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Alan Cairns Tributes


Photo : https://politics.ubc.ca/persons/alan-cairns/

If there are "giants" in academic fields, Alan Cairns was one of them. His work spanned issues of constitutional reform, federalism, Indigenous politics, citizenship, ideas about the "embedded state," the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and more. To the extent there is a Canadian Political Thought, Alan was a leading figure in shaping it. As a member of the Hawthorn Commission, he advocated for more autonomy for Indigenous peoples, and the "citizen's plus" concept from the Hawthorn Report was used to counter the assimilationist 1969 federal White Paper. Alan was also a research director on the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada (Macdonald Commission), a member of the Royal Society of Canada, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and the recipient of multiple honorary degrees. More importantly, Alan was a wonderful and kind person. He had an infinite well of generosity and interest in supporting younger colleagues and students, even well into his retirement when I first got to know him. In December of 2012, during my first year as a tenure track faculty member at the University of Waterloo, I gave him a copy of my newly released first book. On the first day back in the New Year, I found a letter in my mailbox. Alan had not only read my book over the holidays, he had penned a generous two-page note detailing some of his thoughts. I will miss our occasional lunches and his visits to his post-retirement academic home here at the University of Waterloo.

Emmett Macfarlane, University of Waterloo


Tribute to Alan Cairns
By Kathy L. Brock, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Policy Studies and
Department of Political Studies (cross-appointed)
Queen's University

August 29, 2018

Professor Alan Cairns was a scholar in the finest sense of the word. He lived his ideas, making the world more intelligible to others in the process. Through oral debates and his extensive corpus of scholarly articles, Alan profoundly influenced the development of political science in Canada.

Returning to Canada from Oxford after writing his thesis on Imperialism in Africa, Alan Cairns began his research career advising the Hawthorne Commission on Indigenous policies. The result was the Commission's adoption of his concept of "Citizens' Plus" and recommendation for a limited form of Indigenous self-government, a progressive idea for the day. He finished his career by once more returning to the concept of "Citizens' Plus", hoping that it would provide a means to ending the insider/outsider nature of Canadian politics by creating a common bond between Indigenous peoples and all other Canadians. Although contentious, his work has advanced thinking in this area of Canadian scholarship and practice significantly and will continue to do so into the future.

While this was his first passion, Alan proved to be an equally challenging and provocative thinker on the scholarship and practice of Canadian politics. His works on the "Embedded State", "Bringing the State Back In", the "Electoral System", and the Canadian constitution and other topics engaged and informed the next generations of scholars. Alan was not content to leave his idea in the academy: chiding the federal government for creating a Royal Commission on Electoral Reform without the mandate to probe proportional representation as an alternative to the single member plurality system; chastising the federal and provincial governments for failing to recognise the profound changes introduced in Canadian political practices by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; counselling the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Union; and, castigating the federal government for failing to have a Plan C when Canada stood at the brink of dissolution in the mid-1990s. He was a critical interlocutor on major initiatives throughout his career. His voice of reason and conscience will be dearly missed in the study and practice of Canadian politics.

Alan Cairns lived his life fully with passion and a wry humour, reconnecting with his first love and intellectual soulmate later in life. With Anne Dagg, Alan was an intrepid hiker on long northern treks that might have caused his younger colleagues in their 50s or 60s to hesitate. A star baseball player in his youth, Alan was not one to back away from a physical challenge, even in his 70s and 80s.  Through Anne he learned to love bird-watching – or, as he would say to me as we lagged behind our avid bird-watching partners, nice walks in beautiful settings where we could debate key constitutional and political ideas until we were caught, like students, not paying attention. Yes, Alan lived a life of intellectual enquiry but also a life as a kind friend and caring mentor, enriching all those around him. His voice, now silenced, will live on through his ideas and actions.