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WHO’S AFRAID OF ASYMMETRICAL FEDERALISM?

Vol. 35, Issue 2, Jul 2005, Page 2
Douglas Brown

RSC-Universities forums on taboo topics

This document is an outcome of a joint Royal Society of Canada / Universities Forum. This forum is one of some twenty events organized by the Royal Society and a group of Canadian universities to critically examine some thorny questions of national concern that have not received the attention they deserve and have not been fully explained in non-technical terms to citizens and policy makers. Over twenty such forums are planned for 2005 under the general title of RSC-Universities Forums on Taboo Topics.

This particular forum was held at the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations at Queen’s University on May 12, 2005.

Forums SRC-Universités sur des sujets tabous

Ce document est le résultat d’une initiative conjointe de la Société Royale du Canada et des universités canadiennes. Ce forum est l’un d’une vingtaine d’événements organisés par la Société Royales du Canada et un groupe d’universités canadiennes pour examiner de manière critique certains problèmes épineux d’intérêt national qui n’ont pas reçu l’attention qu’ils méritent et n’ont pas été exposés en termes relativement simples de manière à ce que les citoyens et les définisseurs de situation puissent en apprécier les enjeux majeurs. Une vingtaine de ces Forums sont planifiés à travers le pays en 2005 sous la bannière Forums SRC-Universités sur des sujets tabous.

Cet événement particulier s’est tenu à l’Institut des relations inter-gouvernementales de l’Université Queen’s le 12 mai 2005.

Recently, a group of experts at Queen’s University 1 reflected on whether current developments in Canadian politics and administration amounted to a resurrection of asymmetrical federalism and what the implications of these findings might be. The federal government, led by Prime Minister Paul Martin, is pursuing national policy approaches that allow for special arrangements for individual provinces, most notably Quebec. This is seen most clearly in the First Ministers’ September 2004 agreement on health care and the March 2005 federal-Quebec agreement on the use of employment insurance funds for parental leave. There is also the federal government’s January 2005 agreement to revise the funding arrangements for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, covering offshore oil and gas revenue. There have been calls since then for new financial arrangements from the provincial governments of Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick, Quebec, and British Columbia.

Do these special arrangements point to a major shift in favour of more asymmetrical federal-provincial relations? Why are they emerging now? Are such arrangements a good idea? What works and what doesn’t in these approaches? In short, who’s afraid of asymmetrical federalism? Drawing on the discussion held at Queen’s and a range of views expressed recently on this development,2 this paper takes stock of the concept and its recent practice.



1  The Royal Society of Canada and the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations co-hosted a discussion among about 20 specialists in federalism and intergovernmental relations on May 12, 2005. Except where individuals are explicitly cited, the views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the participants in this discussion. A list of the participants is appended to this article.

2  For a series of short papers on the issue of asymmetrical federalism, see the website of the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, Queen’s University: www.iigr.ca.












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