David E. Smith
David E. Smith (1936-2023)

Canadian political science has lost one of its greats, David E. Smith (1936-2023)

David E. Smith died at his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake on January 2, 2023.

david-e-smith_small.jpgAs a professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan for forty years (1964-2004), David more than made his mark in his profession.  In the process, he furthered the strength of his department as a place to study Canadian government and politics, a field built earlier at the University by Frank Underhill, R. MacGregor Dawson, and Norman Ward.

David’s contribution to his discipline was outstanding. He was the author or co-editor of twenty books, 6 monographs, 42 refereed or non-refereed articles and 51 book chapters.  To add icing to his publications cake, he reviewed dozens of books for a variety of national and international publications.

Armed with an Honours degree in economics and political science from the University of Western Ontario and a Ph.D. from Duke University, David arrived in Saskatoon in 1964 to begin his teaching career.  Having been raised in Nova Scotia, southern Ontario, and New Westminster, he knew little of the prairies or of the province he was about to make his home. 

He saw the opportunity that his new-found location offered, and it was not long before he developed a deep attachment to the province—both as a place to live and a place to study.  Many of David’s early publications, starting with Prairie Liberalism: The Liberal Party in Saskatchewan (1975) and The Regional Decline of a National Party: Liberals on the Prairies (1981) explored the shifting sands of Western Canadian party politics.  Products of meticulous archival research, interviews, and analysis, those two books were remarkably prescient about the bleak future that awaited the once-dominant Liberal party in western Canada.

Several of the themes explored in those two books formed part of David’s singularly impressive research study for the Macdonald Commission in 1985, "Party Government and Regional Representation in Canada.”  Referred to as “a masterpiece of compression” by UBC’s Richard Johnston, it proved to be an invaluable teaching tool for both undergraduate and graduate students.  Have a look at this: 

“Henry Fairlie has said, with Macauley, that North American parties are ‘all sail and no anchor.’  However, federal Liberal problems in the West or federal Progressive Conservative problems in Quebec have been problems of sail: theories and policies of organization, theories and policies of the economy, theories and policies of nationalism.  It is no wonder that leadership preoccupies Canadian politics: appointments rest with it; party organization serves it; and policy reflects it.” (52).

That paragraph is classic David Smith.  It prods the reader to discover who Fairlie and Macaulay are (or more to the point, were!) and, at the same time, offers a brief, but telling, explanation of why Canadian parties remain stridently leader-focussed and singularly unable to accommodate the competing economic, social, and linguistic forces that are at play in Canadian society and politics.

From David’s work on the prairies, it was only a matter of time until his research shifted to a decidedly more national focus.  A Léger Fellowship (1992-93) and a Killam Research Fellowship (1995-97) got him on his way.  What followed was a remarkable, possibly unmatched, collection of books on the major institutions of Canadian government, all 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.  David’s solo-authored and co-authored papers display the same scholarly rigour as his books. They serve to introduce the reader to theories ranging from William Riker’s take on federalism to Samuel Lubell’s astronomical “sun-moon” analogy as a way of making sense of the vicissitudes of party systems.

David was known throughout his long career at the University of Saskatchewan (and later as a Senior Policy Fellow at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina [2005-2012] and a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Politics and Public Administration at Toronto Metropolitan University [2012-2022]) as one of those professors that students invariably sought out.  He was a dedicated teacher and mentor who, quite rightly, received various teaching awards. 

He was devoted to the printed word and the message that words conveyed.  David was known as a professor who, in addition to grading a student’s paper (sternly, but fairly), took time to correct its grammatical errors.  He was a stickler for detail and, like his close friend and department colleague, Duff Spafford, he liked to remind students of the proper use of “its” and “it’s.” 

His lectures were dotted with subtle humour, references to literary giants, and a knowledge of history that, for the more attentive and interested students, could only leave them wanting more. Not surprisingly, several political science departments in Canada (and a few abroad) can point to members of their faculty whose interest in the discipline resulted from their having attended David’s lectures. 

Over the course of his distinguished career, David served at various points as English-language book review editor of the Canadian Journal of Political Science, as President of the Canadian Political Science Association, and as a Member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. He served as Head of his department in Saskatchewan and, at one stage, held a visiting professorship of Canadian Studies in Japan.

David was awarded several honours and awards. He won the CPSA’s Smiley Prize for his book on the republican option, and for his book on the House of Commons, he received the Donner Prize. David was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1981, named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2013 and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit two years later. He was granted a rare Earned Doctor of Letters degree as well as the Distinguished Research Award by the University of Saskatchewan.  Ryerson University (as it was then) conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters degree on David in 2010.

Above all, David was a devoted family man.  He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Gene Anne, son Joshua, daughter Sarah, and three grandchildren.  He will be greatly missed by his many friends, colleagues, and former students.  In his honour, they have established a David E. Smith Memorial Scholarship in Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Charitable donations may be made at www.usask.ca/give or (306) 966-5186.

John Courtney, a long-time colleague, sometime co-author or co-editor, and close friend of David Smith for over sixty years.