Collaborative Federalism

… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


The term collaborative federalism was used by the Canadian federal government and many provincial governments to describe efforts since the mid-1990s to improve the operation of the federation.

Simeon et al. (reference below, p. 80-83) describe how the combined challenges of economic competitiveness and deficit control produced a demands for governments to work together:

“These pressures-combined with constitutional fatigue-helped fuel calls for a focus on the need for Canadian governments to work together. The first manifestation of this collaborative, non-constitutional approach to improving the management of the Canadian federal system was the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) in 1994, which was intended to address long-standing concerns about the strength of the Canadian economic union through intergovernmental collaboration (Trebilcock and Schwanen, 1995). Attention then turned to the “social union,” the complex set of intergovernmental agreements through which the major elements of social policy – health, post-secondary education, and welfare-are developed and delivered. Here the issue was whether and how Canadians across the country could enjoy national standards while also permitting the variations in policy necessary to meet the needs of different provinces.

“A Provincial-Territorial Ministerial Council on Social Policy Reform and Renewal was formed. Its work eventually led to a meeting of first ministers in February 1999, at which the Social Union Framework Agreement (SUFA) was adopted. This agreement included such commitments as equality of treatment across the country, access by all Canadians to adequate social programs wherever they live, the reduction of barriers to mobility among provinces, and greater transparency and accountability. In addition, the governments committed them selves to “mutual respect” and to working “more closely together to meet the needs of Canadians” (SUFA, 1999), including an obligation to plan social policy together and to consult before introducing new programs. For its part, Ottawa agreed that when using conditional transfers, it would “proceed in a cooperative manner that is respectful of the provincial and territorial governments and their priorities” (SUFA, 1999). A year’s notice would be given before any change in funding. Moreover, it would not introduce any new program without the prior agreement of most provinces.”

Case study

For a recent example of collaborative federalism at work, see Minimum Carbon Tax Story.

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. The two references in the citation are:

Michael Trebilcock and D. Schwanen, eds. 1995. Getting There: An Assessment of the Agreement on Internal Trade. Toronto: C.D. Howe Institute.

Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat (1999), A Framework to Improve the Social Union of Canadians – An agreement between the Government of Canada and the Governments of the Provinces and Territories. 4 February 1999, at, accessed 2 September 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 4 October 2016.