Assessing the Collaboration That Was “Collaborative Federalism” 1996-2006

Julie M. Simmons, Peter Graefe


From a vantage point fifteen to twenty years after a number of scholars labeled the intergovernmental climate of the mid/late 1990s as "collaborative federalism," this article re-assess the appropriateness of this label. Looking particularly at social policy, we consider the process of col- laboration itself, both in terms of the institutions and forums where the federal and provincial partners to the collabora- tion met (have initial attempts to grow the apparatus of intergovernmental negotiations had lasting effects), and in terms of the culture and relationships involved (have prov- inces and the federal government negotiated in ways that place the two orders of government on equal footing, or have they reverted to a hierarchical relationship). The article also considers whether provincial and federal governments pro- duced collaborative policy outcomes, given their pledges to do so, as elaborated in a series of intergovernmental agree- ments. We find that the “collaborative” of collaborative federalism comes to look quite thin, particularly compared to the definition of collaboration advanced by scholars a decade ago. We conclude with some brief reflections on what the lack of collaboration in collaborative federalism means for the broader taxonomic question of how we understand the intergovernmental relations of these years, and suggest that a more accurate descriptor might be the unraveling of competitive federalism.


Intergovernmental relations; federalism; social policy renewal; Council of the Federation

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