Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Dominion of Bowden

My friend James Bowden has recently posted an article published in the Dorchester Review in which he seeks to rehabilitate "Dominion of Canada" and "Dominion Day" from the crafty Pearsonian plotters who schemed to undermine that usage.

Yesterday it was Fathers of Confederation, today Dominion Day -- this seems to be becoming a blog of 19th century political terminology.  Bear with me.

Bowden acknowledges, a little grudgingly, that the name given Canada in the BNA Act, 1867 was simply "Canada"  (one dominion under the name of "Canada") but he argues that 1867 created "a new type of polity": a federation governed as a constitutional monarchy with parliamentary responsible government. Since that continues, he argues, we ought to preserve the term "Dominion" to describe it.

To establish such continuity, Bowden has to imply that the changes wrought by, for instance, the Statute of Westminster 1931, made no significant change to the nature of that polity and had no impact on the meaning and usage of "dominion." And much of the article is really aimed at the alleged perfidy of the Liberal "neo-nationalists" who undermined the term and finally replaced "Dominion Day" with "Canada Day" in a 1982 parliamentary proceeding he deems unconstitutional because its quorum was doubtful.

The problem with "Dominion," however, surely runs deeper. Bowden is right to argue that the confederation makers of 1867 believed they were creating something new in the world, and they may well have hoped "dominion" would come to represent that.  In Britain, and among imperial loyalists, however, "dominion" continued to be deployed vigorously in an older sense:  as "our dominions beyond the sea," as a label of colonial subservience applicable equally to Canada and to the merest Atlantic rock or Pacific atoll where the Union Jack still waved. Surely it was that ambiguity and the failure of the nationalist "dominion = something new" to compete with "dominion = continued subservience" that doomed "Dominion" in Canada, particularly after 1931.

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