“For the last few days, I’ve been testifying as an expert witness in a Canadian constitutional court case that has captured the imagination of the country and which has made implications for a number of key economic sectors.
The court case is about the section of the Canadian constitution that declares that there should be free trade among Canada’s ten provinces.
It’s rare for a business historian to be called as an expert witness in a court case. However, since my PhD thesis was on the role of business in the creation of the Canadian constitution, I’m qualified to speak to what the framers of the Canadian constitution intended when they inserted this clause into the 1867 constitution.
My view is that since the creators of the Canadian constitution wanted to create a comprehensive economic union of the provinces, the various laws that restrict “imports” of goods from one province to another should be considered unconstitutional. (The court case centres on the conviction in 2012 of a man who purchased some beer in Quebec, a Canadian province, and then drove this beer into New Brunswick, another Canadian province).
I’ve been astonished by the extent to which the Canadian media is discussing this case. Moreover, the topic has gone viral in ordinary conversations.
As I write this I am sitting in a roadhouse in between the location of the trial, the tiny town of Campbellton, and the international airport.
The other diners, who don’t know that I am involved in the case, are energetically debating the merits of this case. One of the people I just overheard has speculated that if free trade in beer among Canadian provinces is established, the brewing companies will no longer be required to operate small breweries in each province.
This individual is predicting consolidation and rationalization in the industry should my side win in this trial. His friend is talking about the implication for dairy products and the other goods that are currently fettered by internal trade barriers.
As I prepare to fly back to Europe, I reflect that I am honoured that my academic research has been used in this way in a such a court case that has important implications for many companies, and individuals, in a G-20 economy. “
Here are some links to the coverage of the court case in the Canadian press: