Fiscal Federalism
in Canada​

Analysis, Evaluation, Prescription

APRIL 21-23, 2021


Fiscal federalism in Canada is a complex and multi-dimensional system; it is also at the core of the functioning of the federation and aims to strike a delicate balance between some core principles: fairness, efficiency, solidarity, and provincial autonomy. Yet, in recent years, fiscal federalism has become a particularly contentious issue in intergovernmental relations, and in Canadian politics more broadly. All signs are that this situation will remain for some time. Furthermore, the national emergency triggered by COVID-19 has stressed the importance of coherence and multi-level collaboration between federal, provincial, territorial, and local governments. Thus, it is timely and appropriate to examine and debate Canadian fiscal federalism in the context of a major conference, and to produce a resource book that can become a primary reference for scholars, students, policy-makers, and informed citizens alike.


This conference features some of the most prominent Canadian scholars and experts on a wide range of topics related to fiscal federalism. The conference, and subsequent edited book, will accomplish four objectives:

  1. Analyze fiscal federalism in Canada, that is, understand how its various components work together as a system but also the political forces that shape and put pressure on it.
  2.  Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Canadian fiscal federalism in relation to both the core values cited above and the experiences of other developed federal countries.
  3.  Take stock of the impact of COVID-19 on intergovernmental relations.
  4.  Put forward ideas for reforming Canadian fiscal federalism, both its specific components and the system as a whole.

Opening Session​

Opening Session​



Opening Remarks by:


Martine Lagacé

Associate Vice-President Research, Promotion and Development, University of Ottawa


The opening session features three distinguished scholars and practitioners of fiscal federalism in Canada:




Louis Lévesque

Lecturer, Max Bell School of Public Policy, McGill University and former Deputy Minister, Government of Canada



Richard Bird

Professor Emeritus at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto and Senior Fellow of the Institute for Municipal Governance and Finance, Munk School of Global Affairs 



Jim Dinning

Member Alberta’s Legislative Assembly from 1986 to 1993 and was Alberta Provincial Treasurer from 1992 to 1997. He is currently a member of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Directors, and Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Calgary


Moderated by:


Madelaine Drohan

Senior Fellow, Graduate School for Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa. Award-winning writer and veteran journalist, former Canada correspondent for The Economist

Day 1

Panel 1 – Fiscal Federalism in Canada:

Constitutional Foundations, Historical Development, and Contemporary Pressures



  • Opening Remarks

Gilbert Charland, Associate Secretary General, Canadian Relations,  Government of Quebec


  • Fiscal Federalism and the Federal Spending Power: A Legal and Constitutional Analysis.  

(Peter Oliver, University of Ottawa) 


  • The Struggle for Equity that Saved the Federation 

(Mary Janigan, Writer and Historian) 


  • The Challenges and Opportunities from COVID-19 for Canada’s Fiscal Arrangements  

(Trevor Tombe, University of Calgary)





André Lecours, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa.


Panel 2 – Provincial and Regional Perspectives on Canadian Fiscal Federalism


  • Quebec’s Fiscal Federalism Trilemma   

(Alain Noël, Université de Montréal).


  • The Fair Deal’s Simultaneously Destructive and Constructive Pathways 

(Ken Boessenkool, McGill University)


  • Diversity in Adversity: The Four Atlantic Provinces in the Age of the Great  Demographic Imbalance

 (Richard Saillant, Dalhousie University) 


  • Fiscal Fortunes: An Ontario Perspective on Federal-Provincial Transfers

(Tracy Snoddon, Wilfrid Laurier University) 




Daniel Béland, Department of Political Science, McGill University

Panel 3 – Emerging Issues and Canadian Fiscal Federalism I

  • Infrastructure Financing and Multilevel Governance in Canada

(Eric Champagne,  University of Ottawa)


  • Fiscal Federalism through the Prism of Population Aging

 (Patrik Marier, Concordia University)


  • Financing Elementary and Secondary Education in Canada

(Jennifer Wallner, University of Ottawa)




Daniel Béland, Department of Political Science, McGill University

Day 2

Panel 4 – Emerging Issues and Canadian Fiscal Federalism II


  • Opening Remarks

Rupak Chattopadhyay, President, Forum of Federations


  • Leading the Way: First Nations in Canadian Fiscal Federalism  

(Donna Feir, University of Victoria)


  • Cities in Canadian Fiscal Federalism: The Forgotten Partner  

(Enid Slack, University of Toronto)


  • Holes in The Roof, Cracks In The Walls: Federalism and Responsibility for Housing

(Steve Pomeroy, Carleton University)




François Rocher, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa


Panel 5 – The Transfer System: Components


  • The Canada Health Transfer: Past, Present and Future

 (Robin Boadway, Queen’s University)


  • Ceremonial Fiscal Federalism: Social Assistance and the Canada Social Transfer

(Michael Prince, University of Victoria)


  • Childcare in a Decentralized Federation: What Does It Cost in Canada and Who Pays?

(Jennifer Robson, Carleton University) 


  • Forecasting Equalization Payments: How Hard Is It for Receiving Provinces?

(Marcelin Joanis, Polytechnique Montréal)





Trevor Tombe, Department of Economics, University of Calgary

Panel 6 – The Transfer System: Process

  • Fiscal Federalism and Natural Resources Revenues  

(James Feehan, Memorial University)

  • Reconciling fiscal autonomy, discipline and solidarity: Essential challenges for Canada’s federal-provincial transfer system

 (Kyle Hanniman, Queen’s University)

  • Fiscal Federalism and Provincial Budgeting

(Geneviève Tellier, University of Ottawa)


Linda Cardinal, Regional Director, AUF Americas and Professor Emeritus, University of Ottawa

​Closing Remarks

Andre Lecours, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa