Ideas and Intergovernmental Relations in Canada
by Jennifer Wallner, University of Ottawa
Intergovernmental relations (IGR) are integral to any federation; but each federation has its own unique IGR ecosystem that shifts over time, influenced by both external and internal factors. Through an examination of the northernmost federation of North America, here I consider the potential impact that ideas about federalism can have on the dynamics of IGR. From 2006 until October 2015, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper led the government of Canada. Before becoming prime minister, Mr. Harper articulated his own distinctive brand for intergovernmental relations, known as “open federalism.” Simply put, Mr. Harper sought to disentangle the orders of government, clarify their respective roles and responsibilities, and slow federal activity in areas of provincial authority. How then, over a 10-year period, did Mr. Harper’s proposed ideas fare? Based on the developments during his tenure, it seems that, while individual prime ministers can endeavor to set a new trajectory and exert considerable influence over certain components of the system, external realities, the day-to-day dynamics of an intergovernmental ecosystem, and the competing priorities of government goals act as countervailing forces that compromise the installation of a radically new approach to the management of IGR in a federation.