Don’t cry for me, Argentina… A Tale of Two Countries

Peron_y_Eva_-_Acto_en_Plaza_de_Mayo_-17OCT1951[1]

Eva Peron – October 17, 1951 – Wikipedia

My wife and I have just returned from a trip to Argentina. It was a way for us to celebrate a milestone anniversary and we thought that we would choose somewhere in the world that would be different from the normal choices. Argentina sounded exotic and distant and so we booked our trip, not really knowing what to expect. Well, it has been an experience.

What has struck me is how many similarities there are between Canada and Argentina and yet, how many profound differences there are. Canada has about 35 million people. Argentina has about 40 million. Canada is a vast country – 4500 km wide. Argentina is the 6th largest country in the world, about 5000 km long. Canada has a northern identity (read Arctic). Argentina shoulders the Antarctic. Canada is blessed with natural resources. So is Argentina. Both are New World countries. Both were the subject of heavy European immigration. Both have strong indigenous populations. Both are federations. Argentina’s written constitution dates from 1853. Canada’s from 1867. With all these shared attributes, one might think that Argentina and Canada might be enjoying a similar fate in the world. But they clearly are not.

Argentina’s politics and economy stand in marked contrast to those of Canada. Canada has had unbroken history of democratically elected governments from its inceptions. Argentina has only had short periods of democratic rule and transition from one democratically elected government to another have only recently been consistently occurring. Its economic situation is precarious, its currency is freefalling and black market exchanges (called the “Blue Market”) abound. While we may complain about a Canadian dollar that drops 10 or 15%. we are not exchanging our loonies for American greenbacks on the streets.  Why the difference?

I thought that maybe the reason for the difference might be found in examining the differences between our governmental institutions. I postulated that a comparative constitutional analysis might provide a clue. I was wrong.   I have come to learn that the Argentina constitution was modeled after the American constitution. Like the American constitution, it provides for representative government, for a Bill of Rights, and strict separation of powers (divided between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches).

My Spanish is too weak to be able to undertake a more detailed analysis. But  what I think may be an important factor may lie in the different relationship that Canadians have towards constitutional principles (as distinct from constitutional provisions).  For example, the notion of “rule of law” which is central to the successful operation of the Canadian federation is an unwritten constitutional principle that the vast majority of Canadians embrace and have respected since the beginning of our confederation.  Canadians have been engaged in some form of representative government since long before the formal creation of the Canadian state: and curiously, most of the rules and principles which have regulated that lengthy history of democratic governance has been and remains unwritten.  While I do not want to be understood as suggesting that Argentina is a lawless society, it has not enjoyed that same stable commitment to a regularly constituted democracy that Canada has. That commitment has to be lived and bred into the very fabric of a society and we have been lucky, here in this country, to have had those constitutional principles imbedded deep in our national consciousness.

That being said, I become concerned when I see low voter turnout, lack of respect for politicians by large parts of our society and, frankly, a diminished respect by political leaders for our democratic institutions.  We take much for granted in this Canada of ours. My brief stint in Argentina and my quick probe into that country’s constitutional structures tell me that we should be more vigilant in protecting and standing up for the constitutional values that have for so long underpinned our federation.

As always, I remain

Yours constitutionally

Arthur Grant

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One thought on “Don’t cry for me, Argentina… A Tale of Two Countries

  1. For someone who has grown up in Canada and whose experience with constitutionalism is based in Canada, Argentina has fascinated me as being both distant and dissimilar. I believe what you describe as the Argentine fabric, the 1853 Constitution, etc., is so much at odds with ours because of the origins. The country rebelled against its Spanish colonial masters, yet it inherited a society based on (rather easily inflammable) passions rather than the gradualism we inherited from Britain. Conflict, including armed conflict, was not thought out of the realm of possibility. The considerable British economic stakes in Argentina came to infuse the economy but apparently did not penetrate the body politic. These, and I presume further, perhaps for us imperceptible causes, allowed the rise of dictatorships such as those of Peron in the 50’s and then the colonels in the 70’s. Beyond the constitutional and the legal, no doubt an interesting tourist destination!

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