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Mark Milke


Canada Today: Not What the Founding Fathers Envisioned

Posted: 06/28/2013 5:36 pm

Canada is a superb creation and initial credit for that must, obviously, go to Canada's founding fathers. How we came about is a fascinating tale of seemingly intractable regional disputes resolved, at least for a time, by new institutions and a new country.

Pre-Confederation, after the 1840 Act of Union led to the abolishment of two regional legislatures in 1841, the Province of Canada was created and comprised of parts of modern-day Ontario and Quebec. There was one legislative assembly with an equal number of parliamentarians from Lower Canada (later Quebec) and Upper Canada (later Ontario).

This was a cause of some discontent. At the time, politicians in Lower Canada complained of how their region had a greater share of the population but only half the seats. That meant Upper Canada had an inordinate influence over matters.

Over the ensuing decades, Upper and Lower Canada eventually switched places on the population question. Then, it was the turn of parliamentarians in Upper Canada to complain of financing Lower Canada.

For example, in a wry 1865 speech, Upper Canada parliamentarian George Brown put the matter this way: "Immense sums of public money have been systematically taken from the public chest for local purposes of Lower Canada, in which the people of Upper Canada have no interest whatsoever, though compelled to contribute three-fourths of the cash."

The founding fathers' eventual remedy to regional bickering was simple: the new federal parliament should handle national issues and the future provinces should govern matters in the provincial sphere. (Credit here to Janet Ajzenstat and other editors of the 1999 book, Canada's Founding Debates, from which the following quotes are derived.)

This remedy, Brown pointed out, would remove rancour as henceforth, "if our friends in Lower Canada choose to be extravagant, they will have to bear the burden of it themselves."

Canada, the solution, would also resolve other complaints then common.

Was the then Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada not spending enough revenues on Lower Canada's "roads, bridges and landing piers, court houses, gaols [jails], and other structures"?--a complaint then in vogue. "Well sir, this scheme remedies that," said Brown. The new provinces could build all they liked with costs "defrayed from local funds."

Also, each province would "have control over its own crown lands, crown timber, and crown minerals--and will be free to take such steps for developing them as each deems best," said Brown.

For the record, this did not mean provinces could block, in their own province, cross-country projects of importance to the entire nation. The founding fathers also, wisely, allowed the Dominion government the power to veto provincial attempts to hamper interprovincial trade and commerce. The federal government did so 65 times in the first 30 years after confederation, a power it yet possesses but rarely exercises.

The eventual deal at Confederation was just what Brown predicted: Each level of government was given the necessary powers, including tax powers, to enable it to function properly in its own jurisdiction without substantial help or interference from Ottawa.

The Dominion government did, as part of the 1867 deal, also agree to pay some federal money to the provinces. The founding fathers were not thrilled about transfer payments but agreed to them in exchange to an end to trade-hampering, pre-Confederation provincial tariffs.

Also, while the provinces were granted the right to tax personal income, few thought they would go down that road. That was an additional reason the founders agreed to initial transfer payments from the federal treasury.

On such transfers, the Confederation-era agreement was stated to be the "full and final" settlement of all claims by the provinces upon the new Dominion government, this according to historians Milton Moore and J. Harvey Perry.

Alas, the clearness of Confederation did not last, though that was not the fault of the 1867 constitution but to later politics. Political decisions in the twentieth century increasingly moved Canada away from a more sensible model envisioned by the founders: Each level of government mostly responsible for its own spending (and the taxing necessary to finance it), absent unusual events such as depressions, wars and natural disasters.

Thus, today, inter-provincial debates are similar to pre-1867 tussles where one province's citizens complain of how others are on the federal dole courtesy of tax dollars from the more prosperous regions. And all the provinces again regularly press the federal government for more money.

Such muddying of jurisdictional tax-and-spend lines of accountability is unfortunate and sub-optimal. The founding fathers, such as George Brown, had the better idea and remedy to chronic inter-provincial bickering.

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  • Ketchup Chips

    There are some snacks that define a nation, but not many that taste good to only those who live there. What do we love? The fact they leave our fingers dyed red after we've had a whole bag. Ketchup has never tasted so salty, non-tomatoey and outright good. Our U.S. friends may go nutty over Doritos, but we love our ketchup chips.

