Misrecognized Materialists: Social Movements in Canadian Constitutional Politics.


170 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1168-4
DDC 342.7108'7






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.


Even Matt James seems to realize that this book will not be a bestseller. Its first sentence is, “Constitutional politics is a Canadian synonym for futility.” Its conclusion begins, “Canada’s constitutional battles arouse little nostalgia.” Nevertheless, the constitutional battles are a part of Canadian history, and James provides a service in reporting the roles of women, Afro-Canadians, Jewish groups, Communists, and immigrant groups in what has transpired.


The story begins with the Rowell-Sirois Commission. Obviously, the Depression and its hardships revealed that Canada was something short of perfection. The Bennett government had drafted a New Deal, which Canadian courts subsequently ruled unconstitutional, an infringement upon provincial jurisdiction. Rowell and Sirois were supposed to square the circle.


Then follow constitutional debates of World War II and the postwar period, extending into the 1960s. James even tells what communists thought of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, appointed by Lester Pearson’s government (1963–1968). Chapter 5 deals with the Trudeau era, including the patriation of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. James might have said something about the way in which Joe Clark, as Leader of the Opposition, delayed Trudeau’s early constitutional proposals and made him dilute them, but Clark’s name does not even appear in the index. Chapter 6 examines the era of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, which, of course, came to naught.


At the moment, there appears to be so little interest in the Constitution that few will rush to buy a book on constitutional battles of the past. However, Canada being what it is, the issue is bound to come to the surface at some point in the future. When it does, a scholarly assessment of past battles will prove useful, and this book will be a contribution.


James, Matt., “Misrecognized Materialists: Social Movements in Canadian Constitutional Politics.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28274.