Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Federalism

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Federalism

Article excerpt

Politics and Social Sciences

Jennifer Smith, Federalism (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2004), xi + 193pp. Cased. $75. ISBN 9780-7748-1060-9. Paper. $23.95. 9780-7748-1061-6.

The Canadian Democratic Audit is an ambitious attempt to appraise the health of Canadian democracy. Other titles in this series address formal political institutions such as legislatures or courts, less formal institutions such as political parties or advocacy groups, and broader phenomena, including citizens and communications technology. Each seeks to assess how that subject scores according to three democratic criteria: inclusiveness, participation and responsiveness. Jennifer Smith's contribution on federalism finds that this area scores poorly. Federal politics favours governments and elite actors at the expense of individual citizens and non-territorial cleavages (race or class, for example) and limits public involvement (especially when it comes to the practice of executive federalism). While it increases the number of access points to the political system (enabling a wider range of issues to come onto the agenda), it also inhibits the ability of the system to respond to new demands.

The book is quite an indictment of the practice of federal government in Canada, and neatly brings together a number of common left-liberal criticisms of the federal system. The attack on executive federalism echoes those by Richard Simeon and David Cameron, for example, while the account of policy blockages follows discussion in the public-policy literature (especially that concerned with social welfare), for example by Keith Banting. As well as providing a convenient discussion of these issues, Smith illustrates her contribution with a number of examples drawn from the experience of Atlantic Canada (Smith teaches at Dalhousie), a viewpoint that is sadly rather rare in discussions of Canadian federalism. …

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