Canadian Federalism: what is it based on?
These thoughts of mine are mostly out of ignorance, though I have some basic knowledge of an abridged version history of new Canada, especially from 1860s when the modern day Canada started taking shape.
I can’t help but compare with federalism in India, where provinces (called States) are by and large constructed based on 1000s of years of shared history, language, culture,literature, kith and kinship identities, ways of life – each State is often bigger than entire population of Canada. In such a case, Federalism makes so much sense because there is a distinct cultural and ethnic identity, food, culture – that must flourish, be respected, preserved, and supported. A unifying federal govt can and often does have the tendency to create more harmonization and cultural appropriation across the country than often necessary or accepted by individual States. In recent years, with a strong ‘Center’, the ‘States’ have experienced some loss of autonomy, in parts because centralization of ‘goods and services’ tax before proportional transfer to each State. But there are other political considerations, too complex to express and perhaps not necessary for this purpose.
This distant reference is only useful to the context of Canada in parts, but the key thing to note is the very basis of federalism, where there are multi-ethnic, cultural groups and communities. This line of argument is applicable in many other parts of the world, where ethnic identity is one of the predominant basis for organizing a province/ state in a federal system.
With that a reference, I am yet to fully understand how the concept of federalism practically translates in Canada (with the exception of Quebec that continues to pursue and insist of its distinct ethnic identity). North West territory, Yukon, and Nunavut are perhaps other such compelling cases. But what about the rest? They seem to be more administrative units rather than organized distinctly due to race/culture/ethnicity/language. If this argument and line of thinking makes sense, then there is relatively weak basis to claim a distinct interest and identity across those provinces, except the identities that have been formed in last few generations (even as people of every other province also make these provinces their home very easily due to livelihood and family linked migrations).
The larger point is – how sacrosanct is and should be federalism in Canada which a relatively new country and majority in numbers being immigrants (with the caveat that 600 First Nations have been here for ever; but in that case, Federalism can ideally be based on their distinct identities across all First Nations)? Are the provinces really justified to exert their identities just based on their distinct economic interests? Is that really a ‘federalism’ question? I am having a hard time understanding this argument. In other words, in the long run, are we better served with ‘natural resources’ be a common and collective good as opposed to provincial monopoly? And can economic resources be justifiably monopolized under ‘federalism’ argument? If this argument was to continue, won’t we all be looking at vast amount of natural resources preserved and owned by three territories will become a source of envy (and possibly, dispute) in the next 100-200 years?
I guess, I can ask these questions as a new Canadian without meaning any disrespect to anyone; as a purely intellectual exercise😊! Here is what official site says about Canadian Federalism.
“The new federation was born in large part out of the need to reflect two different linguistic realities. At the time of the first census after Confederation, Canadians of French origin accounted for 31.1% of the population. The vast majority of them, or 85.5%, lived in the new province of Quebec, while some 150,000 others lived in the other provinces.”
“The men (sic) who would become known as the Fathers of Confederation oversaw the creation of a federation which protected the rights of Quebec’s Francophone population – which was determined to preserve its language, its religion and its law – and allowed for the use of both French and English in the federal Parliament, the Legislative Assembly of Quebec, and the federal courts. That protection and recognition of the French language and culture have greatly evolved since 1867.”
Will look forward to learning more, especially in the light of recently concluded federal elections and divisions that seem more economic than ethnic(?).