Eugene Forsey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Eugene Forsey
Forsey while a professor at McGill University
Senator for Nepean, Ontario
In office
October 7, 1970 – May 29, 1979
Nominated byPierre Trudeau
Appointed byEdward Schreyer
Personal details
Eugene Alfred Forsey

(1904-05-29)May 29, 1904
Grand Bank, Newfoundland
DiedFebruary 20, 1991(1991-02-20) (aged 86)
Political party
Harriet Roberts
(m. 1935)
Academic background
Alma materMcGill University
Balliol College, Oxford
ThesisThe Royal Power of Dissolution of Parliament in the British Commonwealth (1941)
Academic work
DisciplinePolitical science

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


Forsey was born on May 29, 1904, 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 of Vimy. 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 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 House of Commons of Canada. He opposed the emergence of Quebec nationalism. Québecor leaders objected that the word "dominion" indicated that Ottawa would have control over Quebec. Under Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent, compromises were reached that quietly, and without legislation, "dominion" was retired in official government names, titles and statements, usually replaced by "federal". Dominion Day remained until in May 1980 when a private member's bill to replace the name with Canada Day was unexpectedly passed in the House. In the Senate, Forsey and the Monarchist League of Canada strongly defended the traditional usage. When a Gallup poll showed 70 percent of all Canadians favoured the change, the Senate approved the bill without a recorded vote.[4] 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.[5]

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.

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.[6]

Honours and awards[edit]

Honorary degrees
  • Forsey received many honorary degrees for his political career and his work as a constitutional scholar. These include
Province Date School Degree
 New Brunswick May 1962 University of New Brunswick Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [9]
 Newfoundland and Labrador May 1966 Memorial University of Newfoundland Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) [10]
 Quebec 30 May 1966 McGill University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [11]
 Saskatchewan 4 November 1967 University of Saskatchewan Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [12]
 Nova Scotia 1967 Acadia University [13]
 Ontario 1968 University of Toronto Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [14]
 Ontario 1968 University of Waterloo Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [15]
 Nova Scotia 1971 Dalhousie University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [16]
 Ontario Fall 1972 York University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [17]
 New Brunswick 1973 Mount Allison University Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) [18]
 Ontario 1976 Carleton University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [19]
 Ontario Fall 1978 Trent University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [20]
 Ontario May 1984 McMaster University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [21]

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, 10th ed. (ISBN 978-0-660-34265-8) 2020; How Canadians Govern Themselves, 8th ed. (ISBN 978-1-100-20078-1) Ottawa: Canada, 2012 (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.
  • Markwell, Donald (2016). Constitutional Conventions and the Headship of State: Australian Experience. Connor Court. ISBN 9781925501155. Appendix 3: Two Constitutional Scholars: Sir Kenneth Wheare and Dr Eugene Forsey.
  • Milligan, Frank (2004). Eugene A. Forsey: An Intellectual Biography. University of Calgary Press. ISBN 978-1-55238-118-2. Retrieved 2014-07-11.


There is a Eugene Forsey fonds at Library and Archives Canada.[22][23]

Electoral record[edit]

1953 Canadian federal election: Carleton
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative George Drew 20,137 55.25 +2.26
Liberal John H. McDonald 14,676 40.26 –0.45
Co-operative Commonwealth Stewart I. Crawford 1,075 2.95 –3.35
Social Credit Eric Kingsley Fallis 562 1.54
Total valid votes 36,450 100.0  
Progressive Conservative hold Swing +1.36
1949 Canadian federal election: Carleton
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative George Drew 18,141 52.99 –23.28
Liberal John H. McDonald 13,937 40.71
Co-operative Commonwealth Eugene Forsey 2,155 6.30 –14.63
Total valid votes 34,233 100.0  
Progressive Conservative hold Swing –32.00
Canadian federal by-election, 20 December 1948
On the resignation of G. Russell Boucher, 1 November 1948
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative George Drew 12,284 76.27 +14.01
Co-operative Commonwealth Eugene Forsey 3,371 20.93 +13.46
Social Credit J. Nelson McCracken 451 2.80
Total valid votes 16,106 100.0  
Progressive Conservative hold Swing +0.28

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Milligan 2004, p. 19.
  2. ^ Milligan 2004, p. 20.
  3. ^ Milligan 2004, p. 21.
  4. ^ Alan Rayburn, Naming Canada: Stories about Canadian Place Names (2001) pp 17–22.
  5. ^ Evatt and Forsey on the Reserve Powers. Sydney: Legal Books, 1990. Sir John Kerr, Matters for Judgment, Macmillan, 1978.
  6. ^ "Canada's New Democrats". Archived from the original on 2016-05-06. Retrieved 2017-08-27.
  7. ^ Services, Government of Canada, Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, Information and Media. "Order of Canada".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Office, Privy Council; privé, Bureau du Conseil. "Privy Council Office". Archived from the original on 2015-10-09. Retrieved 2015-10-19.
  10. ^[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2015-10-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "Honorary Degrees - University of Saskatchewan".
  13. ^ "Honorary Degrees - Acadia University".
  14. ^[bare URL PDF]
  15. ^ "1960 - 1969 - Secretariat". 22 May 2012.
  16. ^ "1892 - 1999 Honorary Degree Recipients - Convocation - Dalhousie University". Archived from the original on 2013-05-06. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  17. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients - University Secretariat".
  18. ^ "Mount Allison University". Mount Allison University. Archived from the original on 2016-03-07. Retrieved 2015-10-19.
  19. ^ "Honorary Degrees Awarded Since 1954 - Senate".
  20. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-10-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^[bare URL PDF]
  22. ^ "Library and Archives Canada, Finding Aid to Eugene Forsey fonds, part 1" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-06-18.
  23. ^ "Library and Archives Canada, Finding aid to Eugene Forsey fonds, part 2" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-06-18.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of Trent University
Succeeded by