Quebec HistoryMarianopolis College
 HomeAbout this siteSite SearchMarianopolis College Library

Studies on the Canadian Constitution and Canadian Federalism


Last revised:
19 February 2001

Constitution of Canada

Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Marianopolis College

To the layman, Constitution of Canada, is interchangeable with the Constitution Act, 1867. Nothing could be further from the truth. Canada is a country which is said to have a constitution "similar in principle to that of Great Britain." That is not quite so; we would also have to say that we have a constitution similar to that of the United States. That is what constitutes the originality of the constitution of Canada: it has married the American federal system with British constitutional practices. That part of our constitution that is generally similar to that of the United States is on the whole written. That which is generally similar to that of Great Britain is, on the whole, unwritten, and this part is mainly made-up of Conventions of the constitution. As a result, there is not a single document which can be called the Constitution of Canada. The documents that are contained in the Constitution of Canada are subject to debate. If one adopts a fairly wide interpretation of the term, one would have to include: 1) the Constitution Act (1867) which embodies its federalist principles and all of the amendments to this Act since 1867. There are 20 such amendments. 2) It also includes a number of laws and Orders in Council of Great Britain in relation to Canada (ex. Rupert's Land Act of 1868; Statute of Westminster, 1931). 3) It includes laws of the Parliament of Canada in relation to provincial questions (ex. Manitoba Act, 1870; Alberta and Saskatchewan Acts, 1905 ; the Act of Union of Newfoundland and Canada, 1949) as well as several laws regarding fiscal arrangements between the federal government and the provinces and which had a quasi constitutional status (1942, 1947, 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1972). 4) Laws of the Parliament of Canada in relation to the frontiers of the provinces (5 of them were passed in 1912 extending the frontiers of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec). There is also an unwritten part to the Constitution of Canada. This is usually called Conventions of the Constitution.

© 2001 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College