Could European governance ideas improve federal-provincial relations in Canada?
Over the past seventeen years Canada has decentralized many social programmes, moving responsibility from the federal government to 13 provinces and territories through bilateral federal-provincial agreements. In contrast, the European Union (EU) has moved in the opposite direction, building pan-European approaches and establishing new processes to facilitate multilateral collaboration among the 28 EU member states. This has been done through a new governance approach called the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). Using a detailed case study - employment policy - this paper explores whether Canada could learn from OMC governance ideas to re-build a pan-Canadian dimension to employment policy and improve the performance of its intergovernmental relations system. Concrete lessons for Canada to improve decentralized governance are suggested: consolidating the different bilateral agreements; using benchmarking instead of controls in fiscal transfers; undertaking research, analysis, and comparisons in order to facilitate mutual learning; revitalizing intergovernmental structures in light of devolution; and engaging social partners, civil society and other stakeholders. Post-devolution Canada is not doing badly in managing employment policy, but could do better. Looking to the EU for ideas on new ways to collaborate provides a chance for setting a forward looking agenda that could ultimately result not only in better labour market outcomes, but also improvements to one small part of Canada's often fractious federation.