Domine dirige nos

The Dominion of  Canada . . . and Ignorance at Canada's National Capital Commission

I recently wrote the National Capital Commission to suggest they improve various aspects of tourist infrastructure signage, web sites, public transit) in Ottawa.  NCC boss Marcel Beaudry responded in true corporate fashion:  he had a couple of his minions take me out to lunch (your tab, gentle reader, my thanks). 

At the lunch, I was given a glossy promotional package about Canada called A Gathering. I was horrified to see that the package contained a serious and embarrassing error.  In a section on the nation's history, one of the sub-titles read: No Longer A Dominion.

Of course Canada is a dominion, as a check with any encyclopedia confirms. To say that Canada is no longer a dominion is as wrong as saying that the United States is no longer a republic or that Sweden is no longer a monarchy.

Dominion is, in fact, the official title of Canada. Section 3 of the Constitution Act of 1867 says that Canada is "One Dominion under the Name of Canada." The name and status are reaffirmed in the Constitution Act of 1982.

The NCC package says (where do they get these ideas?) that being a dominion prevented Canada, before 1931, from "speaking for itself on the world stage." But in 1926, the Imperial Conference described dominions as "autonomous communities . . . in no way subordinate . . . in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs."

Canada remained a dominion after 1931, when "the main characteristics of dominion status were regarded as complete legislative authority as provided in the Statute of Westminster (1931) and direct access to the sovereign" (Encyclopedia Britannica).

In other words, it was Canada's constitutional status, not the fact that it was a dominion, that limited its autonomy before 1931. Its autonomy has increased in many ways since 1867, but Canada remains (pace the NCC) a dominion.

The NCC - - indeed, all Canadians - - should know Canada's official title, and celebrate and promote it. Sir Leonard Tilley, a Father of Confederation, suggested the term because it denoted "strength, pride and tradition," as in "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea" (Psalm 72).

As the Canadian Encyclopedia says, the word dominion was chosen by the Fathers of Confederation because it gave "dignity to the federation." And iof course it still does.

I asked the NCC, given the seriousness of the errors, to withdraw the offending booklet from circulation.

The NCC conceded in a reply to me that the term Dominion remains "legally accurate." The NCC said that subsequent versions of the pamphlet would not repeat the error.

We will see. The NCC seems to be afflicted with amnesia and fear of real history. The NCC does not refer to Ottawa in any of its materials (would the word offend the good people of Magog?) but rather the cumbersome and vague "National Capital Region."

Well, Canada's National Capital Commission can huff and puff such nonsense, but let us all hope that no one lets them blow down our historic house, the Dominion of Canada.

Jamie MacKinnon
Ottawa, 2000