What can we as Canadians learn from the experience of other countries? Currently governmental decision-makers, numerous citizen groups, and others, are examining various options for altering the way we govern ourselves. There have been calls for more decentralization -- for greater provincial jurisdiction in fields such as communications and natural resources. Some have called for greater centralization; they would like a stronger federal presence in economic planning, for example. Others would like to see stronger and more representative political parties which would better integrate regional interests at the centre, by-passing the provincial governments. Many political scientists, the New Democratic Party, and the Task Force on Canadian Unity, have all advocated the adoption of a proportional electoral system to help strengthen national political parties.
All these options have been tried and implemented -- not in Canada but in other nations. One major reason for looking at Canadian problems in a comparative context is to examine some of the alternatives and how they might operate in Canada. However, we have to be careful: institutions and practices borrowed from abroad may have quite a different effect when placed in the Canadian setting. But here, too, the comparative experience can help us. The second reason for examining other nations is to help us understand the important political forces and processes in Canada. For example, the experience of countries like Belgium, Ireland, Spain, India, and Nigeria, may help pinpoint the causes involved in the rise of ethnic conflict. We can then use this understanding to assess the adequacy of proposals concerning representation of the two major linguistic communities in Canada or to help decide what kind of official recognition should be given to ethnic communities which are neither English nor French.