The relationship of Canada’s provinces to each other and to the federal government is both extremely unique in world history and peculiarly British. The only way to properly understand the Canadian political structure and its role in world history is to take the advice of that great poet and historian Frederich Schiller who in 1789 identified the key motive of all political behaviour as a struggle between the oligarchical-imperial and humanist-republican systems (see appendix below). In modern history, these two systems have presented themselves in the opposing tendencies of the British Empire on the one side and the United States of America on the other.
Canada’s strategic proximity to the British Empire’s greatest enemy has resulted in two mutually contradictory, yet coexisting tendencies within Canada’s national identity and political institutions. One tendency strives towards defining sovereignty and national identity around the right to constantly develop its territories and culture inspired by the Platonic-humanist knowledge of the potential in unbounded scientific and technological progress.
The other tendency strives to keep the perception of sovereignty chained to the belief in preserving nature’s apparent pristine equilibrium. The adoption of this second view has been married to the irrational fear of every impulse which threatens to imbalance such equilibrium as these types of impulses are most often embodied in America’s best anti-imperial history from Alexander Hamilton to Abraham Lincoln, to Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
Unlike the American System, which possesses a solid federal government under a primordial constitutional principle of the general welfare, and has manifested a great power for states to frequently collaborate around large infrastructure programs that cross state boundaries, the Canadian system has never had such power. Instead, the Canadian system features a highly decentralized planning structure with provinces rarely having a capacity to work even amongst themselves, and not even enjoying the benefit of free trade even amongst each other!
Whereas America’s civil service has historically tended to act under a direct influence of elected policy makers on the state and federal level, making accountability more easily traceable to elected public servants, the Canadian civil service is largely an entity unto itself with no accountability. Under this system, secrecy is protected by the British modelled Official Secrets Act (1) and Privy Council Office. The marriage of this unofficial shadow governance structure with the “official” parliamentary government structure modelled on the British Westminster system of party conformism, has resulted in a self-controlling system of great power that requires minimal direct intervention by the true controllers. Lest anyone still have any lingering belief that Canada may be a democracy, note that the Westminster system demands that all elected officials keep their public views within limits acceptable to the party, while the Party Whips are assigned to straighten out those unruly MPs who tend to be independent thinkers.
The Canadian civil service is a massive bureaucratic structure whose high level of compartmentalization ensures that no department (or sub department) ever fully understands what other departments are doing or why. Only a small grouping of high level civil servants, sometimes called ‘éminences grises’ or “mandarins”, who dominate the upper echelons of the bureaucracy in affiliation with the major financial institutions, and Privy Council Office, may conceptualize the whole. This shadow government directs the vast multitude of parts in the bureaucratic machine through instruction from the Club of the Isles, and Foreign Office in London. The unelected bureaucratic machine running the Civil Service has no allegiance to the people of Canada, but rather to the institution of the British Monarchy.
While American banks have historically been composed of thousands of local commercial branches (“too big to fail” being a relatively new invention), the Canadian experience has always suffered from a “too big to fail” structure of Private banking whose influence on the federal level was evidenced by the revolving door policy into and out of the Ottawa bureaucracy.
As historian R.T. Naylor wrote in 1976: “The political power of the larger banks and of the Bankers’ Association can hardly be exaggerated. The bank acts were written largely by the very banks supposedly regulated by them. “ (2)
The setup of a highly centralized unelected civil service, and banking system mixed with a politically and economically fragmented provincial system has resulted in a country whose the top down control has made development goals much easier to inhibit and, when deemed expedient to prevent the implementation of a greater good, advanced.
This rare second circumstance can be seen in the case of the 1870-1885 “National Policy” construction of the Trans-continental railway and anti American protective tariff under Sir John A. Macdonald. The beneficent effect on Canadian development gained by the Trans-continental railway was suffered by the British Empire as a “necessary evil” to prohibit Canada’s adoption of greater continental development and “rapprochement” with the United States under Abraham Lincoln’s collaborators still in influential positions in both countries. It has also been of relevant interest that the subversive British North America Act of 1867 had laid out a system which gave enormous legal power to the provinces to direct their own local affairs outside of the control of the Federal government. This provincial power was codified in section 92 and 109.
In the rarer, but more important cases, Canada’s national planning has often been an effect of provinces taking the lead, often with the help of American private and public initiatives, and forcing the hand of Ottawa to accommodate great joint infrastructure projects.
(1) In Canada, this was renamed the “Security of Information Act” in 1984
(2) History of Canadian Business: 1867-1914, 1976
Frederick Schiller on the appropriate method for judging laws and constitutions
(excerpted from his 1789 Universal History lecture at Jena University; “the Legislation of Lycurgus and Solon” (1)
“The state itself is never the purpose, it is important only as the condition under which the purpose of mankind may be fulfilled, and this purpose of mankind is none other than the development of all the powers of people, i.e., progress. If the constitution of a state hinders the progress of the mind, it is contemptible and harmful, however well thought-out it may otherwise be… In general, we can establish a rule for judging political institutions, that they are only good and laudable, to the extent that they bring all forces inherent in persons to flourish, to the extent that they promote the progress of culture, or at least not hinder it. This rule applies to religious laws as well as to political ones: both are contemptible if they constrain a power of the human mind, if they impose upon the mind any sort of stagnation. A law, for example, by which at a particular time appeared to it most fitting , such a law were an assault against mankind and laudable intents of whatever kind were then incapable of justifying it. It were immediately directed against the highest Good, against the highest purpose of society.”
Matthew Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Patriot Review , and Senior Fellow at the American University in Moscow. He is author of the ‘Untold History of Canada’ book series and Clash of the Two Americas (which you can purchase by clicking those links). In 2019 he co-founded the Montreal-based Rising Tide Foundation .