then we will be able to lead balanced lives, ones that help foster a sustainable and nurturing planet.

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Hardscrabble

Hardscrabble

The High Cost of Free Land
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Time Bomb

Time Bomb

Canada and the First Nations
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Run Red with Blood
Excerpt

Prologue

The night shrouded the carriage in a suffocating darkness as black as the loam of a grave. The rain fell in torrents, pounding against the windows like the fists of a riotous mob. Pools of water had gouged the serpentine road, causing the carriage wheels to swerve and careen, and Emily’s head to repeatedly strike the inside wall. She screamed for the driver to stop, but it seemed the carriage had neither driver nor horses — headlong it hurtled along an unknown track, stoked by a ghostly energy of its own.

Across from her sat Lord Somerton in his sombre suit of clothes, his eyes lost in shifting shadows, his mouth nothing more than a grim slash across a pallid jaw. The pitching motion of the vehicle did little to disturb him. Aside from his finger-tapping on the head of his cane, he sat completely still.

“Where are you taking me?” Emily cried.

There was a slight curling of his lips, but silence was his answer.

The carriage escalated its reckless speed. Wet, shivering trees flew past in the darkness — the twisted fingers of their branches scratching at the mournful sky, searching for a way to escape the night. A set of iron gates suddenly appeared and opened like jaws, intent on swallowing them whole. As they passed through them, Emily grew cold and shaky. She recognized this place. She knew its twisting pathway and the grey, foreboding grounds heaving around it like an angry sea.

Hartwood Hall!

Frantically, she wrestled with the latch on the carriage door. Dear God, no! She had already fled from here once before, stolen away in the night when everyone was preoccupied with dancing and feasting and drinking — no one having seen her except for Fleda, who had wept at her leaving. She had gone looking for Leander and had managed to find him, somewhere near the sea.

The carriage came to an abrupt halt, and the leaden facade of the Hall filled its windows, formidable and startling as an enemy frigate slipping from a swirling bank of fog. Candles burned in the Hall’s sash windows, and scurrying figures poured forth from its doors, rushing toward her. Roughened hands dragged her out into the pelting rain; voices shouted: “Hurry! Hurry! You have kept them waiting.”

The shadowy molesters prodded her toward the house and into the front entrance where the lights flickered upon a hawk-faced clergyman in his black weeds and white collar. In his pious grasp, he carried the Book of Common Prayer. Bound in a tight semicircle around him was an assemblage of familiar faces, yet there was no happy welcome in their stares. The Duchess of Belmont exuded indignation; her heavy husband wheezed disinterest; Glenna McCubbin was a clucking hen of disapproval while Uncle Clarence’s mood was aloof and dark with bitter disappointment.

In his extravagant knee breeches and frock coat, Wetherell Lindsay paced with impatience, his high heels clicking upon the marble floor, reflections of candlelight playing upon his bald pate where his wig was normally affixed. Lord Somerton eagerly steered Emily toward him. Wetherell pulled her roughly to his stout side and attempted to lock up her hands in his, but she pushed away, shaking her head in defiance, refusing to participate in their mad conspiracy. Enraged by the rebuff, Wetherell stomped off into a subterranean passage of the house, instructing the wedding guests to follow him, leaving the servants to douse the candles and shutter the doors. Trailing them was Fleda, a haunting, dreadful sadness in her green eyes. As she walked away from Emily, the masonry and mortar of Hartwood Hall fell around her, disintegrating and then vanishing into the earth.

One wedding guest stayed behind. He stood like a scarecrow in the abandoned field where the house had been. The uniform of an American naval captain hung upon his gaunt frame, the wind trifling with the threadbare fabric of his jacket. The brim of his bicorne hat was cracked and moth-eaten. His feet were naked and bleeding; he possessed no mouth, and where his nose should have been there was only a skeletal cavity. He turned to face Emily. His eyes — cold, dark, and merciless — sent icy fingers scuttling down her spine while the distance between them loudly echoed a familiar word.

Pity.

Unable to move, she watched as he raised a black pistol, cocked the hammer back, and levelled it at her pounding heart.

