Several years after you read Peter Russell’s excellent book on the evolution of the Canadian constitution (now in its 3rd edition), you will be forgiven for forgetting the details of the many twists and turns of Canada’s constitutional odyssey. You will likely remember, however, Russell’s anecdote in the preface in which he describes the motivation for the book. It seems that Walter Berns had turned to Russell in a seminar they co-taught to declare, “Peter, you Canadians have not constituted yourself as a people.” Ouch.
It is interesting, then, to cast our eyes now and then to the seemingly endless debate about Canadian sovereignty. There is a lot of good public opinion research on the subject, most of it suggesting increasing support for a proper republic over a monarchy, and perhaps the chance that Canadians will “constitute themselves as a people.”
Recently, I ran across an even more interesting survey item. The survey asked respondents simply to identify the head of state of Canada (not the person, the office). Easy, right? Well, apparently Canadians not only do not agree on who should be head of state, they don’t even agree about who — formally speaking — IS the head of state. Is it the Queen (25% say so)? The governor general (32%)? The prime minister (43%)? Really, the prime minister?
I take this as more evidence that Canada is the place to study constitutional design, which might explain why some of the best constitutional scholars hail from or reside there.