Economic Resurgence and the Constitutional Agenda: The Case of the East Coast Fisheries


160 pages
Contains Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88911-417-X
DDC 338




Reviewed by Terry A. Crowley

Terry A. Crowley is a professor of history at the University of Guelph,
and the author of Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality.


The “great cod wars” are a common feature of Canadian history because the economic stakes in the country’s fisheries industry are so high. The federal government’s extension of Canada’s territorial waters to the 200-mile limit in 1977 was a decision profound in its repercussions both nationally and intemationally.

This study analyses the fishing industry at this time within a national perspective. In order to give full play to the multiplicity of actors involved, the authors have posed their study within the context of what they term the “policy community.” Their primary purpose is to reveal how disputes over the fisheries erupted into a constitutional debate over fisheries jurisdiction.

Economically the 1970s will be remembered in Canada primarily for the “energy crisis” resulting from OPEC price setting and the interminable wrangling over resources between federal and provincial governments that resulted. Western separatism emerged temporarily as a threat to Canadian unity, but paled in comparison to the real danger to Canadian federalism presented by the election of the Parti Québécois in 1976 and the referendum of Quebec independence four years later.

For a brief moment at the end of the decade, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia mounted their own challenge to federal government constitutional pararnountcy in the fisheries. Out of frustration from failure to agree on policy in an era that demanded dramatic changes, they argued for concurrency in fisheries jurisdiction.

That challenge failed, as have similar Maritime rights movements in the past, notably in the l880s and 1920s. Federal Minister of Fisheries Romeo LeBlanc emerged as the hero who successfully defended federal powers against provincial incursions. The constitutional debate on this issue was shortlived due to the nature of the fisheries resource and the failure of the Atlantic provinces to stand together.

This book provides a useful introduction to the economic and political problems surrounding Canada’s east-coast fisheries. It can be profitably combined with Wallace Clement’s more comprehensive The Struggle to Organize, Resistance in Canada’s Fishery (McClelland and Stewart, 1986).


Pross, A. Paul, and Susan McCorquodale, “Economic Resurgence and the Constitutional Agenda: The Case of the East Coast Fisheries,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 5, 2023,