Negotiating Brexit and Leaving the European Union: Some Reflections from a Canadian Perspective

Sept 14, 2017- by Donna E. Wood and Amy Verdun, University of Victoria 

As Brexit unfolds in the British and European media, the two of us have been increasingly struck by how this could have been Canada if that slim majority of Québec citizens had voted to leave Canada in the 1995 referendum. Many of you will remember that October day over twenty years ago: the decision to have Québec remain in Canada (‘no’ to sovereignty) carried by a very slim majority of only 54,288 more votes than those who voted yes; or 50.58 per cent of the voters.

In both the Québec and the UK referendums there was an unclear question and a low approval threshold ─ accepted as 50 per cent plus one on a matter of tremendous significance. In most jurisdictions constitutional decisions would require at least a 2/3 majority but neither of these historic cases demanded a larger majority. The Government of Canada soon corrected that mistake with a Supreme Court reference and the 2000 Clarity Act establishing the conditions under which it would enter into negotiations with any province wishing to leave.

To this date it has remained unclear why David Cameron’s British Conservatives took the risk to be so negligent with the 2016 Brexit referendum process. We cannot understand why they did not look to Canada’s near death 1995 experience for guidance and thus any lessons that could have been learned prior to holding the referendum.

Looking to the Canada experience is important because there are so many similarities between the United Kingdom (UK) and Québec and their historic place in their respective unions. Both consider themselves as ‘exceptional’ and ‘unique’. They have almost always had one foot out the door. ‘Asymmetrical’ arrangements were routinely required to meet their unique needs.

Now that the UK is preparing to leave (with 51.9 per cent of participating citizens voting to leave the EU in their June 23, 2016 referendum) both sides are dealing with exactly the same questions that Québeckers and Canadians woure power across a range of issues. It required constitutional agreement between the constituent units to form the larger unions in the first place: Canada through the 1867 British North America Act and the EU through its various treaties, starting with the 1951 Treaty of Paris all the way to the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon.

We thought we would take the analogy one step further and try and match up the other provinces and EU member states for the sake of argument. Our main criterion was the provinces’/member states’ political culture in terms of their respective attitudes towards the centre (that is respectively the Government of Canada and the European Commission/Council), as well its population and relative economic ‘weight’ in the union in terms of share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

and are among the most left leaning parts of the union. While they see themselves as being ‘different’ from the others, unlike Québec and the UK their self-perceived ‘difference’ does not lead the government of the day to contemplate actually leaving the union.

Now it gets trickier. We might think of Alberta as Poland. Both have relatively large populations and see themselves as standing up to the centre and providing leadership in their regions. Saskatchewan could be seen as the Canadian Italy. In both there have been changeable politics over time and significant financial problems buffered by being part of the larger union. Manitoba and Austria share many similarities, being geographically in the centre of the political entity and acting as a mediator between the other players.

Because the EU has more member states than Canada has provinces, we have lots of choices for Atlantic Canada. Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador have many things in common besides a shared heritage and the fact that both are islands that are geographically located at the periphery. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia may resemble Belgium and the Netherlands; all were there at the start of the union and remain quietly committed. Prince Edward Island could be like Malta – the smallest EU member state. Even though their populations are small, they have all the powers of the largest players, Ontario and Germany.

Why are we doing this? It is because we want Canadians (and Europeans) to think about the salience of comparing Canada to the European Union. Comparison is invaluable as it shines a light on one’s own practices and provides ideas that might not otherwise be considered. On both sides of the Atlantic the usual comparator that often comes to mind is the United States (US). But the US federal political system and value base do not bear the same similarities as those of Canada and the EU.

And these Canadian and European values will only grow closer with the implementation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Strategic Partnership Agreement, not to mention the fact that the current politics of the day in the US under President Donald Trump seem to be in a league of their own.

Canada and Québec dodged a bullet in 1995 when Québec citizens decided to stay in the Canadian federation. Twenty years later Canada is a stronger albeit much more decentralized country. Yet Québec no longer wants to leave. The United Kingdom and the European Union negotiations are still in the early stages. The next couple of months will prove to be key as Theresa May’s Conservative government spells out its objectives and the European Commission solidifies the EU’s negotiation position. As Canadians we can only sit back and watch from the sidelines. Hopefully this note will help improve our collective understanding, on both sides of the Atlantic, as to what is at stake.

(with permission from the new Blog The Welfare Maters...https://donnaewood.wordpress.com/blog/)

Unity, Diversity, Populism: The European Union in Challenging Times - Call for papers ECSA-C, May 2018, Toronto

Call for Papers/Panels/Workshops

Unity, Diversity, Populism: The European Union in Challenging Times

12th Biennial Conference of the European Community Studies Association-Canada,

Toronto, 9-11 May 2018

In the words of former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, “after two World Wars and during the Cold War, European integration was a no-brainer. But the shared understanding that unity delivers peace, prosperity, and democracy has been weakened over time by persistent crises, and it could now be lost completely unless it is reinforced by a forward-looking message.” The question now remains, how is the European Union meeting contemporary challenges to maintain its “Unity in Diversity”?

The project of European integration has always had, as its primary goal, the security of peace and stability on the European continent. Through close economic, and later political cooperation, the states of Europe have moved to replace the destructive nationalisms of the early 20th century with a shared understanding of the importance of unity and cooperation. And yet, the rise of new nationalisms, reflected in the election of populist leaders as well as in Brexit and rising Euro-scepticism, are undermining the stability of the European project and threatening a return to the inward-looking, nationalist, and exclusionary politics of the early 20th century. These challenges threaten the project of integration, and as states attempt to salvage the core projects, may also threaten many of the advancements that Europe has made in terms of gender and racial equality, combatting social exclusion and poverty and advancing social and human rights.