  • Les Stroud aka 'Survivorman'

    Many Canadians will point to the fact that Superman has a strong connection to the Great White North, but we'd like to reintroduce you to the real thing. <a href="http://www.lesstroud.ca" target="_hplink">'Survivorman</a>', while it was on in the late 2000s, showcased Les Stroud, a gritty Canadian who shot his own show in snow, sleet, heat and rain with nothing but random household objects and a trusty knife. We like to think that in a country that's increasingly urban, the outback is still our domain. Les, he's the best of us.

  • The Greatest Scream On Film

    It was the scream heard around the world, and has been imitated - although never duplicated - several times since. <a href="http://www.williamshatner.com/" target="_hplink">William Shatner</a>, who in his own right is a great Canadian, uttered the famous scream '<a href="http://khaaan.com/" target="_hplink">Khaaaaannnnnnnnnnnn!</a>' in a scene during 1982's 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan'. Was it the close up on Shatner's face or the fact he shook while he screamed that made it so powerful? Thirty years later, filmmakers and actors are still trying to outdo Shatner. But some things just can't be beat.

  • The Caesar

    In warm weather, it will cool you down. If you're hungover, it's the magic antidote. <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesar_(cocktail)" target="_hplink">The Caesar</a>, Canada's favourite breakfast, lunch and evening cocktail adds a spicy twist to the Bloody Mary. Canadians are so particular about how it tastes -- with Clamato, not tomato juice -- that many don't even bother ordering it in the U.S. out of fear of disappointment. Served with celery, a lime and, if you're lucky, a fat dill pickle, it's the perfect cocktail. Who knew clam juice could add that kind of magic to a drink? (Photo Shutterstock)

  • Cheaper Drugs

    Overall, Americans can save 24 per cent if they buy their drugs from online Canadian pharmacies versus filling their prescriptions at home, according to a <a href="http://www.annals.org/content/143/6/397.abstract" target="_hplink">study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.</a> The study sought to find out why so many U.S. citizens have been taking advantage of the deep discounts north of the border, and the results showed dramatic savings across the board. "Forty-one of the 44 brand-name medications examined were less expensive in Canada." Canucks are proud of their health-care system and easier access -- in this case financially -- to pharmaceuticals. (Photo Alamy)

  • Our Ties To The Monarchy

    The debate on whether we should cut ties to the monarchy was <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/why-the-monarchy-sigh-still-survives-in-canada/article4181939/" target="_hplink">all but quashed last year</a> after the outpouring of pomp and pageantry -- in Canada -- around the royal wedding. Canadians embraced the nuptials as if Prince William was their own and turned out in droves to see the newlyweds during <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/royal-visit-canada-2011" target="_hplink">their cross-country tour last July.</a> From trying to get Pippa's butt to putting in their two cents on whether Prince Charles deserves the throne, Canadians love their Queen and all of the gossip that goes with her. (Photo Rex Features)

  • Coffee Crisp

    When it comes to food, Canadians concede there's far more selection in the U.S. but we're fiercely proud of the candy bars that can only be found here. <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_Crisp" target="_hplink">Coffee Crisp</a> is a great example. Consisting of a crunchy wafer, milk chocolate coating and slightest hint of coffee flavouring, the chocolate bar is true to its marketing slogan of making 'a nice light snack' and is adored by all moms and seniors. Rumour has it they've been spotted in a few U.S. border town convenience stores. We want proof!

  • Better View At Niagara Falls

    Undoubtedly one of North America's natural wonders, the power and beauty of Niagara Falls never ceases to amaze, whether it's your first trip or 100th. Luckily for Canucks, the <a href="http://www.world-of-waterfalls.com/eastern-us-niagara-falls-which-side-is-better.html" target="_hplink">best place to view the falls is on the 'Canadian side'. </a>That's right, busloads of tourists from around the world flood the observation areas near the falls in Ontario every day to snap the perfect picture for their Facebook profile. Do Americans bother to cross the border for the better view? You betcha. Just look out for the person using 'eh' at awkward times. (Photo Shutterstock)

