WallnerJennifer Wallner
Assistant Professor
University of Ottawa

April 2014

Understanding Canadian
Intergovernmental Relations

2014 should be a busy year for those responsible for managing the Canadian federation. Three major intergovernmental agreements – the Canada Health Transfer (CHT), the Canada Social Transfer (CST) and equalization – are set to expire. Add to that the existing work on energy and climate change, new developments in job training, and the ongoing issues in the immigration and refugee files, the intergovernmental agenda is jam-packed.

Intergovernmental relations (IGR) – or the interactions of federal, provincial, and territorial (FPT) authorities –
are what keeps the Canadian federation rolling. Thanks to these relations, Canadians enjoy a vast array of essential programs, like health care, employment insurance and education, critical infrastructure like highways and airports, and are party to a host of accords and agreements that govern affairs in such things as tax collection, labour market regulations, food safety, and the environment. Put simply, IGR touches the lives of all Canadians.

While IGR is critically important, this world has generally remained shrouded from the view of Canadians. Citizens are, as J.R. Mallory observed, “as far away from the real decisions of government as they were two hundred years ago” (1974, 208). Furthermore, it is not even clear the extent to which Canadians are even interested in IGR. When FPT relations are reported in the news, more often than not Canadians hear their elected officials complaining about broken promises, insufficient funds, or ineffective programs that fail to meet the goals of an intergovernmental initiative. Perhaps disinterest is the best approach.

This paper answers three questions:

  1. Why should Canadians care about intergovernmental relations?
  2. Why are intergovernmental relations often fraught with conflict?
  3. What can we do to make intergovernmental relations run more smoothly?


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