Does the World Need More Canada? The Politics of the Canadian Model in Constitutional Politics and Political Theory

49 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2007

See all articles by Sujit Choudhry

Sujit Choudhry

Center for Global Constitutionalism, WZB Berlin Social Science Center

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In the past two decades, numerous political theorists have taken up the question of how constitutional design should respond to the fact of minority nationalism. Just as important as that question is the way in which these theorists have responded to it. Some, rather than deriving constitutional strategies and models from abstract principles of political morality, have turned to real-life models to buttress their proposed solutions. It is precisely in this context that Canada has attained considerable prominence.

The prominence of Canada is twofold. On the one hand, Canadian political theorists - Joseph Carens, Will Kymlicka, Margaret Moore, Wayne Norman, Allen Patten, Charles Taylor, James Tully, Daniel Weinstock, and others - have set the agenda for normative reflection on the various problems generated by minority nationalism. Yet the importance of Canada is more than just a by-product of national academic excellence. The real story is the considerable attention devoted to Canada itself. Not only are Canadians at the forefront of normative reflection on the problems of minority nationalism but, in the work of these scholars, the Canadian case plays a pivotal role. And critics of constitutional strategies to accommodate the demands of minority nationalism have attacked Canada itself. For example, although Brian Barry's critique of multiculturalism, in Culture and Equality, draws on examples from a wide range of jurisdictions and on the work of political theorists of many nationalities, only Canadians and Canada are singled out for opprobrium.

The purpose of this article is to complicate and contextualize the discussion of the Canadian model in political theory. For, contemporaneously with the rise of the Canadian model, Canada went through a period of profound constitutional introspection. Since the 1960s, the country has struggled with the constitutional accommodation of Quebec nationalism. During the early 1990s, these debates reached a crisis point that nearly occasioned the breakup of the country. Because the Canadian example draws on Canada's own national experience, I want to revisit this model, viewing it against the backdrop of the constitutional politics of the last few decades. Not only did the emergence of the Canadian model coincide with Canada's worst constitutional crisis but, as it turned out, promoting Canada's success abroad also was an important intervention in domestic constitutional politics, in an attempt to shore up support for the Canadian model at home. The question is whether this model has worked as well as has been claimed. I will argue that Canada provides a cautionary tale on the limits of constitutional design and its ability to cope with the threat of extralegal secession by minority nations.

Keywords: constitutional law, comparative law, comparative constitutional law

Suggested Citation

Choudhry, Sujit, Does the World Need More Canada? The Politics of the Canadian Model in Constitutional Politics and Political Theory. International Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 5, 2007, U Toronto Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1005666, Available at SSRN:

Sujit Choudhry (Contact Author)

Center for Global Constitutionalism, WZB Berlin Social Science Center ( email )

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D-10785 Berlin, 10785

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