David E. Smith Obituary, Death – One of the most influential figures in Canadian political science has passed away. On January 2, 2023, David E. Smith passed away while he was at his house in Niagara-on-the-Lake. David more than left his imprint on his field by serving as a professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan for a total of forty years, beginning in 1964 and ending in 2004. In doing so, he contributed to the growth of his department’s reputation as an excellent institution at which to study Canadian politics and government, a subject area that had been developed before at the University by Frank Underhill, R. MacGregor Dawson, and Norman Ward.
The contribution that David made to his area of study was remarkable. Twenty books, six monographs, forty-two refereed or non-refereed papers, and fifty-one book chapters are some of the works that he authored or co-edited. He wrote reviews of dozens of books for a wide variety of national and international journals, which was the frosting on the cake of his publication success. David started his teaching career in Saskatoon in 1964 after receiving a doctorate in economics and political science from Duke University. At the time, he held an honors degree in economics and political science from the University of Western Ontario. Due to the fact that he spent his childhood in Nova Scotia, southern Ontario, and New Westminster, he was not really familiar with the prairies or the province in which he was planning to settle down.
He recognized the potential that was afforded to him by his newly discovered location, and it wasn’t long before he formed a profound attachment to the region, not only as a place to reside but also as a setting for his academic pursuits. The shifting sands of Western Canadian party politics were investigated in a number of David’s early publications. These works began with Prairie Liberalism: The Liberal Party in Saskatchewan (1975) and continued with The Regional Decline of a National Party: Liberals on the Prairies (1981). Both of these books were written in 1975. These two works, which are the results of extensive archival research, interviews, and analysis, were astonishingly prescient about the gloomy destiny that faced the once-dominant Liberal party in western Canada.
David’s research report for the Macdonald Commission in 1985, titled “Party Government and Regional Representation in Canada,” included several of the topics that were discussed in those two volumes. The title of the study was “Party Government and Regional Representation in Canada.” Richard Johnston of the University of British Columbia referred to it as “a masterpiece of compression,” and it turned out to be an essential teaching tool for students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Look at this, for example:
Henry Fairlie and Macauley have both stated that North American parties are “all sail and no anchor,” respectively. However, the problems that the federal Liberals have faced in the West or the problems that the federal Progressive Conservatives have faced in Quebec have been problems of sail. These problems include theories and policies regarding organization, theories and policies regarding the economy, and theories and policies regarding nationalism. It should come as no surprise that the preoccupation of Canadian politics is with leadership, given that appointments depend on it, party organization should serve it, and policy should reflect it. (52).
That paragraph exemplifies David Smith at his finest. It encourages the reader to learn more about Fairlie and Macaulay and, more importantly, who they once were! Moreover, it provides a concise but illuminating explanation of why Canadian political parties continue to be singularly unable to accommodate the competing economic, social, and linguistic forces that are at play in Canadian society and politics. At the same time, it explains why Canadian political parties continue to be stridently leader-focused.
As a direct result of David’s work on the prairies, it was only a matter of time before the scope of his research expanded to include a far more national dimension. Both a Léger Fellowship (during the academic year 1992–1993) and a Killam Research Fellowship (during the academic year 1995–1997) helped him get started. What followed was a remarkable, and possibly unmatched, collection of books on the major institutions of Canadian government, all of which were published by the University of Toronto Press between 1995 and 2022: the Crown, the House of Commons, the Senate, the Opposition, the Constitution, federalism, and the republican option in Canada. All of these books were published by the University of Toronto Press. The scholarly rigor that David displays in his works is also present in the articles that he has written alone or in collaboration with others. They serve the purpose of introducing the reader to various theories, such as William Riker’s take on federalism and Samuel Lubell’s astronomical “sun-moon” analogy, as a means of making sense of the vicissitudes of party systems. These theories range from federalism to the analogy of the sun and the moon.
David was known throughout his lengthy career at the University of Saskatchewan (and later as a Senior Policy Fellow in Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina [2005-2012] and as a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Politics and Public Administration at Toronto Metropolitan University [2012-2022]) as being one of those professors that students invariably sought out. His most recent position was as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Politics and Public Administration at Toronto Metropolitan University. He was a devoted educator as well as a mentor, and he was awarded with a number of educational accolades for his work.
He had a deep respect for the written word and the meaning that might be conveyed via words. David earned a reputation as a professor who, in addition to assigning a grade to a student’s work in a manner that was strict but objective, also took the time to rectify the document’s grammatical faults. He was a stickler for detail, and he enjoyed reminding pupils of the correct usage of “its” and “it’s,” much like his close friend and department colleague, Duff Spafford.
His lectures were peppered with understated humor, allusions to literary giants, and a grasp of history that, for the students who paid the most attention and showed the most enthusiasm, could only leave them wanting more. It should come as no surprise that a number of political science departments in Canada (as well as a few departments in other countries) can point to members of their faculty whose interest in the field was sparked as a direct result of their attendance at David’s lectures.
Throughout the course of his illustrious career, David held a variety of positions, including those of President of the Canadian Political Science Association, English-language book review editor for the Canadian Journal of Political Science, and Member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, among other prestigious positions. He was promoted to the position of Head of his Department at the University of Saskatchewan, and at one point, he taught Canadian Studies as a Visiting Professor in Japan.
David was honored with a number of distinctions and prizes. He was awarded the Smiley Prize by the CPSA for the book he wrote about the republican alternative, and he was awarded the Donner Prize for the book he wrote about the house of commons. In 1981, David was given the honor of being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2013, he was promoted to the rank of Officer in the Order of Canada, and in 2015, he was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. The University of Saskatchewan honored him with both the Distinguished Research Award and a unique Earned Doctor of Letters degree for his outstanding academic achievements. In 2010, David was presented with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Ryerson University, which was known as Ryerson College at the time.