Harper could use history lesson from Sir John A., suggests letter contributor

It is hardly surprising and extraordinarily dangerous to national unity that the Harper government is seeking a majority by filling the separatist vacuum in Quebec.

Dear Editor;

It is hardly surprising and extraordinarily dangerous to national unity that the Harper government is seeking a majority by filling the separatist vacuum in Quebec.

Harper’s MPs are mainly old Reformers, not Tories, and by appealing to separatist instincts he is advancing the same provincialist sentiment that made the party of Preston Manning and Harper himself as corrosive to national unity as the Bloc.

Understanding the Canadian federal principle as it was conceived by the Fathers of Confederation and expressed in Canada’s founding constitutional document, the BNA Act, 1867, is fundamental to our understanding of contemporary Canada.

The future Sir John A. Macdonald wrote of the significance of the compromise that is the Canadian federal principle in a letter to M.C. Cameron on Dec. 19, 1864 (Macdonald Papers) that deserves our attention:

“My dear Cameron,

….As to things political I must try to discuss the Federation Scheme with you….I am satisfied that we have hit upon the only practicable plan ….we have avoided exciting local prejudice against the scheme by protecting local interests, and, at the same time, have raised a strong Central Government….If the Confederation goes on you, if spared the ordinary age of man, will see both local Parliaments and governments absorbed in the general power. This is as plain to me as if I saw it accomplished now….”

This accorded with feeling of those who believed legislative union alone would serve the purposes of national unity while a federal union would bear the seeds of future discord and yet would allow a workable compromise with those who advocated a federal structure.

Macdonald may have been over-optimistic in believing provincialism would fade away, but he was right in understanding the responsibility of the Central Government to resist provincialism’s divisive tendencies. The clear failure of American federalism, as illustrated by the cost in blood of the divisions inherent in the American federal principle, weighed forcefully on the minds of those who drafted the Canadian constitution and argued for Canadian Confederation. The error of the crude prejudices of separatists and provincialist becomes clearer with this understanding.

Macdonald’s views were Conservative points of view, Tory points of view. The whole tide of history weighs against the party and views of Stephen Harper.

Brian Marlatt

White Rock, B.C.