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In Depth

Canadian government

Council of the Federation

Last Updated May 1, 2007

How did it start?

In October 2001, a Quebec Liberal party paper recommended the creation of a permanent Council of the Federation as a way to improve relations between the federal government, and the provinces and territories. Two years later, newly-elected Quebec Premier Jean Charest brought the suggestion to the July 2003 Annual Premiers Conference in Charlottetown.

On the final day of the three-day meeting - July 11, 2003 - the premiers agreed to set up a Council of the Federation for "the continuous dialogue and co-operation between the provinces and the federal government that would make it possible to redefine our economic and social relations."

Who is in the council?

It is made up of the premiers of the 10 provinces and three territories.

Who runs the council?

The chairmanship of the council will rotate for one-year terms among premiers and territorial leaders.

Who pays for it?

The provinces and territories each pay a portion of the operating expenses of the council; the amount is based on their respective populations.

When was the council made official?

Members gathered in Charlottetown on Dec. 5, 2003, to sign the Founding Agreement, which formally spells out the council's mandate and objectives.

Mandate:

  • Serve as forum to share views, information and experiences among members.
  • Offer integrated and co-ordinated approach to federal-provincial-territorial relations.
  • Reinforce the work of sectoral intergovernmental forums.
  • Analyse federal government decisions that have an impact on the provinces and territories.
  • Develop common vision for intergovernmental relations.
  • Address issues of priority that require a greater dialogue or pooling of expertise.

Objectives:

  • Strengthen co-operation among provinces and territories.
  • Speak with a single voice on issues of national importance.
  • Promote relations between governments based on respect for the Constitution and respect for diversity within provinces.
  • Implement greater transparency, improve communication with Canadians.

What issues does the council tackle?

The council discusses several "issues of importance to all Canadians," to quote from one of its news releases.

The first meeting of the council following Charlottetown took place in Vancouver in February 2004. It was billed as a health summit and bovine spongiform encephalopathy — also known as mad cow disease — was on the agenda. The premiers also discussed ways to improve trade within Canada.

At later meetings, the council discussed post-secondary education, drug strategy, energy, and transportation and infrastructure. It also established the annual Literacy Award.

One of the perennial topics of discussion is what the provinces called the "fiscal imbalance."

The federal government transfers money to the provinces to help pay the costs of programs. During the 1990s, Ottawa cut transfer payments in its quest to slay long-running deficits. The provinces have since been trying to get transfer levels increased.

In May 2005, the council set up an advisory panel on fiscal imbalance. Its mandate is to look at the underlying causes of fiscal imbalance, figure out different ways to address it, and make recommendations on ways to restore fiscal balance.

During a meeting between the council and aboriginal leaders in Corner Brook, N.L., in July 2006, the premiers renewed their support for the Kelowna accord, a five-year, $5-billion plan intended to improve the education, housing and health of aboriginal peoples. (The accord was signed in 2005 by Paul Martin and his Liberal government, but was scrapped by the Conservatives after they won the 2006 election.)

This meeting preceded a three-day conference of the Council in St. John's, where premiers revisited familiar ground: equalization payments and the fiscal imbalance. They failed to reach a consensus.

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