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Reconciling Shared Rule: Liberal Theory, Electoral-Districting Law and “National Group” Representation in Canada

  • Aaron John Spitzer (a1)

Canada, like all representative democracies, apportions representation to individuals; also, like all federal states, it accords polity-based representation to federal subunits. But Canada is additionally a consociational state, comprising three constitutionally recognized “national groups”: anglophones, francophones and Indigenous peoples. These groups share power and bear rights beyond the bounds of the federal system. In recent decades, Indigenous peoples and francophones have appealed for representation as “national groups,” leading to constitutional challenges. Courts have either failed to address the constitutionality of “national group” representation or have rejected it as irreconcilable with individual voting rights. I suggest the former is unnecessary and the latter procedurally illogical. Drawing on the liberal principles of individualism, egalitarianism and universalism, I develop a framework contextualizing such representation within liberal theory. I then deploy this framework to analyze recent Canadian case law. I show that appeals for “national group” representation should be approached not through the lens of individual rights, but rather through the “constitutionally prior” lens of universalism.

Le Canada, à l’instar de toutes les démocraties représentatives, répartit la représentation entre les individus; de plus, comme tous les États fédéraux, il accorde aux sous-unités fédérales une représentation fondée sur la politie. Mais le Canada est aussi un État consociationnel, composé de trois " groupes nationaux " reconnus par la Constitution : les anglophones, les francophones et les peuples autochtones. Ces groupes partagent le pouvoir et ont des droits dépassant les limites du système fédéral. Au cours des dernières décennies, les peuples autochtones et les francophones ont réclamé une représentation en tant que « groupe national », ce qui a donné lieu à des contestations constitutionnelles. Les tribunaux n'ont pas abordé la constitutionnalité de la représentation des « groupes nationaux » ou l'ont rejetée comme étant inconciliable avec le droit de vote individuel. J'estime que la première position est superflue et que la seconde est illogique du point de vue des règles procédurales. En m'appuyant sur les principes libéraux de l'individualisme, de l'égalitarisme et de l'universalisme, j'élabore un cadre contextualisant une telle représentation au sein de la théorie libérale. Je déploie ensuite ce cadre pour analyser la jurisprudence canadienne récente. Je montre que les appels en faveur d'une représentation du « groupe national » ne devraient pas être abordés sous l'angle des droits individuels, mais plutôt sous celui de l'universalisme « constitutionnellement antérieur ».

Corresponding author
Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, Box 7800, Bergen 5020, Norway, email:
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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
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  • EISSN: 1744-9324
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