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POE105 Federalism. DAVID LAST WWW.DAVIDMLAST.ORG. Outline. Quiz on the readings, review of readings Key terms Federalism and Civil War Federalism in Comparative Terms Degrees of Decentralization Reasons for federalism in Canada Division of powers Evolution of Canadian federalism

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Poe105 federalism

POE105 Federalism




  • Quiz on the readings, review of readings

  • Key terms

  • Federalism and Civil War

  • Federalism in Comparative Terms

  • Degrees of Decentralization

  • Reasons for federalism in Canada

  • Division of powers

  • Evolution of Canadian federalism

  • Mechanisms for cooperation

Readings laselva
Readings: Laselva

Samuel V. Laselva, “Understanding Canada’s Origins: Federalism, Multiculturalism, and the Will to Live Together,” (Bickerton, 1)

  • Identity as the central problem of Canadian federalism

  • The Macdonald unitary vision vs. the Cartier two-equal-nations vision

  • Trudeau vision of individual rights and the Charter

  • Did Charlottetown undermine equality of citizenship?

  • Madisonian pluralism in the US: power surrendered by the people is divided between two levels of government that check each other, because small republics tend to be tyrannical

  • Cartier: Canada is only one country if it preserves two nations through the constitutional division of powers

  • “If federalism can’t work in Canada, it probably can’t work anywhere” (Ignatieff)

Readings smiley
Readings: Smiley

Donald Smiley (1971) “The Structural Problem of Canadian Federalism” (Russell 42)

  • Radical reform may be necessary for survival of Cdn federation

  • [remember the context – quiet revolution, bombs in Quebec, francophone incursions in Ottawa under Pearson then Trudeau]

  • Three major conflicts along territorial lines:

    • Interprovincial and intergovernmental equalization by the federal government

    • National economic policies with differential impact in regions

    • Cultural duality of Canada

  • Contending provinces differ on each issue; radical restructure is needed – 6 recommendations: not just anglo-franco; more regional representation at federal level; reform the electoral system; less PM power

Readings simeon and robinson
Readings: Simeon and Robinson

Richard Simeon and Ian Robinson (2004) “the Dynamics of Canadian Federalism” (Bickerton 8 or Russell 45)

  • Federalism is an institutional structure, but also a characteristic of society [new institutionalism]

  • It is underpinned by multiple identities, and is about means of coexistence

  • It combines shared rule and self-rule

  • Explanatory models can work both ways: federalism reflects society, but it also shapes it

  • Federalism is a process rather than a steady state, and faces the following challenges:

    • Improving democracy

    • Improving policy

    • Accommodating difference

    • Moving beyond federal-provincial to municipal and aboriginal “third order” government

Review of key terms
Review Of Key Terms

  • Federalism

    • Constitutional division of government powers between two or more levels of government

  • Constitutionalism

    • The ideology that there should be a framework of rules that limit government and establish rights

  • Institutionalism

    • An approach to political studies that focuses on formal structures and the rules that govern them, drawing on law and documents (Peters, 2005)

  • New Institutionalism

    • An approach to political studies that focuses on the behaviour of institutions and their interaction in society, drawing on sociology and observation (Peters, 2005)

Comparative federal systems
Comparative Federal Systems

19 States are organized as federations (Guy, 2003,127)

  • Matured = high consensus about division of powers (Australia, US)

  • Conciliatory = constitutionally designated centralism, but ongoing compromises with units (Canada, India)

  • Centralized = functions like a unitary state (Brazil, Nigeria)

  • This is a simple categorization

  • What is it useful for?

    • Explanations

    • Explorations

    • Theorizing

  • It is mainly about the likelihood of stability or change

  • BUT it is not very precise

  • Doesn’t help to scale degrees of centralization or decentralization

Centralisation and decentralisation



Centralisation and Decentralisation

Decentralised federalism

Two levels of authority, regional governments dominate

Centralised federalism

Two levels of authority, centrl government dominates


one level of authority; alliance of coequal states

Unitary government

One level of authority

All powers to federal government – no provincial budget powers?

All powers to provincial government – provincial currency areas?

All grants conditional

All grants unconditional

Feasible range defined by constitutions

Source: Jackson & Jackson, 5th edition, citing Riker, Federalism: Origin, Operation, Significance

Degrees of decentralization
Degrees of Decentralization

  • Federal and decentralized [5.0]

  • Federal and centralized [4.0]

  • Semi-federal [3.0]

  • Unitary and decentralized [2.0]

  • Unitary and centralized [1.0]

    Loughlinin Caramani 2008

Why do we want to categorize
Why do we want to categorize?

  • In political science, we are trying to understand causes and relationships

  • The political, economic, and social world around us is changing

  • We cannot rely on descriptions of single cases to understand why things happen in other cases

    • (well, we can, but it is rather simplistic argument by analogy)

    • What makes countries stable or unstable?

    • Why do some federations break up, and others remain?

  • We categorize, develop theories, and compare cases in order to answer useful questions

  • This requires careful definitions, data collection, and analhysis

Federalism and civil war
Federalism And Civil War

  • Murshed (2010) Explaining Civil War: A Rational Choice Approach.

    • Decentralization may curtail ethnic tensions and secessionism by bringing government closer to people, giving them more control, and opening opportunities closer to home

    • Or it may exacerbate ethnic conflict and secessionism because it reinforces identities by recognizing them and giving them political expression and legitimacy

  • Brancati (2006)

    • Decentralization reduces ethnic conflict and secessionism but the effect is reduced by the growth of regional and ethnic parties

  • Roeder (2005)

    • The risk of escalation from ethno-political conflict to national crisis is not diminished in territorial federations

Comparative research design
Comparative Research Design



Country cases

Country cases


Country cases

Country cases


More cases and fewer variables, or more variables and fewer cases?