The 12th Biennial European Community Studies Association Conference will take up the questions of unity, diversity and populism to interrogate the ways in which the European Union, member states and citizens are responding to the challenges arising from a changing global reality.

We wish to address the ways in which Europe promotes and undermines both unity and diversity through its policies, its interactions on the global stage, and its institutional organization. Topics might include citizenship, economics, cultural policies, democratic empowerment, gender and racial equality, freedom of movement, learning, active citizenship, minority rights and the refugee crisis, and the EU’s impact on its periphery and the world, including enlargement, foreign, security and trade policy. We will explore the role of EU institutions, but also member state governments, political, cultural and economic forces, and integration dynamics. Our objective is to provide a balanced assessment and analytical understanding of the EU’s specific contributions (or lack thereof) to unity and diversity broadly understood. To this end, we welcome the submission of papers and panels on any topic related to the EU.

This two and a half day conference will bring together scholars and practitioners from variety of disciplines and backgrounds and will include plenary sessions, keynote speakers, a professional development day for graduate students, panels, and workshops. Come and celebrate Europe Day with us in Toronto!  

We welcome submissions for individual papers, panels (3-4 papers) and workshops (approximately 12 papers) in either English or French.  Please send proposals to:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Deadline for submissions is December 1, 2017.

Europe's Challenging Times: Unity, Diversity, Populism - Call for papers ECSA-C, May 2018, Toronto

August 18, 2017

Call for Papers/Panels/Workshops

12th Biennial Conference of the European Community Studies Association-Canada, Toronto, 9-11 May 2018

UNITY, DIVERSITY, POPULISM: THE EUROPEAN UNION IN CHALLENGING TIMES

In the words of former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, “after two World Wars and during the Cold War, European integration was a no-brainer. But the shared understanding that unity delivers peace, prosperity, and democracy has been weakened over time by persistent crises, and it could now be lost completely unless it is reinforced by a forward-looking message.” The question now remains, how is the European Union meeting contemporary challenges to maintain its “Unity in Diversity”?

The project of European integration has always had, as its primary goal, the security of peace and stability on the European continent. Through close economic, and later political cooperation, the states of Europe have moved to replace the destructive nationalisms of the early 20th century with a shared understanding of the importance of unity and cooperation. And yet, the rise of new nationalisms, reflected in the election of populist leaders as well as in Brexit and rising Euro-scepticism, are undermining the stability of the European project and threatening a return to the inward-looking, nationalist, and exclusionary politics of the early 20th century. These challenges threaten the project of integration, and as states attempt to salvage the core projects, may also threaten many of the advancements that Europe has made in terms of gender and racial equality, combatting social exclusion and poverty and advancing social and human rights.

The 12th Biennial European Community Studies Association Conference will take up the questions of unity, diversity and populism to interrogate the ways in which the European Union, member states and citizens are responding to the challenges arising from a changing global reality.

We wish to address the ways in which Europe promotes and undermines both unity and diversity through its policies, its interactions on the global stage, and its institutional organization. Topics might include citizenship, economics, cultural policies, democratic empowerment, gender and racial equality, freedom of movement, learning, active citizenship, minority rights and the refugee crisis, and the EU’s impact on its periphery and the world, including enlargement, foreign, security and trade policy. We will explore the role of EU institutions, but also member state governments, political, cultural and economic forces, and integration dynamics. Our objective is to provide a balanced assessment and analytical understanding of the EU’s specific contributions (or lack thereof) to unity and diversity broadly understood. To this end, we welcome the submission of papers and panels on any topic related to the EU.

This two and a half day conference will bring together scholars and practitioners from variety of disciplines and backgrounds and will include plenary sessions, keynote speakers, a professional development day for graduate students, panels, and workshops. Come and celebrate Europe Day with us in Toronto!  

We welcome submissions for individual papers, panels (3-4 papers) and workshops (approximately 12 papers) in either English or French.  Please send proposals to:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Deadline for submissions is December 1, 2017.

Review of Russian European and Russian Affairs (RERA) - call for submissions

July 4th, 2017

The Review of European and Russian Affairs (RERA) is inviting scholars to submit  articles and book/literature reviews related to  the European Union,  its Member States, the states of the former Soviet Union, and Central and Eastern Europe. The journal is interdisciplinary with a focus on the social sciences, policy studies, law, and international affairs. The goals of the journal are to provide an accessible forum for research and to promote high standards of scholarship. RERA is an open-access journal, which means that all published papers are available to users free of charge. The journal welcomes submissions from established researchers, young scholars, and advanced graduate students. The journal is also accessible through several academic databases and resources.

 For more information about RERA, please contact Jennifer Diamond at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Opportunity to build a better Canada - a call to apply for Governor in Council (GIC) positions

May, 2017


"The Government of Canada has developed a new more transparent process for Governor in Council (GIC) appointments. Among the major changes to the process is the public posting of available positions, for which all interested and qualified candidates may apply.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), which is the federal research funding agency that promotes and supports postsecondary-based research and research training in the humanities and social sciences and strategically supports world-leading initiatives that reflect a commitment to ensuring a better future for Canada and the world.

The members of SSHRC's governing Council are distinguished representatives from the academic, not-for-profit, public and private sectors appointed by the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister, following a formal selection process led by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. The announcement for positions on SSHRC's governing Council has been posted recently (https://www.appointments-nominations.gc.ca/). SSHRC is inviting organization to announce the attached on web sites or share it with various networks.