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David E. Smith was professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan for forty years.Courtesy of the Family

David E. Smith was one of Canada’s finest and most inquisitive political scholars who possessed well into his 80s a teenage boy’s romantic love for his country – a love that carried him through authoring, editing or co-editing 20 books, half a dozen academic monographs and a stack of book chapters and articles exploring the political machinery of how the country works.

Emblematic of his national love was how he spent Remembrance Day 2019.

At a cottage in southeastern Ontario, he paused in his work on the final editing of what was to be his last book – Canada’s Deep Crown: Beyond Elizabeth II, The Crown’s Continuing Canadian Complexion – with co-authors Christopher McCreery, private secretary to the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, and Jonathan Shanks, senior counsel on constitutional affairs with the Canadian government’s Privy Council Office.

Together, they went outside shortly before 11 a.m. Mr. McCreery recalled that it was well below freezing, the ground dusted with snow. The three men made their way to the shore of Lower Beverley Lake and a flagpole where they positioned the Maple Leaf at half-mast. Prof. Smith, age 83, mused aloud on how many men and women who had served in two world wars had canoed or swum in the lake. They stood for two minutes of silence then sang O Canada accompanied by a recording of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing the anthem, on iPhone.

Over the final months of his life, Prof. Smith returned to that moment several times to talk about how special it was to him.

He died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on Jan. 2 at his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. He was 86.

Prof. Smith taught for 40 years at University of Saskatchewan until his retirement in 2004. He was a gifted and valued teacher. He thoroughly enjoyed his students and they enjoyed him, especially his lectures sprinkled with references to Trollope and Gilbert and Sullivan. He served as head of the department of political studies and associate dean of graduate studies. He continued writing energetically well after his retirement.

He was known as one of Canada’s outstanding political institutionalists, with his books on the workings of the House of Commons, the Opposition, the Senate, the Crown, prospects for republicanism (his conclusion: It would be an uphill struggle) and prescient accounts of the demise of the Liberal Party on the Prairies (Prairie Liberalism: The Liberal Party in Saskatchewan and The Regional Decline of a National Party: Liberals on the Prairies) still assigned by professors of political science across Canada.

His book, The People’s House of Commons: Theories of Democracy in Contention, won the Donner Prize for the best book in Canadian public policy in 2007. Across the Aisle: Opposition in Canadian Politics won the Canada Prize in Social Sciences in 2014.

He was named an officer of the Order of Canada, a member of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He was granted an earned Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Saskatchewan, based on his published work over the course of his professional life, and an honorary Doctor of Letters from Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University). His first doctorate was from Duke University in North Carolina

He was president of the Canadian Political Science Association and senior policy fellow at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina. He lectured in the United States, Britain, Australia and Korea, held a visiting professorship of Canadian studies in Japan and was a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson.

Mr. Smith authored, edited or co-edited 20 books, half a dozen academic monographs and a stack of book chapters and articles exploring the political machinery of how the country works.Courtesy of the Family

Warren Newman, senior general counsel in the constitutional, administrative and international law section of the department of justice, said of Prof. Smith: “He was a classic institutionalist and observer who also had an eye to the cautious reform and careful improvement of the functioning of the three branches of Parliament [House of Commons, Senate and Crown], while adhering to the principles of bicameralism and responsible government.”

He gave evidence to the Supreme Court of Canada on the Senate Reform Reference regarding the constitutional validity of proposals to change the Senate, such as term limits, consultative elections and abolition. He was an expert witness before the parliamentary committee studying the fixed-date elections legislation.

The Privy Council Office found him a useful, discreet, knowledgeable expert with whom to talk about their jobs. “He was very trustworthy,” Christopher McCreery said.

Mr. McCreery described him as being on the speed-dial list of governors-general and lieutenant-governors across the country, available to consult – confidentially, discreetly – if governments got into constitutional difficulties requiring the intervention of vice-regal representatives.

“He was the political scientist who’d studied how parties work and how governments work and he sort of wove all that together which no one has done in the country before. And he came to value how the Crown was more than just a convenient symbol, that it really functioned, that it was part of the magic glue that kept Canada together,” Mr. McCreery said. “For so long it has been an area that had been ignored.”

Prof. Smith concluded in both his first and second books on the Crown – Canada’s Deep Crown and The Invisible Crown: The First Principle of Canadian Government – that republicanism doesn’t fit Canada’s political culture or system at all, and it would take the country’s political institutions half a century or more to figure how to change from monarchy to republic.

His close friend of 60 years, emeritus professor John Courtney of University of Saskatchewan, said of him: “David was convinced that you don’t really understand governing without first learning what the institutions of government are all about.”

Prof. Courtney called Prof. Smith a gentle, kind man who was loved by students and colleagues and never spoke an ill word about anyone.

David Edward Smith was born on Aug. 8, 1936, in Springhill, N.S., and grew up in Victoria, New Westminster and Aylmer, Ont. His father was a small businessman and mechanic. David never thought of going to university until his older sister, Jean, suggested it to him.

Prof. Smith leaves his wife, Gene Anne, retired justice of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal; son, Joshua Smith (Brooke McDonald); daughter, Sarah Smith; and three grandchildren, Emma Ladouceur, Deanna Ladouceur and Ryder Smith. He was predeceased by his sister, Jean Smith.