Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Founding debates

This being Canada Day and all I thought it would be appropriate to mention that I am currently reading Canada's Founding Debates, a book edited by my friend William Gairdner.

This book provides a fascinating glimpse at some of the debates over the pros and cons of Confederation which took place in the parliaments and assemblies of British North America from 1864 to 1873.

It's a wonderful intellectual history of the ideas which were to shape Canada in its early days.

What struck me immediately was how our elected representatives at that time employed sophisticated rhetoric and reasoning to support their cases. It's a sad contrast to the juvenile sound bites and taunts which pass for "debate" these days in our legislatures.

And leftists might be surprised to learn that nobody in the founding debates mentioned anything about socialized medicine, peace keeping or the CBC.

Rather the legislators talked about concepts such as "liberty". Liberty, now there's a word you don't hear much mentioned in the House of Commons anymore.

Here's what Richard Cartwright, a legislator from what was later called Ontario, declared in 1865:

"I think that every true reformer, every real friend of liberty, will agree with me in saying that if we must erect safeguards, they should be rather for the security of the individual than of the mass, and that our chiefest care must be to train the majority to respect the rights of the minority, to prevent claims of the few from being trampled under foot by the caprice or passion of the many. For myself, sir, I own frankly I prefer British liberty to American equality."

Bet this isn't reproduced in many Canadian history textbooks.


Brian Gardiner said...

"Liberty, now there's a word you don't hear much mentioned in the House of Commons anymore."

Do you know, I thought the same thing today and was pondering a future post on the subject.

I'm reading Milton Freidman's "Capitalism & Freedom" and was struck by how often he quotes some politician who references liberty the same way todays politicians reference fairness.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure nobody in the founding debates mentionned the value of hate and fear to our politics either.

Chris Reid said...

Wow, I am so ordering that book!