Skip to main content


Go Search
New Atlas
Atlas, A-Z
Atlas Maps
MPP/MPA Programs
Core Topics
Illustrative Courses
Topic Encyclopedia
Concept Dictionary
Career Tips
Best Practices Project

Actors, Interests and Lobbying
Administration and Governance
Administrative Law and Constitutional Checks on the Executive
All-Powerful Leaders?: The Concentration of Power in Modern Executives
Bureaucracy and the Formulation of Public Policy
Canadian Intergovernmental Structures and Operating Processes
Conceptual and Theoretical Foundations of Third Sector Governance and Management
Courts, Judicial Review, Rights and Democracy
Emergence of the Nation State
Executive Authority, Cabinet and Leadership
Executive Leadership in Government
Executive-Legislative Relations
Federal-Provincial Fiscal Relations
Federal-Provincial-Municipal Relations
Game Theory and Rational Institutionalism
Indigenous Rights and Institutions
Institutional Architecture: Federalism
Institutional Designs and Paths
Machinery of Government
Media, Framing and Agenda Setting
New Public Management
Parliamentary, Presidential and Decentralized Unitary Systems
Political and Administrative Responsibilities
Political and Administrative Responsibilities
Political Parties and Elections
Probing the Accuracy of Rational Decision Making Models: Alternative Accounts
Public and Para-Public Institutions
Public Institutions, Organizing Principles and Democratic Control
Public Opinion, Ideas and Policy Frames
Representation and Accountability
Representation and Responsiveness
Representation, Accountability and Policy
The Architecture of the Canadian State
The Bureaucracy and Bureaucratic Behaviour
The Changing Role of the State
The Democratic Deficit: Ethics, Responsiveness and Performance
The International Context of Domestic Institutions
The Policy Cycle
The Political Context of Policy Making
Weber: Rationalization and Bureaucracy
Westminster Parliamentary Systems
Who are the Players in the Policy Process?


A Teaching Topic in Democratic Institutions and Policy Process



This topic deals with the nature of the federal system where there is a constitutionally based division of power between a central governing authority and various sub-national units. This topic seeks to account for the rationale of the federal system, its historical underpinnings, and the institutional arrangements that exist under a federal system. (PPPA-6000). In addition, explores the effects that federalism has to the understanding of governance given that through a federal system and the division of powers promotes autonomy amongst sub-national units and bolstering democratic activity and legitimacy as a form of government. (JSGS-801). This topic deals with the relationships, roles and responsibilities that both the central authority and the sub-national jurisdictions are tasked with. (PPG-1000) 

Topic Learning Outcome: Upon mastering this topic, students will understand the distinction between a federal state and a unitary state and will be knowledgeable about the historical underpinnings and key features of Canada’s federal system.

Core Concepts Associated With This Topic: Federalism; Asymmetrical Federalism; Cooperative Federalism; Cost-shared Programs; Executive Federalism; Fiscal Federalism; Tax Transfer; Intrastate Federalism

Recommended Reading 


University of Toronto: PPG-1000 

Gibbins, Roger, Antonia Maioni and Janice Gross Stein. 2006. Canada by Picasso: The Faces of Federalism. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada. Essays by Gibbins and Stein. Available online:


Mendelsohn, Matthew, Joshua Hjartarson and James Pearce. 2010. Saving Dollars and Making Sense: An Agenda for a More Efficient and Accountable Federation. Toronto: Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation. (PPG-1000: existing on Atlas)


Simeon, Richard and Amy Nugent. 2008. “Parliamentary Canada and Intergovernmental Canada: Exploring the Tensions.” Canadian Federalism: Performance, Effectiveness, and Legitimacy, ed. Herman Bakvis and Grace Skogstad, 89-111. Toronto: Oxford University Press.


Slack, Enid and Richard M. Bird. 2007. “Cities in Canadian Federalism.” Policy Options December 2007:72-77. (PPG-1000: existing on Atlas)

Skogstad, G. (2003). Who Governs? Who Should Govern?: Political Authority and Legitimacy in Canada in the Twenty-First Century. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 36(5): 955-973. (PPG-1000)

Kernaghan, K. (2000). “The Post-Bureaucratic Organization and Public Service Values.” International Review of Administrative Sciences, 66(1): 91-104. (PPG-1000)

David Zussman (2010). “The Precarious State of the Federal Public Service: Prospects for Renewal”, in G. Bruce Doern and Christopher Stoney (eds.), How Ottawa Spends 2010-2011: Recession, Realignment and the New Deficit Era. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 219-242. (PPG-1000)

Savoie, D. (2010). “Revisiting Governing From The Centre”, pp. 129-151, In Power Where Is It?

Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press. (PPG-1000)

Taylor, Charles. 1993. “Shared and divergent values,” in Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism, p. 155-186. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. (PPG-1000)

Rocher, Francois. 2009. "The Quebec-Canada Dynamic or the Negation of the Ideal of Federalism." In Contemporary Canadian Federalism: Foundations, Traditions, Institutions, ed. Alain-G. Gagnon, p. 97-131. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (PPG-1000)

Laforest, Guy. 2010. “The meaning of Canadian federalism in Québec: Critical reflections.” Revista d’Estudis Autonomics i Federals 11(October): 11-56. (PPG-1000)

Cameron, David. 2012. “Quebec and the Canadian federation,” in Canadian Federalism: Performance, Effectiveness, and Legitimacy, 3rd ed., eds. Herman Bakvis and Grace Skogstad, p. 38-58. (PPG-1000)

White, Graham. 2009. “Governance in Nunavut: Capacity vs. culture?” Journal of Canadian Studies 43(2): 57-81. (PPG-1000)

Harvard Kennedy School: DPI-101

Alfred Stepan. 1999. “Federalism and Democracy: Beyond the US model.” Journal of Democracy, 10(4). (DPI-101)

Boone, Catherine. 2004. “Decentralization as Political Strategy in West Africa.” Comparative Political Studies, 36 (4), pp. 355-380. (DPI-101)

Baiocchi, Gianpaolo. “The Citizens of Porto Alegre.” Boston Review, March/April 2006.  (DPI-101)

George Washington: PPPA-6000

Kettl, D. (2006). “Managing boundaries in American administration: The collaboration imperative.” Public Administration Review, 66, 10-19. (PPPA-6000)

The Federalist Papers No. 10, 51, 70. (PPPA-6000)

Anti-Federalist Paper by Brutus. (PPPA-6000)

Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy: JSGS-801

Hooge, Liesbet and Gary Marks. 2003. “Unravelling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level Governance.” American Political Science Review 97(2): 233-243. (JSGS-801)

Cameron, David and Richard Simeon. 2002. “Intergovernmental Relations in Canada: The Emergence of Collaborative Federalism.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 32(2): 49-71. (JSGS-801)

Bickerton, James. 2010. “Deconstructing the New Federalism.” Canadian Political Science Review 4(2-3): 56-72 (JSGS-801)

Leo, Christopher. 2009. Multi-Level Governance and Ideological Rigidity: The Failure of Deep Federalism.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 42(1): 93–116. (JSGS-801)

Simeon, Richard and Beryl Radin. 2010. “Reflections on Comparing Federalisms: Canada and the United States.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 40 (3): 357-365. (JSGS-801)

Lenihan, Donald G., Tim Barber, Graham Fox, and John Milloy. 2007. “Canadian Federalism: Adapting Constitutional Roles and Responsibilities in the 21st Century.” Policy Options April: 89-95. (JSGS-801)

Howlett, Michael and Joshua Newman. 2010. “Policy analysis and policy work in federal systems: Policy advice and its contribution to evidence-based policy-making in multi-level governance systems”. Policy and Society 29(2): 123–136. (JSGS-801)

Bakvis, Herman and Douglas Brown. 2010. “Policy Coordination in Federal Systems: Comparing Intergovernmental Processes and Outcomes in Canada and the United States.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 40 (3): 484-507. (JSGS-801)

Rutgers University: PAD-501

Marc Holzer and Richard Schwester, Public Administration: An Introduction. Armonk: NY, M. E. Sharpe, 2011). Chapter 6. (PAD-501)

Robert Agranoff and Michael McGuire, "Another Look at Bargaining and Negotiating in Intergovernmental Management." Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 14 (October 2004): 495-512. (PAD-501)

Martha Derthick, “Where Federalism Didn’t Fail.” Public Administration Review 67 (Supplement on Hurricane Katrina): 36-47. (PAD-501)

UCLA: PP-202

Beamer, Glenn. Creative Politics: Taxes and Public Goods in a Federal System. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. Chapters 1-5, 6, 7, 8.  (PP-202)

Stone, Deborah A. Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making, 3rd Ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Chapter 15, Powers. (PP-202)

McDermott, Kathryn A. and Laura S. Jensen. “Dubious Sovereignty: Federal Conditions of Aid and the No Child Left Behind Act.” Peabody Journal of Education 80(2): 39-56. (PP-202)

Dobbs, Michael. “Federal Rules for Teachers Relaxed; Rural Schools Will Get a Break,” Washington Post, March 16, 2004, p. A-03. (PP-202)

Gillespie, Noreen. “Conn. Sues ‘No Child Left Behind’ Law,” Associated Press, August 22, 2005. (PP-202)

States Defy Rules of Federal No Child Left Behind Law,” St. Petersburg Times, September 5, 2005. (PP-202)

Sample Assessment Questions:

       1.)  What is a federal state? How does a federal state differ from a unitary state? Provide one example of each.

       2.)  Describe the key responsibilities of the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments in Canada.

       3.)  How do municipal governments fit into Canada’s federal system?

       4.)  Define the term “asymmetric federalism” and explain the importance of this concept in the Canadian context.

       5.)  What are the major federal-provincial fiscal transfers in Canada?

      Page created by: Joshua Tan, edited by Ben Eisen, 23 October 2014.

Important Notices
© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance