A Short History of the State in Canada (Themes in Canadian History)
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A concise, elegant survey of a complex aspect of Canadian history, A Short History of the State in Canada examines the theory and reality of governance within Canada’s distinctive political heritage: a combination of Indigenous, French, and British traditions, American statism and anti-statism, and diverse, practical experiments and experiences.
E.A. Heaman takes the reader through the development of the state in both principle and practice, examining Indigenous forms of government before European contact; the interplay of French and British colonial institutions before and after the Conquest of New France; the creation of the nineteenth-century liberal state; and, finally, the rise and reconstitution of the modern social welfare state. Moving beyond the history of institutions to include the development of political cultures and social politics, A Short History of the State in Canada is a valuable introduction to the topic for political scientists, historians, and anyone interested in Canada’s past and present.
The more governments taxed and regulated populations, the more they had to ponder poverty as a problem of national as well as domestic economy. Social welfare expanded primarily as part of a spending spree by provincial governments flush with royalties on resources and corporate taxes in the 1910s and 1920s. Some passed minimum-wage laws, but no legislature directed public money towards male breadwinners. Provincial and federal governments alike refused to extend base welfare or unemployment payments to able-bodied men for fear of destroying market incentives.
What Confederation did do was strengthen the federal government’s ability to promote local prosperity: it could borrow more money, under British imperial guarantee, and it could focus on economic development with infrastructural spending and, from 1879, a protective tariff that stoked big business in central Canada. Critics at the time and historians in retrospect agree that the federal state fulsomely pursued the interests of the business elite. Turn-of-the-century journalist Gustavus Myers remarked, “Politics was, in fact, a business; the Canadian Parliament was crowded with men who were there to initiate, extend, or conserve class or personal interests.
Some local monies were raised by the lease or sale of land or the trade in furs; by customs, excise, and some specialized levies; as well as by fees for such services as justice, but much of the cost of government in Canada during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was borne directly by the governments of France and Britain. Their Canadian settlements remained too sparse and too poor to sustain their own government. Population growth in the Canadian settlements did not match the growth of state apparatus.
Governors reflected imperial interests but they had to rule through local elites, whom they appointed to legislative and executive councils (i. e. , upper houses and ministries). The local elites, often self-made land speculators or lawyers who used 90 A Short History of the State in Canada their powers to enrich themselves and abuse their critics, were impervious to either imperial or local checks. Overlap between different branches of government (judges executed laws as well as enforcing them) meant that there was little local recourse against abusive laws or abusive application of the laws.
In a dispute that occurred in Rivièredu-Sud, near Quebec City, during the 1730s and 1740s, a seigneur let his mills decline, the better to pry them from his co-heirs. When his censitaires resorted to other mills, he sued them. The case went all the way to the minister of the marine in France, the Comte de Maurepas, who ruled against the “unruly” censitaires. Officials found it more useful to punish insolence and confirm seigneurial exactions The Ancien-Régime State 55 than to discipline a neglectful seigneur.