  • We Love Seeing Our World

    About 56 per cent of Canadians have a passport while just 37 per cent of Americans do. While the majority of Canadians haven't been to countries like Azerbaijan, they do take pride in seeing the world and it's difficult to not run into a Canadian while travelling abroad. A story by TechCrunch claims <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/22/more-americans-are-on-facebook-than-have-a-passport/" target="_hplink">more Americans have a Facebook page than a passport.</a> Perhaps they prefer to view the travel photos of their friends online than to actually see sights for themselves... (Photo CP)

  • Limits To Election Spending

    Canada limits corporate influence on our electoral process via spending limits on political donations and third-party advertising. The 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/21/supreme-court-rolls-back_n_431227.html" target="_hplink">similar campaign finance laws in that country</a> -- on grounds they violate the free-speech right of corporations -- poses a serious threat to democracy and the integrity of future elections in America. (AFP/Getty Images)

  • Hockey In Middle Earth

    The soul of hockey isn't at the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Or the Air Canada Centre (sorry Leafs fans). It's in places like Windy Arm, Yukon where you can skate on ice clearer than your bedroom mirror in a setting that's straight out of Tolkien's Middle Earth.

  • President's Choice

    There are few brands in Canada as reliable as President's Choice. Mr. Christie thinks he makes good cookies but nothing tops<a href="http://reviews.presidentschoice.ca/6584/F14934/reviews.htm" target="_hplink"> the Decadent</a>, the brand's answer to Chips Ahoy. Kraft Dinner, in its familiar blue box, pales in comparison to <a href="http://www.presidentschoice.ca/LCLOnline/products.jsp?type=details&sortOrder=byRate&productId=4745" target="_hplink">PC's White Cheddar Mac & Cheese</a>. It also doesn't hurt that nerdily-handsome Galen Weston (hearthrob of Canadian suburban housewives everywhere) is the pitchman for this iconic line of Canadian products. Why yes, Mr. Weston, I'd like some more <a href="http://reviews.presidentschoice.ca/6584/Fprod1410011/reviews.htm" target="_hplink">Memories of Morocco Sweet And Spicy Sauce</a>...

  • Better Cities

    Ours might be smaller and fewer in number but Canadian cities consistently rank above American cities on livability.<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/30/mercer-quality-of-living-cities-canada_n_1120615.html" target="_hplink"> In the most recent Mercer survey of livable cities</a>, Canadian cities took 4th, 14th, and 15th place, while the highest-ranked American city was 33rd. (Photo Getty Images)

  • Best Place To Do Business?

    According to Forbes, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/10/04/forbes-canada-best-country-business_n_994554.html" target="_hplink">Canada is the best country in the world to do business</a> and it's not because of the climate. Chalk it up to a lower corporate tax rate, excellent infrastructure and a well-educated populace. The U.S. and Europe's recent economic woes don't help them either. (Photo CP)

  • Social Mobility

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/27/canada-income-inequality-by-numbers_n_1545900.html" target="_hplink">Canada has greater social mobility.</a> If you are born into the poorest 10 per cent, your odds of making it to the richest 10 per cent are considerably better in Canada than in the U.S. In other words, it's easier to realize the American Dream in Canada than it is in the U.S. (Shutterstock)

  • Hey Girl...

    (Photo Getty Images)

  • Canadian Anthem

    When it comes to national anthems, we've always had a bit of an inferiority complex (the maple leaf is not a banner spangled in stars). But according to new research, our simple and quaint pro-Canuck ballad "O, Canada" is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/16/best-national-anthem_n_1282311.html" target="_hplink">among the world's finest.</a> We even trump the Americans and Brits. So what if you can't remember all the words? This is an anthem worth singing. (Photo Getty Images)

  • Maternity Leave

    Having a baby is hard work. And many women around the world aren't given the amount of time off they deserve post-delivery. But here in Canada, the true north strong and free, a lady can take up to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/22/maternity-leaves-around-the-world_n_1536120.html" target="_hplink">a full year of paid maternity leave </a>(17 weeks at 55 per cent of their salary and an additional 35 weeks after that). This contrasts vastly with The United States, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia and Lesotho who provide no type of financial support for new mothers. (Alamy)

  • Our Milk!