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Shark Assault

Shark Assault

An Amazing Story of Survival
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Chapter One Emergency in Mexico

Nicole stands on the quiet sands at the Cancún resort, staring out at a calm ocean of turquoise beauty. Her mind darts back to months earlier when events on this same beach changed her life in a way few people would have the courage to confront, let alone survive. Even she wonders how she’s pulled through. The beach is eerily silent. The hush is somewhat overwhelming, a bit sinister. Is the quiet because it’s off-season, with fewer people enjoying the posh vacation destination? Or do the few guests know of her circumstances? Perhaps they are keeping their distance, allowing her time and solitude, out of respect. Soon the camera crew that has followed her out of Toronto to Mexico — uninvited — will be there to record the compulsion she feels she cannot avoid: facing her fears head on. Nicole Moore is determined to step into the Caribbean Sea at the exact spot where she was attacked months before. She will master the influence that has become the ruler of her existence. But the silence is undermining her resolve. A small silver fish suddenly breaks the shallow surface, the unexpected splash causing her neck to jerk back. Off in the distance she hears the muffled howl of a siren. She blinks her eyes, shaking her head to banish the memory of the fateful ambulance ride that only months ago was truly a race against time. That very phrase can be a little over the top, but in the case of Nicole Moore being rushed to Hospiten Cancún on the afternoon of January 31, 2011, nothing could have been closer to the truth. She was as near to death as anyone could be. Minutes — seconds — mattered. Her body scarred and deformed, missing her left arm and much of her left leg muscles — painful realities she is forced to endure every waking moment — Nicole shuts her eyes. Her mind summons up that earth-shattering day where she had to cope with a treacherous ambulance journey, strapped to a backboard that was not well secured, flapping about as the inexperienced driver tackled the mounting bumps in the road, while paramedics struggled to find any blood pressure reading at all. This was the point when Nicole realized she had probably reached the end of her life. She was racing to the hospital less and less as a survivor, more and more as a fatality. Her memories take over. She is propelled back to feeling the fear in her gut, the helplessness, and especially the frustration of that terrible day. She begins reliving the experience of horror in a surreal manner. She’s back in the ambulance. She’s being hurled about. She’s recognizing that her body has started to shut down peripherally. She’s already lost 60 percent of her blood. Her skin is ashen gray. Circulation has slowed to her legs, arms, and hands, and her organs are shutting down. She fights for each gasp of air; there isn’t enough blood left to make her lungs do their job. And she knows that in the fifty minutes since she’s been attacked and severely wounded, little anyone has done has seemed to help. As an experienced nurse, Nicole knows her situation is bad. Really bad. She understands she has mere minutes left in her life. Only her heart and brain are functioning now, and they are down for the count. Once her heart checks out she’ll have maybe two minutes before brain damage sets in. And then death. At home they’d call her condition “critical, life threatening.” But the young ambulance driver comes through, making it to the hospital, where staff members whisk her inside and plant her on a trauma bed. But nothing will be simple. Already there is a problem: they’ve never dealt with this kind of attack before. They seem unsure of what to do. Nicole panics because she fears for her life, while the people around her seem more focused on whether she has adequate insurance coverage. They ramble on in Spanish about her capacity to pay for what they are unsure they will do in the first place. “Where and what is her insurance situation?” one administrator asks. “Who is going to pay for her treatment?” another demands. Finally an on-duty doctor arrives. “We need to do something now!” he commands in English. And the medical staff members go into action, for which Nicole gasps her heartfelt thanks. The doctors determine one thing: they cannot put in an IV because Nicole’s body has already experienced so much trauma that her system has given out, denying blood to her major organs. Her veins continue to shrink as her circulation decreases. They are afraid that not enough blood is getting to her brain, so they make a snap decision to insert a central line directly into her heart. It is an urgent attempt to keep Nicole alive. They use a subclavian approach in her right shoulder to try to access the aorta. This is a complex procedure with the potential for life-threatening complications; the lung can easily be nicked making it difficult for the patient to breathe. Unfortunately, the approach doesn’t go well and the team isn’t able to insert the central line on the first try. Despite their best efforts, Nicole Moore is dying. The clock is ticking, but the medical team still can’t insert the central line. Seemingly in desperation they tell her: “We are now going to put you to sleep.” She’s frightened because she can no longer breathe. [SPACEBREAK] But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. How did Nicole Moore end up fighting for her life in a Mexican hospital?

