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Getting it Wrong - How Canadians forgot their past and imperiled Confederation Print E-mail

ABOUT this Book

This 1999 tour de force demolishes the centralist contradictions Canadians have been baffled by since the 1930s.

Chapter by chapter Romney exposes in great detail the biases which blinded Donald Creighton, George Grant and a legion of lesser centralists to the real history and purpose of Confederation.

He demonstrates that it was not to unite Ontario and Quebec, along with a few addendum colonies on the east coast and some buffalo-hunting tribes out west. Since 1840 Ontario and Quebec had already been united under a single government -- and the union had failed miserably. The purpose of Confederation was to separate Ontario and Quebec through a confederal “compact,” assigning only (or mainly) matters of common agreement and international concern to a new national government that could also serve the interests of other and future provinces.

His book is far more sweeping but (inevitably) less narrative than Christopher Moore’s. It begins with the influx of loyalists into Canada in the 1790s, the rise and eventual triumph of the Ontario Reformers, the failure of unitary government in Ontario and Quebec from 1840 to 1867, and Oliver Mowat’s brilliant and resolute defence of provincial sovereignty against John A. Macdonald and the Supreme Court of Canada after 1867. He then documents the collapse of Compact Federalism under the sudden socialist-centralist assault that began in the 1930s. He carries it through to Trudeau’s final rupturing of the Compact in 1982 by patriation of the Constitution without Quebec’s consent.

Romney was educated in Canada, later taught Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and is now a freelance writer in Baltimore.

He is in some ways an odd mix. Beyond issues of language and culture, he shows little interest in federalism -- certainly none in fiscal issues, except insofar as they affect Quebec. Apart from the issue of French language rights in Manitoba he is uninterested in the West, and little more in the Atlantic. And outside this book, he has cheerfully declared himself to be somewhat on the Left as regards economic entitlements, the role of governments, etc.

This makes all the more remarkable and impressive the original research, thoroughness and scholarly courage with which he demolishes the conventional wisdom that Canada was supposed to be a strong central union and that Trudeau was a great national visionary.

It is a must-read for those who want to understand how Canada went from federalism to centralism without passing through the Constitution.
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