Monday, January 15, 2024

Peter Russell, 1932-2024 RIP, political scientist

I was sorry to read of the recent death of Peter Russell, the University of Toronto sage on many aspects of judicial, constitutional, and political history, though he identified as a political scientist.

Emmett Macfarlane has already published this tribute to him, which is well worth reading.

I knew Peter Russell slightly, and only late in his long career. We got on very well even though I had disagreed with him by name in 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal over his inclination (then) to dismiss confederation as a thing made in London and imposed on helpless colonials. I'm still inclined to think I was right enough, and I found much more to admire and agree with in his more recent constitutional history, Canada's Odyssey -- not only because at one point he was kind enough to set out a viewpoint that "Christopher Moore has so forcefully argued."

One story of his instinctive kindness. On March 29, 2017, some constitutional history nerds around the University of Toronto decided to hold a breakfast to celebrated the 150th anniversary of Queen Victoria's signing into law the British North America Act, 1867. I was invited. Perhaps forty people attended, and we went around the table introducing ourselves. It seemed everyone was a Dean, a Principal, a Senator, an MP, or at least an Emeritus. A certain snowflake lapel pin was much in evidence. 

I was not going to compete in those stakes, so I merely said my name and "I'm a writer about Canadian history." (Which I am, and proud to be!) Peter Russell happened to be seated next to me and, before introducing himself, he said at once, "He's much more than that. He's one of our best constitutional historians." (Update: I'm thinking he did not include the word "constitutional.") Which was a lot more than he needed to do. It probably had some impact on that audience, all of whom would have known him well. You can see I did not forget it.

[Photo from the Emmett Macfarlane Substack.]

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