Deconstructing The New Federalism

James Bickerton


The appearance or imminent arrival of a ‘new federalism’ has been a repeated theme in the study of federal-provincial relations in Canada and in the pronouncements of Canadian governments. At the same time, there clearly is a strong path dependency effect that acts as a check or limitation on the scope of change that federal governments can accomplish, leaving Canadian history littered with the corpses of ‘new federalisms’ that have never been realized. While there is much that separates recent scholarly interventions on the new federalism, all recognize the need to restore a greater measure of political legitimacy and functionality in federal-provincial relations by building consensus on rules and norms of behavior. This paper surveys the history of ‘the new federalism’ as a political strategy and program, and analyzes the competing interpretations of the concept that are currently on offer. I conclude that policy challenges looming on the horizon will demand a coordinated and multilevel response from governments, making it likely that whatever new federalism emerges will continue the trend toward shared jurisdiction and policy-making, rather than disentanglement.


Canada, federalism

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@Canadian Political Science Review (CPSR). ISSN 1911-4125