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Sir John's Echo

Sir John's Echo

The Voice for a Stronger Canada
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1
The Founder’s Intentions

John A. Macdonald was gone. He had missed nearly a week in the pre-Confederation Canadian legislature. A drunk and dishevelled Macdonald yawned open his rooming house door and squinted through watery eyes at a young man who demanded his immediate return to duties. Macdonald mumbled that if the governor general was responsible for the message then he could go to hell, but if the gentleman was there at his own behest, then he could take the trip himself. The door slammed. The tale is either endearing or disturbing.
Sir John is tough to love, but tougher to hate. The lanky man with the high forehead, wiry and unruly hair, prominent nose, and dancing eyes was a rogue, but he was our rogue. He was a charmer and a ruthless operator. Macdonald can be applauded for efforts to afford more rights for women and for promoting better understanding between the French and English, but he should also be condemned for racist attitudes and policies toward Chinese workers and Aboriginal nations. A scoundrel and a scamp, Macdonald was a hail-fellow-well-met, a loyal friend, and a fierce enemy. He was Canada’s indispensable man because nation building is both mechanical and organic and so demands both architects and gardeners. Structures might be put in place, but as with any venture involving unpredictable and often irrational human beings, it is slow growth and adjustment to changing conditions that test and either strengthen those structures or tear them asunder. Fortunately, at its birth and through early, perilous years, Canada enjoyed the perfect marriage of man and moment. Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada’s architect and gardener, with the personality, skills, and vision to be expert at both.
In the fall of 1864, Macdonald was in a small, high-ceilinged, ornate room in Charlottetown. He knew, as did the other delegates from the British North American colonies of Canada (Quebec and Ontario), Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, that they were in trouble. The Americans had been butchering themselves in a civil war for three years. Confederate spies openly operated from Toronto and Montreal, and unscrupulous crimpers were tricking and even kidnapping young men to become Union soldiers. American generals, newspapers, and powerful politicians were advocating an invasion that would quickly overwhelm the thin red line of British soldiers and undertrained colonial militia. Meanwhile, British politicians were falling under the sway of those demanding an end to military and financial support for their expensive and troublesome colonies. Britain had withdrawn from a trade agreement that had greatly benefitted the British North American colonies and the United States had pledged to do the same, with both actions contributing to economic hardship. Beyond all of that, the political structures that had been created in response to disquiet in the Maritimes and rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada had proven themselves dysfunctional and clearly unequal to the challenges of the day. In the face of economic, political, and military hazards, the colonial governments were broken and broke.
After just a few hours of discussion, the Charlottetown delegates agreed that to save themselves they needed to create themselves. Unification was the answer. The question was how. There were two models upon which they could base their new country. The British parliamentary system of government was most appealing to the loyal British subjects around the big table. However, Quebec delegates agreed with those from the Maritimes that, unlike Britain, a new Canada needed not just a central government but a federal system to allow sub-national governments to protect local rights and identities. The essential question quickly became how much power should be placed with the central government and how much should be apportioned to the provinces. It is the question that has shaped our history and haunts us still.
On this matter, the United States offered a compelling and alarmingly negative example. While the American Constitution was brilliant in its conception, the booming Union and Confederate cannons, shattered cities, and armies-worth of mourning widows demonstrated its appalling failure in practice. Sir John and others said the American Constitution’s problem and the main reason the United States was currently eating its young was that too much power had been located in the sub-national state governments.
Macdonald explained to Confederation delegates that he admired the U.S. Constitution and respected the work and vision of its framers. However, he observed, “The dangers that have arisen from this system will be avoided if we can agree upon a strong central government — a great central legislature — a constitution for a Union which will have all the rights of sovereignty except those that are given to the local governments. Then we shall have taken a great step in advance of the American Republic.”1 He repeated the point when the conference moved to cool and rainy Quebec City. Perched in grand rooms offering spectacular views of the thundering St. Lawrence, delegates drew closer to hammering out the new Constitution’s details. Canada would reverse the “primary error” of the United States, Macdonald said, “by strengthening the general government and conferring on the provincial bodies only such powers as may be required for local purposes.”2
The Charlottetown and Quebec City conferences were spectacular successes. Despite the fact that Newfoundland and, ironically, Prince Edward Island decided not to join, the delegates had undertaken a peaceful, respectful state-building project like few in the world had ever done. No armies marched. No shots were fired. No one died or, for that matter, was threatened, beaten up, or arrested. We began our national conversation by talking ourselves into a country.
