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Queen's University

Institute of Intergovernmental Relations

2012 State of the Federation:
Regions, Resources and Resiliency

 Kingston, Ontario
November 29, 30, and December 1

         Click here to open the conference program        

LINK TO: Richard Simeon Speaking Notes 

The Institute expects to publish its 2012 State of the Federation book in early 2014 based on the conference held in Kingston in November 2012. The idea for the theme of the conference emerged in informal discussions early in 2012 led by Richard Simeon and involving David Cameron and Carolyn Hughes Tuohy from the University of Toronto and myself from the Institute at Queen's. Richard agreed to chair the opening panel at the conference, which he did, and had agreed to turn his comments into a short opening chapter for the forthcoming book. He later informed Loleen Berdahl, from the University of Saskatchewan and the lead editor, that his deteriorating health prevented him from doing that. He did however provide his notes to the editors of the book. After his passing, his wife Mary Etta Cheney gave us permission to publish the notes on the Institute website. David Cameron did a very light edit.

We think this is an appropriate tribute to a great scholar of federalism and a former director of the Institute. Readers of the text who were at the conference will recognize the remarks but may be surprised that Richard had actually written them out. As David Cameron has put it, his writing was so fluent and his delivery so vivacious that it was very hard to tell that he was reading a text.

I will not summarize it except to say that it is vintage Simeon: a broad, thoughtful and amazingly compact statement on the current state of Canadian federalism.

The publication will be dedicated to Richard.

André Juneau


As recent Canadian debates about resource development, ‘Dutch disease’, and employment insurance demonstrate, regional tensions remain alive and well in the Canadian federation. Past regional disputes often centered on questions of federal government ‘fairness’ to particular provinces, most notably Quebec. While the outcome of the recent Quebec election will likely re-open and broaden those debates, the  economic, political and social implications of the unequal distribution of natural and human resources among provinces will remain.  In the current market, natural resource-rich provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador, enjoy fiscal capacities far superior to other provinces, and wrestle with labour market supply challenges.  At the same time, provinces with fewer natural resource industries, including Ontario and Quebec, struggle with manufacturing industry decline and relatively high unemployment.  Such differences lead to (often heated) discussions about the impact of natural resource economies on the value of the dollar, the appropriate model for employment insurance, and the federal equalization program, among other issues. 

The State of the Federation 2012 conference brought together academics, policymakers and politicians to engage in a constructive dialogue about regionalism, resources, and the resiliency of the Canadian federal system, keeping in mind the  renewed challenge created by the election of the Parti Québecois.  Questions to be considered will include:

  • How do provincial and regional differences in economic capacity impact upon Canadian federalism? Do the current economic strains represent a unique challenge to Canadian national unity, or do they simply reflect the country's long history of regionalism?
  • To what extent do Canada's natural resource industries benefit the Canadian economy? To what extent do they create pressures for other industries? Do Canada's federal institutions hinder or promote the ability of the economy to respond to global economic shifts?
  • Should Canada pursue national policy approaches, such as a national energy strategy, in areas of provincial or concurrent jurisdiction? If so, what national approaches are needed and how can they be achieved?
  • Do the current intergovernmental structures allow for constructive dialogue about national policy issues? Are other institutional arrangements require?
  • Does Canada need new concepts of provincial and regional 'fairness' and 'equity'?
  • What lessons, if any, might be learned from other federal systems? What lessons might be learned from Canada’s past?
  • How will the recent Quebec election change the Canadian landscape and the way we address new and not-so-new challenges?

Preliminary Conference Scheme

Themes & Key Questions:
1. Current Context of Canada's Economy and Federalism
  • What is the current economic challenge for Canada?
  • What is triggering this conversation now?
  • How does this fit into historical perspective?
  • What is the international context?
2. Lessons from other Federations
  • What is going on in other federations (E.U., Australia)?
  • What has occurred in Canada's past?
3. Canada's Economy, Productivity, and Considerations of 'Dutch Disease'
  • What is the situation?
  • What tools are available to address the problem?
  • What is the policy response?
4. Considering National Approaches to Energy Policy
  • Do we need pan-Canadian approaches?
5. National Economy and its Policy Implications
  • Do we have a regional versus national economy?
6. Canada's Economy and the Institutions of Federalism
  • Do our interprovincial arrangements help or hinder?
  • Can our institutions cope?

7. Being Canadian Today: National Identity, Public Attitudes and the Canadian Social Fabric




The Institute is proud to be hosting the 2012 State of the Federation conference in conjunction with the University of Toronto's School of Public Policy & Governance.


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The Institute is pleased to acknowledge the financial support of:



The Institute gratefully acknowledges the following partners:

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Please Note: Further information, including when and how to register, will also be found here as it becomes available.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000