Canada by Picasso: The Faces of Federalism.


156 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 978-0-88763-742-1
DDC 320.971'09051




Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a history professor at Laurentian University and
author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable Kingdom.


The authors encourage pessimism. Gibbins is president of the Canada West Foundation. McGill’s Antonia Maioni has a strong understanding of Quebec. Janice Gross Stein from the University of Toronto usually comments on Middle Eastern affairs. Allan Gregg, who wrote the Introduction, is a pollster who used to work for Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives.


Gregg argues that the vision of the Fathers of Confederation—a strong central government with weak provinces—is no longer viable. Alberta has no debt and arguably does not need the rest of Canada; whatever Ontario produces is non-competitive with what someone else can do. Few Canadians defend federal authority, and respect for political parties is declining. Since 2001, provinces other than Manitoba have traded more with the United States than with each other.


Stein’s thesis is that “the Canadian federation is out of whack, seriously misaligned,” in part because of federal-provincial disputes, in part because municipalities have no guaranteed role in an increasingly urbanized country. Canada outsources jobs to India and China; Japan and Western Europe have faster rates of growth, and Americans invest more in post-secondary education than do Canadians. To judge rhetoric during recent election campaigns, Canadians do not seem to care.


Gibbins would emasculate the federal government. After all, Trudeau created the National Energy Programme, which deprived Albertans of their wealth. Successor governments were ineffective in disputes with the United States over softwood lumber and mad cow disease. Even a federal cabinet minister, Pat Carney, promoted the U.S.–Canada Free Trade Agreement with the argument that the U.S. government would protect Western Canadians from Ottawa. In the past, the federal government improved the national infrastructure by such measures as the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trans-Canada Pipeline, but now there is not even a Trans-Canada Highway worthy of the name.


Maioni summarizes recent Quebec politics, federal and provincial. Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, she says, have been succeeding in large measure because they supported a transfer of federal authority to Quebec.


In brief, say the authors, Canada is as confusing as a picture by Picasso.


Gibbins, Roger, et al., “Canada by Picasso: The Faces of Federalism.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024,