Competitive Federalism

… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Simeon et al. (reference below, p. 76) use the term competitive federalism to describe the way the Canadian federation operated in the late 1960s to the early 1980s.

They write (p. 75-78):

“Competitive federalism refers to several changes from the postwar cooperative model: the escalation of interregional and intergovernmental conflict, stronger pressures for decentralization, expansion by both levels of government into new policy fields in a form of “competitive expansionism” or “province-building versus nation-building,” and increasing efforts by both levels of government to mobilize their populations around competing images of federalism and how it should work. The process was triggered by the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.

“The election of Jean Lesage’s Liberal government in 1960 swept away the conservative coalition that had dominated Quebec politics. The Quiet Revolution embraced the secular modern bureaucratic state and its policy agenda. But the Québécois were to become maîtres chez nous (masters in our own house) – Quebec, not Ottawa, was to be the instrument…

“By the 1970s other provinces, especially the larger wealthier ones, were also mounting a challenge to the Ottawa-dominated federalism of the postwar period. In part this reflected the growing resources, competence, and confidence of provincial governments and their bureaucracies, which, fuelled by federal transfers, had been growing much faster than the federal government. As issues such as the environment entered the public agenda, both levels of government competed to enter the field. Provincial governments were less willing to accept federal definitions of national priorities. More generally, the rapid economic growth of the postwar period had ended, and Canada , like other countries, entered a period of economic volatility and instability that exacerbated regional tensions and forced a rethinking of the Keynesian economic policies that had inspired the creation of the welfare state. Increasingly, provinces sought to control the policy levers to ensure their ability to manage the economy-a phenomenon that came to be known as “province-building.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Federalism (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Richard Simeon, Ian Robinson, and Jennifer Wallner (2014) “The Dynamics of Canadian Federalism,” in Canadian Politics, 6th ed., eds. James Bickerton and Alain-G. Gagnon, pp. 65-91. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 2 September 2016.