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Chapter 8

Political Science 45-100 Chapter 8: Chapter 8 Federalism

Political Science
Course Code
POLS 1000

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What is Federalism?
In a federal system of government, the constitutional authority to make laws and to raise
revenue is divided between a national government and some number of regional
Neither the national government acting alone nor the regional governments acting
together have the authority to alter the powers of the other level of government
Federalism is a legal term and its existence is based on the constitution
Federalism is chiefly a property of constitutions, not of societies
Some political scientists refer to “federal-type” societies, a tendency that has been
labelled the sociological approach to federalism
Despite the popularity that this idea of federalism has enjoyed, it is fundamentally wrong
The US, which pioneered modern federalism, did not opt for what was an essentially
untried political system because of important cultural differences between its founding
The idea and concept of federalism cannot, therefore, be detached from the institutions of
A federal constitution institutionalizes regional divisions by associating them with
different governments
The regionalism responsible for the adoption of a federal constitution in the first place is
reinforced by political and administrative rivalries between the national and regional
Federalism divides political authority along territorial lines
Political authority is also linked to territory in confederations and economic and military
These are formal groupings of independent states that have agreed to assign certain
policy-making and administrative functions to a common institution or set of institutions
The Origins, Maintenance, and Demise of Federal States
Only about 24 of the 193 member states of the UN have a federal system of government
Unitary government is far more popular, even in countries where regionally based
internal divisions are strong
A federal state is based on a consensus of regions
The political facts are that when a region no longer shares the national consensus on
which federalism is based, its separation becomes a real possibility
Federal democracies originate in compromise
The fact that some regions are more enthusiastic than others about the federal
compromise indeed some may enter it only in despair at the lack of viable alternatives
does not diminish the voluntary consent of the regions forming the basis of a federal
The existene of a national government and the idea of national citizenship can be
centralizing factors that offset the decentralizing pull of regional interests
Federalism is sustained, then, not simply on the bassis of rational calculations on the part
of regional populations and politicians
It may indeed be sustained by a sense of political identity
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It is, a sense of political community that transcends regional, ethnic, and linguistic
identifications, although it does not replace or necessarily overshadow the other identities
citizens may have
Federalism ultimately is sustained by the sense of political nationality or community
that develops around the national state
By the same token, the breakup of a federal state is sure to be presaged by the
deterioration of this sense of community
The Origins of Canadian Federalism
Canada’s federal constitution was a compromise
Fathers of confederation were opposed by 2 groups
The strongest opposition came from the French Canadian representatives of Canada east
They believed that the most effective way to protect their interests was through a federal
union that gave exclusive jurisdiction over linguistic and cultural matters to the provincial
Federalism was also preferred constitutional option of maritime politicians
They realized that their regional interests would be swamped if there were to be a single
national legislature in which much more populous Ontario and Quebec would dominate
Forces pushing the colonies of BNA towards political union required a strong national
Commercial interests, particularly railroad promoters, wanted unification because their
ability to raise investment capital abroad was linked to canadas creditworthiness
A strong central government was needed if british north America was to assume the
burden of its own military defence and if expansion into the sparsely populated region
between Ontario and british Columbia was to be accomplished
John A anticipated that the provincial governments would be little more than glorified
municipalties, subordinate to Ottawa
The agreement the founders reached gave the most important legislative powers and
sources of public revenue of the time to the federal government
Ottawa was goven authority over trade, commerce, shipping fisheries, interprovincial
transportation, currency, banking
Repsonsiblity for immigration and agriculture was divided between the federal
government and provincial governments, but in the event of a conflict, ottawas legislation
would prevail
Ottawa’s superiority also was clear on the taxation front
Confederation agreement also established the practice of federal money transfer to the
Dependence of the economically weaker provinces on subsidies from Ottawa begain in
1867 and continues to this day
The confederation agreement included several provisions that have been descrived as
Establish a nearly colonial relationship between Ottawa and the provinces by permitting
the federal government to disallow laws passed by provincial legislatures
Section 92(10c) gives the federal government the authority to intervene in a provincial
economy declaring that the construction of a public work is in the national interest
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