Why does a federal state require a written constitution?
In a federal state a constitutional document is needed, to specify the
responsibilities assigned to each level of government.
So a federal state must be a state with a written constitution. The division of
powers between two levels of government is interstate federalism.
The BNA Act assigned Ottawa most of the powers which in the 19th century were
deemed to be nation-wide matters, crucial for the federal government to control if
it was to preside over nation-building.
The provinces, in contrast, were assigned matters which in the context of the 19th
century, were regarded as merely of local or provincial interest. And the
provinces got responsibility for education—a key demand of Quebec.
Some other matters, such as agriculture and immigration, were shared between
the two levels. Old age pensions were added in mid-20th century.
The Canadian political system combines British-style parliamentary government
with U.S.-style federalism.
Why did Canadian federalism become decentralized, despite intentions of the
Fathers of Confederation:
There are many reasons for this. One is that the provinces deliver the social
programs that Canadians today consider an important function of government,
such as health care. Another is that the provinces have access to lucrative sources
Powers of taxation
Impact of judicial decisions
Social programs require federal financing for provincially run programs with
They implement liberal welfare state liberalism
Both Ottawa & the provinces can complain about how these affect them Shared-cost programs committed Ottawa to covering 50% of the cost of
important social programs, regardless of their cost. These programs reflected the
liberal welfare-state ideology.
However, in the 1970s, when the Trudeau government was running substantial
deficits, it introduced the EPF, a new formula for financing health care and
post-secondary education. Under EPF, the federal contribution was no longer
automatically 50:50. This marked the beginning of a period when Ottawa began
to withdraw from active national leadership in the liberal welfare-state.
Highlights of the Federalism Lecture
The Canadian federation today is a lot more decentralized than the Fathers of
Confederation intended. There are many reasons for this. One is that the provinces
deliver the social programs that Canadians today consider an important function of
government, such as health care. Another is that the provinces have access to lucrative
sources of taxation. The JCPC tended to favour the provinces at the expense of the