Reasons for federalism in canada
Reasons for Federalism in Canada

  • Has federalism saved us from violent conflict in Canada?

  • Language and religion assigned to provinces to insulate national politics from divisive conflicts

  • Provincial powers accommodate a strong sense or regional identity that created some resistance to confederation

  • Geographic barriers and difficulty communicating across long distances in the early years of state-formation generated regional identity, and made central government impractical

Division of powers
Division Of Powers

  • Section 91, 93

  • Federal

  • Peace, order and good government

  • coin money

  • public property

  • banking

  • navigation, shipping

  • native people & lands

  • criminal law

  • defence

  • foreign relations

  • Section 92, 93

  • Provincial

  • local matters

  • provincial credit

  • administration of justice

  • licensing

  • health and welfare

  • municipal institutions

  • provincial lands

  • Section 95

  • Concurrent

  • agriculture

  • immigration

Nation building

Conflict avoiding

Guy, 295

Evolution of federalism
Evolution of Federalism

  • Nation building and the Federal-Provincial pendulum (Perlin, V1D1, Chapter 4)

  • Impact of World Wars and depression

  • Emerging consensus on the need for an interventionist state

National effort to win the wars and human costs of the depression contributed to the emerging consensus on the need for an interventionist state


Evolution of canadian federalism 1867 2000
Evolution of Canadian Federalism 1867-2000

Mowat’s rise

Mercier & compact theory

BNA, 1867



Pro-provincial rulings of JCPC

Conditional grants begin

WW1 and conscription crisis

Rowel-Sirois Commission


Quiet revolution



Meech and Charlottetown

PQ elected 1976

Constitution Act 1982

1998 ruling on secession

1995 Quebec referendum

Provincial autonomy

Central government dominance

Source: Jackson & Jackson, 5th edition

Consensus on federal activism
Consensus on Federal Activism

  • Federal intrusion on provincial jurisdiction

    • national standards for delivery of social programs

    • cost-shared programs based on the federal “spending power” (ability to spend on anything in the national interest)

    • entered education with grants to the universities

  • Federal leadership in the national economy

    • investment in national infrastructure (trans Canada highway, CBC)

    • spend more during economic down-turns (Keynesianism)

    • Regional development programs to support rural and poor regions

  • Federal encroachment on taxation and revenue collection

    • economies of scale

    • Benevolent intrusions

Federal taxation
Federal Taxation

  • Federal exclusive rights to income and corporate taxation dating from WW2

  • by 1947, all but Ont and Que agreed to continue this arrangement

  • Federal payments to Provinces based on population, amounted to a form of equalisation payment

  • 1957 tax sharing arrangement - both levels of government tax income, but regulated

  • 1970s - increasingly confrontational federal-provincial relations

(Perlin, v1d1, chapter 4)

Financial relations tax and spend
Financial Relations - tax and spend

  • 1957-1967 federal tax adjustments

  • 1967 - no more adjustments, force provinces to raise taxes if they want more revenue

    • uniformity

    • “floor” for provincial social spending

  • Provincial complaints of rigid federal programs and funding formulas

  • 1977 - Established Programs Financing Act

  • 1980s - big deficits all round

  • 1999 - Social Union Agreement

Asymmetrical federalism
Asymmetrical Federalism

  • Unequal powers of units within a federation

  • Conditional vs. unconditional grants

  • Extent of unique provincial programs and different levels of services and reimbursements

  • Inevitable? Desirable? De facto?

Federal provincial tensions
Federal-provincial Tensions

  • Federal provincial tensions are a consistent feature of Canadian federalism

  • There are three major mechanisms for managing them:

    • Intergovernmental affairs (political-bureaucratic)

    • Fiscal negotiations (political-financial)

    • Constitutional (political-legal)

  • Tensions are exacerbated by:

    • Regionalism

    • Nationalism (Quebecois, Aboriginal, Newfie?)

    • Evolving identities

    • Political opportunism

Key points
Key points

  • Centralization and decentralization as defining characteristics of federal systems

  • Purpose of categorizing, and use of key indicators like conditionality of grants

  • Reasons for Canadian federalism

  • Division of powers in general terms

  • Evolution of Canadian federalism

  • Changing consensus on federal activism

  • Mechanisms for federal provincial cooperation (and conflict)

  • Third order federalism

Fun stuff to talk about at the pub
Fun stuff to talk about at the pub…

  • How have the configurations identified by Smiley changed in the intervening 40 years, and why?

  • Given the challenges identified by Simeon and Robinson, what mechanisms for managing federal-provincial tensions are most likely to be useful? What are the limitations of each?

  • How does Quebec in Canada in NAFTA compare to Scotland in UK in EU? What questions might you explore in this comparative framework?

  • What is asymmetrical federalism? Has it always been around – is it inevitable, desirable, or insidious?

More questions for discussion
More questions for discussion…

  • Have linguistic tensions or fiscal realities been more important in shaping Canada’s federal and constitutional debates?

  • How and why has Canadian federalism oscillated between centralizing and decentralizing tendencies?

  • What stresses and strains have threatened Canadian unity, and how have they been addressed by the federal level?

  • How have demands of Quebec nationalism been addressed since the 1960s? Does it make a difference within the federal structure if they are demands of ethnic or civic nationalism?

  • How have federal and provincial governments approached taxation and spending?

  • How are the “high road” of constitutional reform, and the “low road” of fiscal reform linked in federal-provincial relations