Constitutional Change Without Constitutional Amendment - A Review of Constitutional Pariah: Reference Re Senate Reform and The Future of Parliament, Emmett Macfarlane (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2021)


  • Richard Albert


If there is a better book on the challenges of constitutional change in Canada, I have yet to see it. Emmett Macfarlane’s masterwork on the constitutional politics of Senate renewal — Constitutional Pariah: Reference re Senate Reform and the Future of Parliament — exposes the great paradox of constitutional reform in Canada: the Canadian Constitution is today virtually unamendable, but it evolves constantly in both its form and content.1 Here is the puzzle: how can our constitution be simultaneously frozen and ever-changing? This outstanding book illustrates the complex and fascinating dynamics behind an essential feature of Canadian constitutionalism: the political reality of constitutional change without constitutional amendment.


In this review essay prepared at the invitation of the Alberta Law Review, I identify several of Macfarlane’s major contributions in this book and then situate the importance of his study to our understanding of the Canadian Constitution and the theory of constitutional amendment. What results, I hope, is not only a strong endorsement of this excellent book but moreover an invitation to law and political science scholars in Canada to join the theoretically rich discussion of real-time practical relevance that Macfarlane has initiated to the enormous benefit of the field of public law.






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