Viewpoint 41-5: Canada at 150: How strong are the ties that bind our federations?

Author:Fox, Graham

By Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP)

The nation is not in crisis--what better time to take a fresh look at the state of our federal community?

Graham Fox and F. Leslie Seidle

Canadians are enjoying a year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. This important milestone will be marked by festivities of various kinds in cities, towns and villages across Canada. Community groups, artists, musicians and many others will help commemorate significant events in our history and reflect on our shared achievements, including the very fact of Confederation--a signature accomplishment in and of itself.

But if Canada's sesquicentennial is an opportunity to consider the road already travelled, it should also be an opportunity to take stock of today's Canada and analyze the challenges that appear on the horizon. By almost every meaningful measure, we are not the same country as we were a few decades ago. Our economy is more open to the world, and it draws its strengths from different regions and sectors. Our people are older, more diverse and more urban. The relationships between the provinces and territories have changed, as have those between them and Ottawa.

At the same time, many of our fundamental challenges remain the same. A founding partner in Confederation, Quebec, has yet to sign part of our country's basic law--the Constitution. We continue to struggle with balancing the aspirations of our regions. Fundamental issues concerning the rights of Indigenous peoples remain unresolved. We should seize the opportunity that 2017 presents to re-imagine our approach to addressing these and other pan-Canadian issues.

The 2014 referendum in Scotland and the British referendum on the European Union earlier this year demonstrate the need to keep a watching brief on trends that have an impact on the ties that bind us together as a country. It's critical that we understand the underlying issues that affect the political, economic and social links between our country's communities, regions and nations. This requires solid research on the consequences of a fundamental change or the risk of rupture. Observing events happening abroad and concluding "it could never happen here" is probably not the most prudent way forward.

When the threat of Quebec secession emerged in the 1960s, Canada's political leaders, academics, interest groups and many others did more than keep a watching brief. They analyzed the dynamics of Canadian...

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