Asymmetrical Federalism

… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


US Legal (reference below) describes asymmetrical federalism refers to a federal system of government in which power is unevenly divided between states such that some states have greater responsibilities or more autonomy than others.

It notes that an asymmetric federation must have a federal constitution and all states in federation have the same formal status as state.

Asymmetrical federalism in Canada

Wikipedia (reference below) notes that:

“The Constitution of Canada is broadly symmetric but contains certain specific sections that apply only to certain provinces. In practice, a degree of asymmetry is created as a result of the evolution of the Canadian federal experiment, individual federal-provincial agreements, and judicial interpretation. Asymmetrical federalism has been much discussed as a formula for stability in Canada, meeting the aspirations of French-speaking Quebec for control over its cultural and social life without removing it from the national federation, where it coexists with nine largely English-speaking provinces.

“The most prominent example of asymmetric federalism in Canada is the constitutional requirement that three Supreme Court justices must come from Quebec. The nine other provinces are each entitled to fair representation in the Supreme Court, but their entitlement is based on convention rather than enshrined in the constitution.

“A recent example of asymmetry in the Canadian federation can be found in the terms of the September 2004 federal-provincial-territorial agreement on health care and the financing thereof. The Government of Quebec supported the broader agreement but insisted on a separate communiqué in which it was specified, among other things, that Quebec will apply its own wait time reduction plan in accordance with the objectives, standards and criteria established by the relevant Quebec authorities; that the Government of Quebec will report to Quebecers on progress in achieving its objectives, and will use comparable indicators, mutually agreed to with other governments; and that funding made available by the Government of Canada will be used by the Government of Quebec to implement its own plan for renewing Quebec’s health system.

“… Quebec operates its own pension plan, while the other nine provinces are covered by the federal/provincial Canada Pension Plan. Quebec has extensive authority over employment and immigration issues within its borders, matters that are handled by the federal government in all the other provinces.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

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


US Legal, Asymmetrical Federalism Law & Definition, at, accessed 1 September 2016.

Wikipedia, Asymmetric federalism, at, accessed 3 February 2017.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 3 February 2017.