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Queen's University

2005 Special Series on Asymmetric Federalism

Series Introduction:  Asymmetrical Federalism in Canada: When is it a Good Idea?

The federal Liberal Party’s 2004 general election platform heavily emphasized issues that are wholly or mainly subject to provincial competence under the constitutional division of legislative powers (e.g. health care, child care, cities/communities). Since the federal government lacks the authority to implement detailed regulatory schemes in these subject areas, acting on these election commitments necessarily requires federal-provincial or increasingly federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) agreements (based at least in part on the use of the federal spending power). The much publicized September 2004 FPT agreement on health care and its financing was one example of such an agreement.

A crucial and controversial question that arises is whether the FPT agreements that flow out of this potentially large intergovernmental agenda should treat all provinces and territories similarly or whether the agreements should  e expected to differ from one province/territory to another. This issue of symmetry or asymmetry raises questions at two levels. The first is whether all provinces should be viewed as “equal” in legal and constitutional terms and, if so, how does one reconcile such equality arguments with explicit constitutional provisions that are geared to the specificity of particular provinces? The second relates to the political and administrative level and the plethora of intergovernmental agreements it generates. When should Canadians expect all provinces/territories to be treated similarly in these agreements and when should difference be the rule? The health care agreement referred to above, for example, included a separate bilateral Canada-Quebec side deal. Should Canadians applaud or be worried about this kind of asymmetry? What about the anticipated intergovernmental arrangements to create a Canada-wide system of child care? Should all provinces be treated identically on child care or should we anticipate differences from one jurisdiction to another? Similar questions arise in relation to revenue sharing arrangements in the aftermath of the off-shore financing agreements that Ottawa has reached with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

Given this context, it is timely to make available to Canadians the considerations that are relevant to the issue of symmetry/asymmetry. We are doing this by publishing a series of short commentaries over the first half of 2005. These papers will explore the different dimensions of this issue- the historical, the philosophical, the practical, the comparative (how other federations deal with asymmetrical pressures), and the empirical (both public opinion and what has been happening recently in relation to the issue of asymmetry in intergovernmental relations). We do this in the hope that the series will help improve the quality of public deliberation (and for that matter private deliberation given how much of intergovernmental relations is effectively closed to public scrutiny) on this issue. The authors are mainly from different parts of Canada (the Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, and British Columbia) and hold varying viewpoints on Canadian federalism. A few authors are not Canadians, however, and they too will add to our perspective. Together, they will provide Canadians with much of the knowledge base and argumentation that is relevant to analyzing the role of asymmetry in Canadian federalism.

Harvey Lazar
February 2005

Title Editor/Author  Year  

Asymmetry in Canada, Past and Present

David Milne  2005   Download
Public Opinion On Asymmetrical Federalism: Growing Openness Or Continuing Ambiguity? F. Leslie Seidle
Gina Bishop
 2005   Download
Some Asymmetries are More Legitimate than Others - And Subsidiarity Solves Most Things Anyway Gordon Gibson  2005   Download
A Comparative Perspective On Asymmetry In Federations Ronald L. Watts  2005   Download
Equality Or Asymmetry? Alberta At The Crossroads F.L. (Ted) Morton  2005   Download
The Case of Asymmetry in Canadian Jennifer Smith  2005   Download
 Speaking of Asymmetry. Canada and the 'Belgian Model' André Lecours  2005   Download
The Historicial and Legal Origins of Asymmetrical Federalism in Canada's Founding Debates: A Brief Interpretive Note Guy Laforest  2005   Download
Beyond Recognition and Asymmetry Jocelyn Maclure  2005   Download
The Scope and Limits of Asymmetry in Recent Social Policy Agreements Peter Graefe  2005 Download    
German Federalism -- Still A Model of Symmetry? Saskia Jung  2005    Download
Western Asymmetry Roger Gibbons  2005   Download
Survivance Versus Ambivalence: The Federal Dilemma in Canada Hamish Telford  2005   Download
Asymmetrical Federalism: Magic Wand or "Bait and Switch" Hon. John Roberts  2005   Download
Asymmetrical Federalism: A Win-Win Formula! Benoît Pelletier  2005   English
Who's Afraid of Asymmetric Federalism? - A Summary Discussion Douglas Brown  2005   Download
Federal Asymmetry and Intergovernmental Relations in Spain Robert Agranoff  2006   Download

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