Cooperative Federalism

… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Simeon et al. (reference below, p. 75) use the term cooperative federalism to describe the way the Canadian federation operated in the post-war period to the mid-1960s.

They write (p. 75-76):

“Unemployment insurance, pensions, and family allowances gave Ottawa responsibility for the basic income security system. The rest of the welfare state programs came about through the use of the federal spending power in the form of shared cost, or conditional grant, programs. These included hospital insurance in 1955, expanded to full medical care in 1968; assistance to post-secondary education; provisions for aid to disadvantaged groups, consolidated in the Canada Assistance Plan of 1968; and a host of smaller programs. Thus, the “complexities of federalism ” may have slowed, but did not prevent, the implementation of the postwar project common to most advanced industrial countries (Banting, 1987).

“Many of these activities advanced without major federal-provincial conflict. The postwar agenda did not divide Canadians sharply on regional lines. Provinces in most cases accepted federal leadership and welcomed the financial assistance that enabled them to spend “50-cent dollars.” Furthermore, the federal government also established the first formal equalization program in 1957, installing the country’s commitment to revenue sharing and perhaps assuaging regional tensions before they could fester. Provincial pressure was also able to ensure that, unlike American “grant-in-aid” programs, the conditions in most programs were relatively loose and accommodating to provincial priorities. Intergovernmental relations tended to be conducted among officials within the various program areas. Provinces often reported onerous federal conditions or the distortion of provincial priorities by the lure of federal spending, but fundamental constitutional issues were pushed aside: federalism was largely an administrative matter.

“There was one major exception to this generally harmonious pattern. From the very outset of the modern period, Quebec governments were strongly opposed to the expansion of federal policy influence. Quebec governments of all political stripes favoured a decentralized form of classical federalism, a vision clearly articulated by the Tremblay Commission (Royal Commission of lnquiry on Constitutional Problems) in 1956. In the Duplessis years, the Quebec government was closely allied with both the conservative wing of the Catholic Church and business interests that strongly objected to the expansion of the postwar welfare state into areas previously left to the Church and voluntary organizations. Thus, Quebec rejected both the content of the postwar model and the means by which it was achieved.”

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 Banting reference is Keith Banting (1987). The Welfare State and Canadian Federalism. 2nd ed. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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