Highlights of theAboriginal Lecture
The Indian Act was introduced to control Aboriginal people. Status Indians in bands
or First Nations as defined by the federal government under the Act are eligible to
receive some government services for free on the reserves. However, reserve lands are
controlled by the federal government. This reflected the patriarchal relationship
between the federal government andAboriginal peoples.
Most reserves are quite small. In addition, many Aboriginal people are leaving the
reserves to live in urban areas.
For most of Canadian history, Aboriginal people have lived in miserable conditions
under the supervision of the federal government. Official government policy was to
This began to change in the 1960s, when Aboriginal organizations began to form to
fight assimilation, and promote self-government. The decision by the Supreme Court
of Canada in the Calder case, and subsequent court decisions, established that
Aboriginal title to the land was still a valid concept, and predated British-Canadian
law. Where no treaty had been signed, Ottawa was now obliged to negotiate with
Aboriginal peoples. Where treaties giving up land had been signed, Aboriginal people
could argue the treaties had not been signed in good faith.
As a result, Ottawa now negotiates comprehensive land claims and specific treaty
claims. These are a major tool for managing the Canada-Aboriginal cleavage.
Section 35 of Trudeau’s 1982 constitution recognizes Aboriginal rights including
treaty rights. Aboriginal organizations argue that s. 35 should be read to include
Aboriginal self-government. No Canadian government accepts this. As far as Ottawa
is concerned, there are practical obstacles as few of the reserves are large enough or
economically viable to support self-governing communities. Moreover, many
Aboriginal Canadians no longer live on reserves. It is unlikely that the general public
would accept large transfers of public funds to communities which are not
accountable to elected Canadian governments for how the money was spent.
Recent federal governments have pursued policies of incremental reform. This
includes education reform, as education is a key for young people to participate successfully in the modern economy. The government is willing to amend the Indian
Act to permit economic development on the reserves, managed by First Nations.
Some reserves, located in urban areas and/or with significant natural resources, are
becoming economic success stories.
The Harper government, like all previous governments, reserves the right to legislate
for Aboriginal peoples, in the same way it legislates for non-Aboriginal Canadians,
without opening up the constitutional issue. This is unacceptable to Idle No More and
the Assembly of First Nations. They demand a veto right over any legislative changes
affecting them, on the grounds that any changes impinge on their constitutional rights
to self-government on their land, and on their treaty rights, which are subject to
Highlights of the Quebec Lecture
Bilingualism as a policy is very popular among Canadians, and is official state policy.
Yet Canada is not a bilingual society. Francophones outside of Quebec and NB are a
shrinking minority. Few English-Canadians outside of Quebec are actually bilingual.
Historically, there have been two competing visions of the status of French in Canada.
The first is that language rights are individual rights, which Canadians enjoy across
Canada. All of Canada belongs to French-Canadians, and not just the territory of
The second is that language is a collective or social right. A language can only survive
when it is the dominant language in a society. In Canada, French is only secure in
Quebec; Quebec is the only place in North America where the French control the
government. So Quebecers must look to their provincial government to protect their
language, in the territory of Quebec.
In the first vision, language rights are not bounded by provincial borders. In the
second vision, language rights are defined by territorial boundaries. In the second vision, Canadian federalism enables a regional grievance to be organized along
The Quiet Revolution equated French Canada with the borders of Quebec. Trudeau, a
small “l” liberal who believed in individual language rights, opposed this. The
Trudeau project was all about making French-Canadians feel at home across Canada.
The PQ was formed by Quebec nationalists who were convinced that only separatism
could ensure the survival of the French language in Quebec. The PQ’s Bill 101 is very
popular in Quebec. It poses a direct challenge to Trudeau’s vision of individual
language rights. The nationalists recognize that language is a collective social
construction. Yet protecting the language means restrictions on the rights of the
English minority. These restrictions are very unpopular in English Canada. It is
sometimes difficult for English-Canadians in the other provinces, who don’t have to
worry about the survival of their language, to understand the concerns of the
Quebecois, living in French on a North American continent dominated by English.
Trudeau’s response to the close vote in the 1980 referendum was patriation and a
Charter of Rights. But the Charter only offers individual language rights, not the
collective right of the Quebecois to live in French. Trudeau’s constitutional package
reflected his opposition to the view that regional grievances are organized along
Since the Trudeau era, Canadian politicians have tried a number of strategies to
placate Quebec, including new constitutional packages under Mulroney, and a formal
recognition under Chrétien and Harper that Quebec is a nation in Canada. Yet it is
difficult to reconcile the dominant Quebec view that the Quebecois are a nation with
collective rights, with the view in English Canada of provincial and individual
equality. The federalist cause barely won in the 1995 referendum. This is a regional
grievance that can only be managed, not resolved.
Highlights of the Federalism Lecture
The Canadian federation today is a lot more decentralized than the Fathers of Confederation intended. There are many reasons for this. One is that the provinces
deliver the social programs that Canadians today consider an important function of
government, such as health care. Another is that the provinces have access to lucrative
sources of taxation. The JCPC tended to favour the provinces at the expense of the
federal level in its decades as Canada’s highest appeal court.
For the Canadian welfare state (characterized by liberal welfare-state ideology) to
work, the federal and provincial governments must co-operate closely. This necessity
reveals a tension between federalism and responsible government. Federalism blurs
the lines of accountability for government performance.
Shared-cost programs committed Ottawa to covering 50% of the cost of important
social programs, regardless of their cost. These programs reflected the liberal
However, in the 1970s, when the Trudeau government was running substantial deficits,
it introduced the EPF, a new formula for financing health care and post-secondary
education. Under EPF, the federal contribution was no longer automatically 50:50.
This marked the beginning of a period when Ottawa began to withdraw from active
national leadership in the liberal welfare-state.
In the early 1990s, in the midst of a recession which drove up the number of people
on welfare, the Mulroney government capped its contribution to CAP for Ontario,
Alberta and BC. In these provinces, the federal contribution sank below 50%.
The Chrétien government introduced the CHST, another block grant not tied to the
actual escalating costs of social programs. This caused an uproar among the premiers
who complained Ottawa was withdrawing from its commitment to support expensive
welfare-state programs, leaving the provinces to face the wrath of the voters. 75 The
federal government passed the Canada Health Act in 1984, to punish provinces
experimenting with alternate means of financing medicare, such as extra-billing.
These controversies illustrate the tension between federalism and responsible
government. The provinces are held accountable by the voters for programs they do
completely control. Predictably, this dynamic drives the premiers to demand more