Intergovernmental Relations

… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Intergovernmental relations (IGR) typically refer to the relations among the various governments within a country and in Canada they usually refer to federal-provincial-territorial (FTP) relations.

The Intergovernmental Affairs unit of the Privy Council Office (reference below) states:

“Managing intergovernmental relations is an important aspect of Canadian federalism. Canada has strong, autonomous orders of government and there are few issues in public policy that do not cross jurisdictional lines, few areas in which the actions of one government do not affect other governments. Consequently, relations with other governments are a major concern of all the Canadian jurisdictions and Governments have developed mechanisms to coordinate their response to intergovernmental issues.

“Intergovernmental relations in Canada focus on the relations among federal and provincial/territorial executives – First Ministers, Ministers, and senior officials. These relationships serve a number of purposes. They provide forums for the exchange of information, for bargaining, negotiation, and consensus-building.

“Canada, like most federations has not formally anchored its intergovernmental structures and processes in its Constitution. Rather, our intergovernmental mechanisms have tended to evolve in response to changing political dynamics.”

Writing in the Canadian Encyclopedia (reference below) Richard Simeon stated:

“Federal-provincial relations are the complex and multifaceted networks of influence which have developed in the relationships between Canada’s federal and provincial governments.

“These relationships have become a central element of Canadian government and policymaking, and a fundamental characteristic of Canadian federalism. They are a result of the pervasive interdependence existing between the 2 levels of government. Central and provincial government activities are intertwined in a pattern of shared and overlapping responsibilities, shared authority and shared funding in many if not most areas of public policy.

“Many of the concerns of modern government cut across the loose jurisdictional boundaries found in the constitution. National purposes can often only be achieved with provincial co-operation; provincial goals often require federal assistance. As government roles in social, economic and other policy areas grew, then the need for co-operation and co-ordination – and the costs of failing to achieve it – also expanded. Through federal-provincial relations – and the related tools of intergovernmental finance, shared cost programs and the like – the federal government is deeply involved in fields largely within provincial jurisdiction; and provinces have increasingly sought to influence federal policies in areas such as foreign trade and transportation. Thus federal-provincial relations have grown primarily in response to the changing roles of government within Canadian federalism.”


The Privy Council Office (reference below) states:

“The instruments/mechanisms of intergovernmental relations are informal. They are not part of the Constitution and thus have no constitutional status. Nor do they have any basis in law or statute. They have developed on an ad hoc basis, in response to the requirements of the time. They are forums for the exchange of information, and for negotiation and persuasion.

First Ministers’ Conferences – At the apex of the system, bringing together Canada’s most senior political leaders, are federal/provincial/territorial First Ministers Conferences or Meetings (FMMs). They often provide the opportunity for governments to find common purposes and chart general policy directions. They provide a forum for the exchange of information and ideas, and for negotiation and persuasion. These FMM‘s can be regular multi-itemed agenda meetings, or issue specific, such as the Constitutional Conferences in the 1970’s and 1980’s or the FMM‘s on Health in recent years. The frequency of meetings has varied considerably over time, depending on the political agenda, since there is no regular schedule for the holding of FMMs. They are called by the Prime Minister. There are no fixed procedures for FMMs. The Prime Minister chairs, and normally provinces speak in the order of their entry into Confederation. No votes are taken. Parts of conferences may be held in public, but most discussion takes place in camera. In addition to FMMs, there are many informal contacts between the Prime Ministers and Premiers, often taking place bilaterally.

Ministerial Meetings – Much of the work in intergovernmental relations takes place in a growing number of councils of Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers responsible for developing cooperation in specific policy sectors, from the environment to social policy. Some have become institutionalized, with regular meetings, often co-chaired by federal and provincial ministers, and with strong bureaucratic support. Several have also developed working relationships with interest groups involved in their policy fields. Ministers regularly meet to discuss sectoral issues relating to Agriculture, Education, Environment, Finance, Health, Internal Trade, Sport, Tourism and Transport, to name a few.

Officials’ Meetings – Below the political level are innumerable meetings, formal and informal, among deputy ministers and/or other senior officials. These may be bi-lateral or multi-lateral.

The Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat (CICS) – The majority, but not all, of the high level intergovernmental conferences are served by the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat (CICS). It provides the logistical work of organizing conferences, distributing documents and press releases. It does not have a policy advisory role. CICS was created in 1973 by the First Ministers. Governments recognized, at that time, a need for a mechanism to serve on a continuing basis, conferences of First Ministers and a growing number of intergovernmental meetings. It is an agency of the federal and provincial governments and is supported by these two orders of government. Its staff is also selected from both federal and provincial governments. CICS reports to Parliament through the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.”

Simeon wrote:

“The most important federal-provincial mechanism is the First Ministers Conference. It is chaired by the prime minister. These conferences have become major public events, attracting national media attention and often gavel-to-gavel television coverage. Nevertheless, much of the hard bargaining takes place in closed sessions and in back-room meetings of ministers and officials. Below the first ministers conferences, and often reporting to them, are many ministerial conferences, some meeting regularly, and others, such as a ministerial committee on the US free trade negotiations, convened on an ad hoc basis. It has become common for such meetings to be held outside Ottawa and to be chaired by provincial ministers. Numerous parallel committees of officials exist, the most important of which is the Continuing Committee on Economic and Fiscal Matters, established 1955. The success of such meetings in achieving policy harmonization and a co-ordinated approach to new problems varies widely. Many federal-provincial meetings are provided with organizational and secretarial services through an intergovernmental body, the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. As federal-provincial relations have become more important, all governments have established offices, attached to the first minister, to oversee the province’s intergovernmental affairs.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

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


Privy Council Office, Intergovernmental Relations in the Canadian Context, at, accessed 4 September 2016.

Richard Simeon (2006), Federal-Provincial Relations, The Canadian Encyclopedia, at, accessed 2 September 2016.

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