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Mr. Diefenbaker, parliamentary democracy, and the Canadian Bill of Rights



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The Canadian Bill of Rights was enacted in 1960 as an Act of Parliament of Canada. Many argued then, and since, that it ought to have been legally binding, or entrenched beyond the reach of both Parliament and the provincial legislatures. The Diefenbaker government responded with the argument that in order to entrench the Bill by way of constitutional amendment, the consent of all provincial governments was surely necessary, and, in all probablility, not possible to secure. At best, it meant years of delay. This explanation has, in fact, become conventional wisdom, virtually unchallenged. On closer examination, however, there is ample evidence to argue that provincial consultation, and, by extension, a discussion on entrenchment, was deliberately avoided by the Diefenbaker administration. To put it another way, the form that the Bill eventually took was the result of careful considerations and coherent, though not always clearly known, intentions. Through an examination of the manner in which Mr. Diefenbaker, the principal champion of civil liberties, conceived of a bill of rights, it is proposed in this study that a greater understanding of the form his Bill assumed will result. One constant strain in Mr. Diefenbaker's political thought was the belief that Parliament was supreme, and, more importantly, that it was the "custodian of the nation's freedom." This study, then, is premised on the ground that an entrenched bill of rights, one which of necessity would have denied Parliament its supremacy, was unequivocally inconsistent with Diefenbaker's understanding of, and reverence for, parliamentary democracy. The bulk of this thesis is based on research of the John G. Diefenbaker Papers, opened to the public in 1991. In addition to this, use has been made of recently released government documents, Cabinet minutes and conclusions, corresponding to the period in question.





Master of Arts (M.A.)


Political Studies


Political Studies



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