As the process moved to the ratification stage, Macdonald repeatedly used the American example to remind the wavering and unconvinced of his reason for locating so much power with the federal government. In a speech to the Canadian legislature, he said: 
The American Constitution … commenced, in fact, at the wrong end. They declared by their constitution that each state was a sovereignty in itself, and that all the powers incident to a sovereignty belonged to each state, except those powers which, by the constitution, were confirmed upon the General Government and Congress. Here we have adopted a different system. We have strengthened the General Government. We have given the General Legislature all the great subjects of legislation.3
When Queen Victoria signed the British North America Act in 1867, the provinces were as Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, Alexander Galt, George Brown, Charles Tupper, Samuel Tilley, and the other founders intended. They were akin to municipalities. Section 92 of the new Constitution ceded only 16 powers to the four original provinces. They included education; the regulation of hospitals, asylums, and charities; the issuing of shop, saloon, tavern, and auctioneer licences; the solemnization of marriage, as well as the protection of property and civil rights; the administration of justice; the management of public lands, including the sale of wood and timber; and, finally, direct taxation within each province. The only addition was that Section 95 rendered agriculture and immigration as concurrent or shared powers in which the federal and provincial governments would co-operate. It is interesting that while the primary reason Cartier and French-speaking Quebecers demanded a federal system was to protect their language and religion, Section 92 was silent on both.
Among the powers allocated to the federal government in Section 91 were the militia, military, and naval service; defence; navigation and shipping; the postal service; criminal law; marriage and divorce; immigration; and the responsibility for Aboriginals and Aboriginal land. The federal government’s financial powers were immense. They included responsibility for currency and coinage, banking, bankruptcy and insolvency, trade and commerce, public debt and property, and in a phrase that was potent in its ambiguity, “the raising of money by any mode or system of taxation.” By giving the federal government the power to levy direct and indirect taxes and limiting provinces to collecting only direct taxes, the federal government was rendered fiscally powerful and the provinces set up to be poor cousins.
The lists made clear where the fiscal and legislative power would lie, but there was even more. In the United States, to balance legislative representation between big and little states, it was decided to base the House of Representatives on representation by population but to allocate two seats per state in the Senate. In 1867, and until 1913, state legislatures appointed senators. Macdonald and his centralist colleagues determined that House of Commons members would be elected through representation by population. As in the United States and Britain, the upper house would be filled by appointment. However, unlike in the United States, the federal government, really the prime minister, would do the appointing and the Senate would reflect not provinces but regions.
There was more. Provincial premiers were constitutionally bound to work with lieutenant governors, who were appointed by the monarch but became federal government appointees in practice. The BNA Act gave lieutenant governors reserve power. With this power, rather than being obliged to sign all provincial bills into law, lieutenant governors could send questionable ones to the federal government for consideration. Provincial bills could then be killed through interminable delay. Sections 55 and 56 also gave the federal government the power of disallowance. That is, it could deem any provincial law in contradiction of the best interests of the county, and even if legally passed by a provincial legislature and signed by a lieutenant governor, simply rip it up.
Also in Section 92 was the declaratory power that gave the federal government the right, whenever it determined that a particular public work would benefit Canada as a whole, to take control of a project and land, regardless of the provincial government’s opinion or constitutional power over the matter.
Finally, the federal government was given residuary power. While the wording of this portion of the Constitution was infuriatingly vague, its intention was clear: anything that fell between the constitutional cracks or that came up later that the Constitution did not specifically address (who would regulate the Internet or airports, for example) would automatically go to the federal government.
Sir John was a late convert to the Confederation idea. He lent support only when it had become politically expedient as well as the best way forward. Even then, he had opposed a federal state, arguing instead for a more efficient and more British style of legislative union with no sub-national governments. He later relented when Quebec’s George-Étienne Cartier and Ontario’s George Brown made federalism a condition of their support. It is clear that with the new country’s Constitution, much of which was written in his hand, Macdonald had won the next best thing to a legislative union. The provinces were as weak as they could be while still having any power at all.

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Keeping Our Word

Keeping Our Word

A Principled Canada–First Peoples' Constitutional Framework
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