Eugene Forsey

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The Honourable
Eugene Forsey
Eugene Alfred Forsey.jpg
Senator for Nepean, Ontario
In office
October 7, 1970 – May 29, 1979
Appointed by Pierre Trudeau
Personal details
Born Eugene Alfred Forsey
(1904-05-29)May 29, 1904
Grand Bank, Newfoundland
Died February 20, 1991(1991-02-20) (aged 86)
Political party Liberal
Other political
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation

Eugene Alfred Forsey, PC CC FRSC (May 29, 1904 – February 20, 1991) served in the Canadian Senate from 1970 to 1979. He was considered to be one of Canada's foremost constitutional experts.


Born in Grand Bank in the Newfoundland Colony, he attended McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

Forsey was a supporter of the Conservative Party led by Arthur Meighen until he went to Balliol College, Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship during which he was converted to democratic socialism. Upon returning to Canada, he joined the League for Social Reconstruction, and was a delegate at the founding convention of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in 1933 in Regina.

In 1924 Forsey was employed by Vincent Massey as a tutor for the two Massey boys at their Batterwood home near Canton, Ontario. This was an old farmhouse and property that the Masseys had bought in 1918 on rising land backed by rolling hills and facing Lake Ontario a few miles to the south.[1] Forsey was free to enjoy Massey's extensive library, and also socialized with the many visitors. These included academics from the University of Toronto and politicians such as the son of Ramsay MacDonald, the British Prime Minister.[2] Massey at this time was about to enter public life, although his more immediate concern was the health of the family business.[3]

From 1929 to 1941, Forsey served as a lecturer in economics and political science at McGill University. He later taught Canadian government at Carleton University in Ottawa and Canadian government and Canadian labour history at the University of Waterloo. From 1973 to 1977, he served as chancellor of Trent University.

While he had become a social progressive, he remained a "Constitutional conservative", and wrote his PhD thesis on the King–Byng Affair, defending the positions of Arthur Meighen and Governor-General Lord Byng. The thesis was published in 1943 as The Royal Power of Dissolution of Parliament. This was one of very few major works on the reserve powers of the Crown in Commonwealth of Nations countries.

Forsey was president of the CCF in Quebec in the 1930s. He spent a number of years working for the CCF, and then as research director for the Canadian Congress of Labour and its successor, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). He was a candidate for the party in the Ottawa area riding of Carleton in a 1948 by-election, but lost to the new Progressive Conservative Party of Canada leader George Drew. When asked why he lost he famously quipped that it was because the other candidate received more votes. He ran and lost again in the 1949 election.

In 1958, Forsey, though still a CCF member, was appointed by the Progressive Conservative government of John George Diefenbaker to the Board of Broadcast Governors, the predecessor of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. He remained in that position until he resigned in 1962 because of policy differences.

Shortly after the formation of the New Democratic Party from the alliance of the CLC with the CCF, Forsey resigned from the party because of its constitutional policy which viewed Quebec as a nation within Canada. Later in the 1960s, he was attracted to the views of Pierre Trudeau on the Canadian constitution, and joined the Liberal Party of Canada upon being appointed to the Senate in 1970. He retired from the Upper House on reaching the age of 75 in 1979, and turned down an offer from the Liberals to run for a seat in the Canadian House of Commons. He subsequently resigned from the Liberal Party in 1982 due to disagreements with the proposed changes to the Constitution of Canada.

In 1968, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Companion in 1988. He was appointed to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada on June 10, 1985.

In his many commentaries on constitutional issues, especially the reserve powers of the Crown, Forsey was a conspicuous supporter of the action of the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, in dismissing the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, in the 1975 constitutional crisis because his government was unable to obtain supply (approval to spend money) from the parliament and refused to call a general election.[4]

In retirement Forsey published a study of the labour movement in 1982, Trade Unions in Canada: 1812-1902. His publication How Canadians Govern Themselves is perhaps his most enduring legacy, being a simple yet comprehensive guide to Canadian government that is continuously edited and published with posthumous credit.

Eugene Forsey's daughter, Helen Forsey was a candidate for the New Democratic Party in the 2006 federal election in the riding of Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.[1]

Honours and Awards[edit]

  • Eugene Alfred Forsey Was Appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada on 20 December 1968 Giving Him the Post Nominal Letters "OC" for Life, This was Changed when He was upgraded to Companion of the Order of Canada on 17 November 1988, Giving Him the Post Nominal Letters "CC" for Life. [5]

Honorary Degrees[edit]

  • Eugene Forsey Received Many Honorary Degrees for His Political Career and His Work as a Constitutional Scholar. These Include
Honorary Degrees
Country Date School Degree
 New Brunswick May 1962 University of New Brunswick Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [7]
 Newfoundland and Labrador May 1966 Memorial University of Newfoundland Doctor of Letters (D. Litt) [8]
 Quebec 30 May 1966 Memorial University of Newfoundland Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [9]
 Saskatchewan 4 November 1967 University of Saskatchewan Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [10]
 Nova Scotia 1967 Acadia University [11]
 Ontario 1968 University of Toronto Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [12]
 Ontario 1968 University of Waterloo Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [13]
 Nova Scotia 1971 Dalhousie University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [14]
 Ontario Fall 1972 York University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [15]
 New Brunswick 1973 Mount Allison University Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) [16]
 Ontario 1976 Carleton University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [17]
 Ontario Fall 1978 Trent University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [18]
 Ontario May 1984 McMaster University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [19]

Selected bibliography[edit]

Works by Forsey

  • A Life on the Fringe: The Memoirs of Eugene Forsey. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • How Canadians Govern Themselves, 7th ed. (ISBN 0-662-39689-8) Ottawa: Canada, 2005 (1st ed. 1980, 2nd ed. 1988, 3rd ed. 1990).
  • Freedom and Order. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974.
  • The Royal Power of Dissolution in the British Commonwealth. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1938; reprinted 1968; reprinted with a new introduction by Eugene Forsey in 1990 in Evatt and Forsey on the Reserve Powers, (ed. by George Winterton).
  • Our Present Discontents (The George C. Nowlan Lectures). Wolfville: Acadia University, 1968.

Works about Forsey

  • Forsey, Helen. Eugene Forsey, Canada's Maverick Sage. Toronto: Dundurn, 2012.
  • Hodgetts, J.E. The Sound of One Voice: Eugene Forsey and His Letters to the Editor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.
  • Evatt and Forsey on the Reserve Powers: Legal Books, 1990.
  • Donald Markwell, "Canada's Best", The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 1990/1991.
  • Milligan, Frank (2004). Eugene A. Forsey: An Intellectual Biography. University of Calgary Press. ISBN 978-1-55238-118-2. Retrieved 2014-07-11. 


  1. ^ Milligan 2004, p. 19.
  2. ^ Milligan 2004, p. 20.
  3. ^ Milligan 2004, p. 21.
  4. ^ Evatt and Forsey on the Reserve Powers. Sydney: Legal Books, 1990. Sir John Kerr, Matters for Judgment, Macmillan, 1978.
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External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Leslie Frost
Chancellor of Trent University
Succeeded by
William L. Morton