    It completes your morning bowl of cereal, can quench thirst and is the perfect companion to chocolate chip cookies. Milk, dear readers, is an all around amazing drink. And grabbing a glass of the white stuff in Canada is unlike anything you'll be able to experience in many other countries. That's because there's <a href="http://www.dairygoodness.ca/good-health/dairy-facts-fallacies/hormones-for-cows-not-in-canada" target="_hplink">a complete lack of unnatural hormones in our dairy products</a> (so concerns about negative side effects simply doesn't exist), and we <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/article/760654--so-we-drink-milk-from-bags-does-that-make-us-weird" target="_hplink">serve the beverage in a plastic bag</a>, which, frankly, is far more convenient and environmentally friendly than cardboard containers (the baggies can be reused as makeshift lunch bags!). (Photos Shutterstock)

  • Our Air!

    Take a deep breath in... and slowly exhale it out. Do you smell that? You may not, but that's the <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/interactives/air-quality/" target="_hplink">scent of clean air flowing through your lungs</a>. According to new research, Canada rates tops in air quality (meaning you can say "ta ta" to stinky smog and gross pollution. [Ed. Note unless you live in smog-heavy Toronto]). In fact, while the U.S. averages 18 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre of air, Canada averages only 13 micrograms. That also decreases our risk of developing bad air-induced health conditions like allergies. Now once again and all together now: inhale... (Photo Alamy)

  • Gay Marriage Rights

    This "fake" Heritage Minute says it all: on July 20, 2005, Canada's government passed the Civil Marriage Act giving same-sex couples the same rights and privileges as heterosexual pairings. The LGBT community can not only marry, they can also adopt children. We also host one of the largest Gay Pride festivals in the world in Toronto every June/July.

  • Poutine

    French fries. Cheese curds. Gravy. All mixed together in one bowl. There's really nothing more to say than <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jacqueline-vong/poutine-guilty-pleasure-food_b_1366823.html" target="_hplink">this dish is gluttonously awesome</a>. And we're proud to say it's 100 per cent Canadian. (Photo CP)

  • We Can Go To Cuba

    A decades-long U.S. trade embargo on evil 'Communist' Cuba means that that island's beaches and resorts have long been free of American tourists. Canadians, needing an escape from long winters have been <a href="http://www.gocuba.ca/client/home/index.php" target="_hplink">flocking to the island for decades now</a>. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Canada has also been a crucial trading partner of the island country. (Photo Getty Images)

  • Joe Fresh

    Many people think Canada is a country of citizens who don plaid, beaver tails and fur all year round. (We also, obviously, live in igloos.) So thank goodness for Joseph Mimran, the fashion powerhouse who is behind one of Canada's biggest and most popular clothing exports: <a href="http://www.joefresh.com/" target="_hplink">Joe Fresh</a>. His bright, colourful and decidedly on-trend collections are showing the world what Canada has to offer sartorially (which is not limited to some hipsterish version of a lumberjack). (Getty Images)

  • Canadian Music

    Once a 44.5 kg weakling, The Great White North punches way above its weight class in the music world. A few decades ago, only a rare few Canadian musicians managed to establish international careers. But the rise of government funding for music and CanCon radio regulations supporting domestic tunes developed our homegrown scene until it was strong enough to lead a post-millennial Canadian Invasion. Nowadays we claim the world's biggest artists in almost any imaginable genre - Arcade Fire, Justin Bieber, Feist, Drake, Michael Buble, Deadmau5, Metric, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Nickelback, Diana Krall, etc. Don't tell the Republicans, but we can thank "socialism" for all that money, money, money these musicians are making. (Photos By Getty Images)

  • Your Turn!

    Tell us why you think Canada is great. Is it a photo of your favourite camping spot, a Canadian you really admire, our weird obsession with hockey and cold weather? We're looking for your responses on Twitter with the <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/search/%23LoveCanada" target="_hplink">#LoveCanada</a> tag, Facebook, in the comments and <a href="mailto:canada@huffingtonpost.com?subject=Love Canada" target="_hplink">via e-mail</a>. We'll be collecting the best responses and featuring them on our site in the coming weeks. (Photo Getty Images)