Courchene (2004) also discusses the changing nature of relations between federal Canada and Quebec and suggests that increasing cooperation has become a new vision that is now being explored. Brown (2003) takes particular note of the actions being taken in Quebec, and he notes that the Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) issued a paper "calling for a new federalism 'de concertation et de cooperation,' consisting of a better effort to manage global interdependence, a respect for the federal spirit (i.e. respect for provincial jurisdiction), a better fiscal balance between the federal and provincial governments, and more concerted interprovincial cooperation" (Brown, 2003, p. 6). In terms of how the Copuncil of the Federation, Brown finds that this may be little more than a continuation of the Annual Premiers' Conference under a different name, or it could lead to a return to the earlier practice seen in the Mulroney era when annual first ministers' conferences were common Brown notes,
Canadians and their governments may not be ready for European-style co-decision. They may continue to fear joint decision traps, where any kind of locked-in decision process will erode their autonomy (Brown, 2003, p. 6).
Peach (2004) notes the challenges to the Council of the Federation as a tool for making national policy. He first notes that it is far too early to determine if the Council will be a historic development in public policy in Canada or will be another failure, and he agrees that at first glance, the Founding Agreement for the new Council of the Federation "gives the overwhelming impression of a lack of substance" (p. 1). Some claim that a more cooperative inter-governmental relationship is a positive in itself, while many Canadians "argue that a more cooperative relationship is worthwhile only if it brings about desired improvements in our social and economic policies.
The risk is that these will be sacrificed for the sake of achieving intergovernmental
Harmony" (p. 1). In truth, though, while this may indeed be a value in itself, unless real policy change is made and unless the people see the process as working more effectively, the approach will be a failure. In Quebec, the inter-governmental approach has not overcome long-lasting antipathies between groups and between levels of government in the past, raising the question of why it would be successful under this form.
No l (2003) considers how this new initiative will work with reference to Quebec and says first that "this Council appears to be little more than a light institutionalization of existing intergovernmental practices. At most, it would be only a first step toward the premiers' idea of a 'new era of constructive and cooperative federalism.' Much more would need to be done and achieved to open up a 'new era,' in a context still defined by fiscal imbalance, federal unilateralism, and recurrent intergovernmental conflicts" (p. 1).
No l rightly points out that the impact of the new Council will depend most on the decisions and actions of the various governments. The author also predicts increased pressure for a different answer "if collaborative federalism fails to bring significant gains on objectives that will remain central to Quebec society, namely recognition and autonomy" (p. 2). Deciding how the Council will be viewed is difficult given the ambivalence with which various people in Quebec view the government they have now and the federal role they perceive as operating now. Currently, though Quebec is in favor of a co-decision model (pp. 5-6).
Burelle (2003) sees the new Council of Federation as a formalizing of the Annual Premiers' Conferences of the past. He also sees the Council as serving a defensive role against the domineering federalism of Ottawa. The older type of paternal federalism created many problems that proponents of the new system hope will now be avoided. However, as Burelle notes, the federal government has had the wherewithal to support certain social programs, and the provincial governments will have to show that they can guarantee these programs using their own means if they are to gain the approval of the public. The Council may be able to help make decisions across governmental boundaries in a way that can demonstrate this ability:
They must create an interprovincial Council of the Federation, empowered to jointly decide on the common goals and minimum constraints that the provinces will impose on themselves in order to ensure the coherence of the Canadian social union. They must also commit to publishing an annual report and comparative analysis in which the provinces that do not comply with these standards would be exposed (Burelle, 2003, p. 3).
Still, there is no way to be certain that the new approach will be effective or even how it will work until it is fully engaged and until the issues of import are raised. The Council offers an opportunity to overcome some of the gridlock of the past and to offer more creative solutions by enabling one government system to make recommendations that may help another in a more direct fashion than simply being itself a good example. What one group might devise could work elsewhere even if it does not work in its own context. At the present time, the willingness of Quebec to engage in this process is the most promising sign that some change can be made.
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Burelle, a. (2003). The Council of the Federation: From a Defensive to a Partnership Approach. Institute for Research on Public Policy (3 English).
Cameron, D. & Simeon, R. (2002). Intergovernmental relations in Canada: The emergence of collaborative federalism. Publius 32, 2, 49-70.
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Courchene, T.J. (2004, September). The Changing Nature of Canada's Quebec-Canada Relations: From the 1980 Referendum to the Summit of the Canadas. Institute for Research on Public Policy, IRPP Working Paper number 2004-08,
Dasko, D. (1996). Caring and Sharing vs. Leaner and Meaner: Evolving Canadian Values. In Quebec-Canada, J.E. Trent, R.Young, and G. LaChapelle (eds.), 117-124. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.
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No l, a. (2003). The End of a Model? Quebec and the Council of the…