Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Formal and Informal Dimensions of Intergovernmental Administrative Relations in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Formal and Informal Dimensions of Intergovernmental Administrative Relations in Canada

Article excerpt


Hundreds of meetings each year, millions of dollars' worth of agreements negotiated monthly, countless of informal contacts, and a varied and complex intergovernmental machinery--this is the nature of intergovernmental administrative relations in Canada today. With the shift in the past two decades to non-constitutional approaches, the signing of several intergovernmental agreements and pressure for policy and administrative collaboration under New Public Management-based reforms, one might expect significant changes in both the formal intergovernmental machinery and informal interactions of the intergovernmental administrative state. (1) However, there has been little examination of the implications of such changes for the formal intergovernmental machinery in Canada, or of informal intergovernmental networks.

Drawing on primary (survey and interview) and secondary (academic and government) sources, this paper addresses these gaps. (2) The first section reviews the formal intergovernmental machinery, including organizational structures, functions, and resources at the central agency and departmental levels. It revisits and updates a similar analysis published by Pollard in the mid-1980s. (3) The second section focuses on the informal networks and interactions of intergovernmental officials. The final section discusses the significance of these findings.

The formal dimensions of intergovernmental relations in Canada

Two decades ago Pollard provided an analysis of Canada's intergovernmental administrative machinery based on an examination of structures, functions and powers, and resources, which also serves as our framework.


The structural dimension refers to the machinery of the intergovernmental administrative state. This includes what Pollard referred to as "intergovernmental affairs agencies" (IGAS)--namely departments, central agencies, secretariats, and divisions or branches within departments which oversee intergovernmental affairs. This also includes units at the sectoral and departmental level, committees, meetings and conference systems, and intergovernmental partnerships.

As Pollard noted, the first formal structure to manage federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) relations was a unit created in the federal Department of Finance in 1954. Many provinces developed similar units in their finance departments, since intergovernmental relations were almost exclusively concerned with FPT fiscal matters. Quebec was the first to establish a separate intergovernmental agency in 1961, but in the following decade all the remaining jurisdictions established IGA structures to manage FPT interactions, either as a unit in the office of the first minister or in the finance department. The trend during the 1970s was to establish a separate ministry or central agency in intergovernmental affairs, thus allowing more systematic and comprehensive central coordination of FPT relations.

Today, some IGAS have structurally changed from department to secretariat, branch to division, division to department, and in some cases, vice-versa, but the most basic structural choice has not changed significantly since the late 1980s. As outlined in Table 1, IGAS in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia are structured as line departments. Manitoba is alone in having both a line department and a central agency each with distinct intergovernmental mandates. The federal government and remaining provinces and territories are structured as either a division or secretariat within the Executive Council or Cabinet Office.

The smaller jurisdictions tend to employ central agency units which report to the premier, a choice which provides the advantage of proximity to the first minister. In the Northwest Territories and Yukon (and from 1999 to 2004 in Manitoba), the deputy minister of IGA is also secretary to cabinet, reinforcing the direct link to the premier. …

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