Patron:
The Hon Sir Gerard Brennan AC KBE
former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia
Conference Committee:
Suri Ratnapala, Professor of Public Law, UQ
Thomas John, Chair, European Focus Group, LCA
Nicholas Aroney, Reader in Law, UQ
Hendryk Flaegel, International Law Section, LCA


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The Constitution of Canada is broadly symmetric but contains certain specific sections that apply only to certain provinces. In practice, a degree of asymmetry is created as a result of the evolution of the Canadian federal experiment, individual federal-provincial agreements, and judicial interpretation. Asymmetrical federalism has been much discussed as a formula for stability in Canada, meeting the aspirations of French-speaking Quebec for control over its cultural and social life without removing it from the national federation, where it coexists with nine largely English-speaking provinces. For example, tax collection is often a federal responsibility but in Quebec both the federal and Quebec governments retain the ability to collect both corporate, personal and sales taxes. In some other provinces, provincial governments collect only sales or corporate taxes.[citation needed] A recent example of asymmetry in the Canadian federation can be found in the terms of the September 2004 federal-provincial-territorial agreement on health care and the financing thereof.[1] The Government of Quebec supported the broader agreement but insisted on a separate communique in which it was specified, among other things, that Quebec will apply its own wait time reduction plan in accordance with the objectives, standards and criteria established by the relevant Quebec authorities; that the Government of Quebec will report to Quebecers on progress in achieving its objectives, and will use comparable indicators, mutually agreed to with other governments; and that funding made available by the Government of Canada will be used by the Government of Quebec to implement its own plan for renewing Quebec's health system.[2] For example, Quebec operates its own pension plan, while the other nine provinces are covered by the federal/provincial Canada Pension Plan. Quebec has extensive authority over employment and immigration issues within its borders, matters that are handled by the federal government in all the other provinces. Such an arrangement has led to criticism in the English-speaking provinces, where there is fear that Quebec is enjoying favouritism in the federal system. It, however, provides a useful lever for those who want to decentralize the structure as a whole, transferring more powers from the centre to the provinces overall, a trend that dominated Canadian politics for decades.

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Louis Spiro