University of Toronto Department of Political Science
Spotlight: David Cameron
David Cameron is drawing on lessons from the Canadian federalist experience to help rebuild post-conflict states
Professor David Cameron’s political and academic career to date can be divided into two parts. The first is an active focus on Canadian government, Quebec nationalism and French-English relations, and the second a shift toward international politics, providing expertise on federalism and decentralized government to countries in post-conflict situations.
Cameron’s work in and on Canada provided him the background and experience needed to advise governments internationally, while fieldwork abroad allowed him to view Canada’s political issues and accomplishments through a new lens.
“Much of my early career was spent working on Canada’s biggest problems, so you tend to think that this is a country with a bunch of issues that we’re pretty rotten at dealing with,” says the Vancouver-born father of two. “And then you go to a country like Sri Lanka that has been living through a 25-year civil war and you realize, first of all I’m lucky beyond imagining that I live in this country, and secondly, we actually have dealt with some things quite well. For example, the way we’ve all handled the sovereignty and succession issues with Quebec has been admirable, in some respects, and is exemplary for the rest of the world.”
Throughout his career, Cameron has oscillated between teaching and administrative positions within universities in Canada and abroad, and government positions held at both the federal and provincial levels. He has maintained an active interest in questions of federalism, constitutional renewal and national unity, themes that have influenced his extensive list of publications and research projects.
When the Parti Québécois won the 1976 provincial election in Quebec, the sovereignty and succession question became a hot topic. In 1977 Cameron left Trent University, where he held the position of Dean of Arts and Sciences, to work as Director of Research for the Pepin-Robarts Task Force on Canadian Unity, a commission that would examine Canadians’ response to the challenges from Quebec.
Between 1979 and the referendum in 1980 Cameron worked in the Privy Council office in Ottawa as part of the Tellier Group, which he describes as a SWAT team responsible for developing strategy to counter Quebec plans for a referendum.
After working in government for a few more years, he came to the University of Toronto as Vice President of Institutional Relations and concurrently received an appointment as Professor of Political Science. In 1987, with Premier David Peterson in power in Ontario, Cameron was appointed Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and worked on obtaining approval for the Meech Lake Accord. In 1990 he returned to academic life, though he continued to provide constitutional, national-unity, and intergovernmental advice to the Government of Ontario and was one of the Province’s chief negotiators during Canada’s Charlottetown constitutional discussion.
Following the Quebec referendum vote of 1995, Cameron’s intellectual and teaching interests began to shift. “I became more interested in international work and so I began traveling to places like Estonia, Russia and India advising, from a federal perspective, on regional economic development, intergovernmental relations and questions of succession.” These short trips provided Cameron with insight on global political issues, but didn’t allow him to get to know any one region enough to feel as though he was making a significant contribution.
So, having helped to launch Forum of Federations, an Ottawa-based international NGO that is “concerned with the contribution federalism makes and can make to the maintenance and construction of democratic societies and governments,” he turned his focus to Sri Lanka, where he visited consistently between 2002 and 2005 and assisted in the peace process.
In December 2004 he traveled to Iraq for the first time to advise members of the Interim Government at the request of the National Democratic Institute. “I knew I was doing something completely different when I began investigating war zone insurance and then found myself in a flak jacket and helmet on the ground in Iraq,” he says. “Again it made me realize the things I take for granted. We have a country that works and a level of security that is the envy of many others, and you feel like the Pope kissing the ground when you come back to Canada after an experience like that.”
Cameron returned to Baghdad in July 2005 to offer support to the Constitutional Drafting Committee of the Iraqi National Assembly and then again in 2006 to provide training sessions. “I continue to focus on this region and returned again in 2007 and 2008 to train academics and political scientists in democratic Federalism.”
Cameron is also part of a team developing governance arrangements for the Old City of Jerusalem in the event of a comprehensive peace agreement. “This has been an interesting project and we’ve spent a lot of time in the region meeting with Palestinians and Israelis and having them write policy papers and analytical pieces,” he says.
For the past three years Cameron has been Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto and he continues to teach when his schedule allows. His advice for students: “This is a big place and it may seem hard to get your arms around, but for those students who are entrepreneurial and impose their demands and aspirations on the system there are unparalleled resources and opportunities here.”Last modified on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 by Clifton van der Linden