The internationally renowned scholar of federalism, Daniel Elazar, wrote in 1994 that ”œthe federalist revolution is among the most widespread " if one of the most unno- ticed " of the various revolutions that are changing the face of the globe in our time.” Elazar’s words ring true today. In the past 15 years or so, a num- ber of countries with diverse popula- tions and troubled pasts, such as South Africa and Nigeria, have adopted feder- al constitutions. According to the Forum of Federations, 25 of the world’s countries now have federal political sys- tems. They range from tiny island countries such as St. Kitts and Nevis to the world’s most populous democracy, India. Other countries, for example the Philippines, are considering federalism.
Sharing knowledge about this rich tapestry of societies and constitutional arrangements is central to the man- date of the Forum of Federations, a non-profit international organization founded in 1998 with funding from Ottawa. Some readers may recall the Forum’s inaugural conference at Mont- Tremblant at which President Bill Clinton delivered a spirited defence of federalism. Although from the outset the Forum has worked with govern- ments and academics from a range of federal countries, in the last few years it has gone through an ”œinternational- ization” phase. The Forum has signed framework agreements with Canada, Austria, Australia, India, Mexico, Nigeria and Switzerland, each of which is making a financial contribution to its work.
Among the Forum’s core functions is facilitating and supporting net- working among practitioners of federal- ism. It thus puts considerable energy into the organization of events " from small, technical workshops to interna- tional conferences. Participants include practitioners from all levels of govern- ment, academics, representatives of non-governmental organizations and young professionals. The Global Dialogue on Federalism, which the Forum co-sponsors with the International Association of Centers for Federal Studies, combines events, research and publications. The program is structured around a series of themes. The activities on each theme fol- low a set model. One or two leading experts, referred to as theme coordinator(s), are selected by the editorial board to oversee the overall content and development of each theme. The theme coordinator recommends the countries for the theme (usually 12) and one or two experts from each of them to serve as country coordinators. The country coordinators organize a roundtable in each country and partic- ipate in a subsequent comparative international roundtable on the theme. An on-line discussion forum allows the dialogue to continue between events.
For each theme, McGill-Queen’s University Press is publishing two products, in English and French. First, there is a volume of papers on the coun- tries selected for the theme; the papers are written by the country coordinators, and the volume is edited by the theme coordinators. Second, there is a booklet on each theme, with abridged versions (usually three pages long, plus a map) of each chapter in the edited volume.
The first two of the edited volumes have been published: Constitutional Origins, Structure, and Change in Federal Countries, edited by John Kincaid and G. Alan Tarr; and Distribution of Powers and Responsibilities in Federal Countries, edited by Akhtar Majeed, Ronald L. Watts and Douglas Brown. The third volume, Legislative, Executive and Judicial Governance in Federal Countries, edited by Katy Le Roy and Cheryl Saunders, will appear this autumn. The booklets on these three themes, as well as the fourth in the series, Dialogues on the Practice of Fiscal Federalism: Comparative Perspectives, all edited by Raoul Blindenbacher and Abigail Ostien, have already been published. Future publications will address foreign relations, and local governments and metropolitan regions.
While edited volumes are often less than the sum of their parts, this trap has been avoided. With edi- tors like Watts, Saunders and Kincaid, intellectual leadership and rigour are assured. Authors follow a template, which means most of the same areas are covered in each theme chapter. Moreover, each volume includes a detailed and insightful conclusion by one of the editors in which s/he draws comparative lessons from the individual chapters.
Rather than doing the project a disservice by trying to comment on the 37 chapters in the three volumes, I shall address the ones on Canada. Rainer Knopff and Anthony Sayers wrote the chapter for volume 1, Constitutional Origins, Structure, and Change in Federal Countries. They cover a large amount of ground quite effectively and are true to the book’s title. However, they may have understated the importance of pressures, both at the time of Confederation and since the 1960s, to safeguard the French language (so cen- tral to Pierre Trudeau’s long campaign for a charter of rights) and to expand Quebec’s powers (driven in part by a distinct view of the role of the provin- cial state). On the theme of constitu- tional change, it would have been useful to provide somewhat more infor- mation, within the text, about the amendments that have been adopted since 1982. With one exception, these were authorized through the ”œbilateral” formula (section 43) to amend elements of provincial constitutions " including an important one in 1997 that trans- formed Quebec’s school system to one based on language rather than religion.
Richard Simeon and Martin Papillon authored the chapter on Canada for volume 2, Distribution of Powers and Responsibilities in Federal Countries. In their masterly account of how the Canadian federation (not just its constitutional functioning) has evolved, they place considerable emphasis on the interplay between fed- eral society and the federal state. For Simeon and Papillon, Canadian social life now revolves around four axes: lan- guage, region, multiculturalism and Aboriginal peoples. The first two are the most longstanding, and much adapta- tion to these and other factors has occurred with few formal changes to the distribution of powers but much intergovernmental negotiation. Further adaptation of such processes will remain essential. As the authors aptly conclude: ”œWhatever the issue at hand, Canadians are telling their govern- ments: we do not want to be hamstrung by the constitutional division of powers or by intergovernmental rivalries. They are saying…get on with it.”
In volume 3, Legislative, Executive and Judicial Governance in Federal Countries, the Canadian chapter was written by Thomas Hueglin. He pro- vides a thorough but concise analysis of legislative, executive and judicial institutions and their evolution, a brief but useful section on local govern- ment, and an excellent commentary on intergovernmental relations. On this latter theme, Hueglin writes that ”œthe entire system of intergovernmen- tal executive federalism…has become the linchpin of federal governance in Canada.” However, this is not without problems: ”œThe political grandstand- ing of prime ministers and provincial premiers on the intergovernmental stage has been facilitated by their unchallenged executive control over parliamentary majorities.” More gen- erally, Hueglin credits federal gover- nance with ”œspectacular success in providing Canadians with political, economic, and social stability,” despite conflicts that have tested the country since 1867.
The Global Dialogue on Federalism series is adding considerably to the body of knowledge about federal countries and federalism. For example, 1,000 copies of the volume on the dis- tribution of powers were sold from January to May 2006. For a publication of this kind, this is quite impressive. Through the Global Dialogue on Federalism, readers far and wide will have access to a broad range of facts, historical accounts and analyses of cur- rent issues in the world’s principal fed- erations. Assisted by thoughtful analyses such as those reviewed above, they will be able to draw their own conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of particular federal insti- tutions and constitutional arrange- ments. In the process, they should understand more fully that federalism is not just about structures and powers; it is fundamentally about accommoda- tion and power sharing to govern the various diversities that often strain societies across the globe.