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Reviewed by:
  • Forging Alberta's Constitutional Framework
  • Jonathan Swainger
Richard Connors and John M. Law, editors. Forging Alberta's Constitutional Framework. University of Alberta Press 2005. xxxvi, 538. $65.00

Marking Alberta's centenary in 2005, Forging Alberta's Constitutional Framework set itself the challenging task of reviewing the province's [End Page 339] constitutional and legal history through the law, legal institutions, legal processes, and ideology that have shaped the province. The result is a collection of sixteen essays boasting a number of prominent scholars of Canadian history, law, and political science, whose contributions range from the colonial roots of law in Alberta to education rights, language rights, the Social Credit legacy, to post–Second World War constitutional tensions and battles. Occasionally celebratory but more often interpretative and insightful, the collected essays are not centred solely on detailing these events in of themselves, but also consider how these constitutional questions shaped the province and the nation. The task of bringing these essays together fell to the editors Richard Connors and John Law, both of whom deserve credit for the considerable labour such an undertaking involves.

At its best the collection offers solid contributions by Catherine Cavanaugh on the legacy of the 'Persons' case, Thomas Flanagan and Mark Milke's examination of the National Resources Transfer Act, Dale Gibson's treatment of the Social Credit constitutional references, Robert Irwin's discussion of Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights, Rod Macleod and Nancy Parker's examination of justices of the peace, Preston Manning's narrative survey of federal–provincial relations, Doug Owram's examination of the National Energy Policy, Michael Behiel's discussion of Peter Lougheed, Lois Harder's treatment of women's political identity in post-1970 Alberta, and Allan Tupper's look forward at Alberta's role in the broader Canadian setting. Almost all of these essays are the work of practising scholars and reflect both sustained research and thoughtful analysis. The volume points to what the editors have identified as a key aspect of Alberta's constitutional history: 'the search in law for acknowledgement, recognition and entitlement.' Indeed, they argue that this search placed Alberta as second only to Quebec in shaping Canada's modern constitutional development.

Although broadly successful, the collection does have a few difficulties. The opening two essays, one by Richard Connors on law and the colonial context and Desmond Brown's contribution on criminal law in the Canadian northwest strain at the boundaries of a volume dedicated to Alberta's constitutional history. Although both pieces claim a contextual relationship to the province, the connection is not immediate. Elsewhere, Edmund Aunger's discussion of the plight of bilingualism emphasizes legislation as opposed to battles on the ground over the predominance of English in the province. Kenneth Munro's celebratory treatment of the lieutenant-governor's office does not move beyond secondary literature and newspaper accounts, and Fred Martin's treatment of Metis history also suffers from a reliance on legislation and official documents in presenting a narrative approach covering over a century of history. This is not to suggest the later [End Page 340] chapters have nothing to offer but, rather, their methodology and interpretative approach stands in contrast to the more firmly grounded essays characterizing the rest of the volume.

In truth, the difficulties one might discern in Forging Alberta's Constitutional Framework are likely to be found in almost any essay collection in which editors are compelled to make difficult choices. The flaws ought not to detract from what is offered, for at its heart, this volume provides a historically informed exploration of Alberta's constitutional history, rooted in the notion that the province, its peoples, and the manner in which they viewed the law and the constitution were products of a historical process of moving through time together as Albertans. These notions and perspectives were not happenstance, and recognizing this historical dynamic and the manner in which it necessarily informs the way that Albertans will continue to view these issue is a critically important insight that raises our understanding of a province that has occupied such a prominent role in the nation's affairs.

Jonathan Swainger
Department of History, University of Northern British...


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