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extract | Tensions and possible solutions

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Maria Gill
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Canada is a divided country… but by how much? And above all, how do we explain and explain this phenomenon? This book paints a contemporary picture of the tensions at work within the Canadian Federation.

Canada is a divided country. But does it have a call to transcend its divisions to the point of transcendence with a single experimental horizon? Or does it, like other federal democracies crossed by deep national and regional diversity, aspire to exist despite the divisions that characterize it?

Using original survey data, our book shows that the vast majority of Canadians agree with identifying several important structural problems in the functioning of Canadian federalism. It also highlights that not everyone agrees on the causes that give rise to these problems, nor on the dynamics that fuel them, nor on the ways that should be preferred for their constructive development.

Therefore, there are four main possible ways. In our opinion, the first and second are to be avoided, the third faces significant opposition, while the fourth appears to us to be the most realistic institutional and organizational method for managing tensions in a constructive manner.

Unitarian temptation

The first option is institutional centralization and unitary temptation. According to this reading, the idea is to dilute as much as possible the value of the cultural centers and identity according to which many departments in Canada have been formed. It is a “solution” to finally settle the phenomenon of division, and it is much more than a road map that must be followed in order to manage the conflicts that arise. While this business has the potential to work – if it has to be done at any cost – it remains risky. Even if attempts are made to eliminate these hotbeds of cultural and identity through centralized policies, recent history shows that minority communities can continue to nurture specific memory and identity despite the absence of formal political institutions. Therefore, the possibility of failure of this first project is great; Its promoters should be aware of this.

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Low State Co

The second path to consider is the status quo path. This road has the advantage of being the least expensive for public authorities. It does, however, portend a gap that Canada may not be able to bridge: It is very clear from our analysis that the inability of Canadian federalism to renew itself since the failure of the Meech constitutional rounds (1987-1990) and Charlottetown (1992) has weakened the sustainability of its foundations.

In other words, the status quo does not make Canadian federalism more popular.

In Quebec, when we look at younger generations of French-speaking people, we note that those who were still children at the time of the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence are today more inclined to say they are sovereigns than federalists, despite the relative slumber of slumber. independence movement. Nor is there any indication that the sense of alienation from Western Canada’s provinces will magically disappear if significant institutional reform is not implemented. Thus, the status quo has the potential to exacerbate tensions in Canada, far more than it can constructively modify them.


The third path is the dissolution of the Canadian Confederation and the emergence of new sovereign political and democratic projects in North America. Since societies and political structures around the world have changed dramatically over the past few centuries, there is little reason to believe that Canadian democracy – as we know it today – is here to stay forever. We have no more reason to doubt what happened in the twenty-first centuryNS century, healthy pluralistic democracies can emerge from separatist movements.

If divisions in Canada continue to grow, and if the citizens of the provinces and territories cannot find new common ground to create schemes of cooperation that are renewed and equitable in the eyes of all, then the choice for the provinces, regions and even indigenous communities that will separate from the Canadian Federation will be more possible. Ultimately, this may lead to the emergence of a new space of supranational political cooperation, in which different sovereign entities can relate to each other on a strictly confederal basis. In the medium to long term, while the interests and power of the United States must inevitably be factored into this equation, this path could create an entirely different political space for North America.

Unequal Federalism

Finally, the fourth possible method, which seems to us the most realistic for Canada in particular, but also as a model from which to draw inspiration from other multinational democracies, corresponds to unequal federalism. In short, institutional asymmetry reminds federation partners that if they do indeed evolve within the same socio-political environment, they nonetheless participate in it in a unique way.

Therefore, it is a matter of specifying that not all partners should be associated with the Canadian political system in exactly the same way; It is important to consider the characteristics of each and to empower the different “peoples” that Canada unites politically and constitutionally.

According to this philosophy, equality must be achieved through the prism of equity: the distinct communities of Quebec, indigenous, Acadian, Newfoundland, Francophone and English minorities, as well as regions of Canada more broadly, must be considered legitimate. Indigenous political groups, driven by special interests. The principle of strict equality between the provinces, a disregard for regional differences, and the idea that all individuals should present themselves as “first and foremost” Canadians seem to have fueled many of the country’s divisions.

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Although Canadians do not currently display a great appetite for unequal federalism, we believe it is the least costly institutional way to fairly and sustainably manage Canada’s social and political landscape; Even if it means considering the possibility of creating new independent states in the event of fundamental failure or stalemate.

Who are Evelyn Brie and Felix Mathieu?

Evelyn Brie is a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania and Research Associate at City Lab Berlin and Canada Research Chair in Quebec and Canadian Studies. She specializes in statistical methods and focuses her research on public opinion and electoral behavior.

Felix Mathew is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Winnipeg and Research Associate in the Canadian Research Chair in Quebec and Canadian Studies. His work focuses on managing national and ethno-cultural diversity in liberal democracies.

A Country Divided: Identity, Federalism, and Territoriality in Canada

A Country Divided: Identity, Federalism, and Territoriality in Canada

Laval University Press, Diversity and Democracy Collection, September 2021

204 pages

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