May 14, 2014 - by Dr. Andre Juneau, Queen's University

Seen over time, Canadian federalism has worked reasonably well. But it needs serious improvement. The European Union's Open Method of Coordination (OMC) would address some of the issues (only some).

Very briefly, the OMC refers to a method of coordination whereby member states collectively choose a policy area they all wish to address, devise national plans with benchmarks, which are then rolled up into joint plans and discussed collectively along with civil society representatives. This is highly simplified but the case made here is that it might provide a template for initiatives launched by the interprovincial-territorial Council of the Federation, instead of having to reinvent a process for each initiative.

 

This is particularly important at this time because the current federal government has made it clear that it will generally not participate in pan-Canadian initiatives on health care and energy for example. To repeat: the EU's OMC is not a solution to all the current issues facing the federation, but it would be a good contribution.

Two arguments are often made against the value of coordination: the misguided view that much good could be achieved by elimination of overlap and duplication between orders of government (there is not that much); and the also misguided view that the two orders of government can largely operate independently of each other (the so-called watertight- compartments view of federalism) without the need for coordination. This point is easily illustrated by trade negotiations − which are a federal responsibility − but often touch on matters under provincial responsibility, such as municipal procurement.

Scholars and journalists with an interest in the federation should pay attention to these questions and should also look at existing intergovernmental institutions that accomplish a great deal of useful work, despite their shortcomings, such as the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and the Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC).

Andre Juneau is is currently a fellow at the Queen's University Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, and served as the director of the Institute from March 2010 to December 2013. He has a thirty year career with the Government of Canada in the areas of finance, social policy, immigration, infrastructure and health care, including their intergovernmental dimension. He presented his thoughts on this issue at a workshop in Montreal on May 9 held as part of the cross-Canada conversation Opening Up Canadian Federalism the European Way.

See http://eucaworkshops.com/ for more details.

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