Alain-G. Gagnon, « Executive Federalism and Canadian Democracy », International Workshop on Federalism and Democracies, organisé par le Center for Federal Studies, University of Kent, Canterbury, Angleterre, 2-6 avril 2006.

The Conference Theme

Federalism and Democracy

The dawn of the new millennium has witnessed a striking contemporary trend towards the worldwide expansion of western liberal democracy in which the federal idea has featured prominently. From Russia and Macedonia to Cyprus and Sri Lanka and from Iraq and the Lebanon to Eritrea and Nigeria, federalism in a variety of different forms has emerged as one potential practical democratic response to a range of cultural-ideological and socio-economic problems of the age.

The principal purpose of this conference is to explore the theoretical and empirical implications of federal democracy: what it means and to whom; what are its many goals; how it is structured and designed; and where its future lies. In order to give our subject both context and meaning, we have chosen to anchor it in the first encounter with modern federalism that is located in the late eighteenth century American federal experience and well chronicled in The Federalist Papers. It was here in the intellectual and political controversy about the nature and future of the new American union that the relationship between federalism and democracy was first examined and fiercely debated. Since then historians and political scientists have argued at length about the nature of the shift from a loose (con)federal union of states to a much more consolidated federal union of states and citizens at the heart of which the relationship between federalism, republicanism and democracy was firmly located. This, then, sets the general tone of the conference and allows us in Part Two to track the competing and sometimes conflicting interpretations, emphases and perspectives of the evolution of federal democracy in the nineteenth century by reference to the specific contributions of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Alexis De Tocqueville, John C. Calhoun and James Bryce that serve to bridge the Euro-American divide.

Part Three brings us into the twentieth century where the contributions span a wide range of federations and federal systems that investigate this complex, changing relationship from a variety of different standpoints. The countries chosen include the following: the United States; Canada; Germany; Switzerland; and Russia and contributors are encouraged to write their papers with a sharp focus upon how democratic theory and practice work together to build upon historical legacies in pursuit of political order, stability and justice. There is also a special case study of the European Union (EU), a particularly interesting contemporary example of a democratic federal union in the making. These papers can clearly go in many different directions that will perhaps lead in some cases to unexpected conclusions, but each contribution will bear the imprint of different challenges and different political cultures and each will suggest different theoretical and empirical implications for the relationship between federalism and democracy.

Part Four will bring the conference to a close by encouraging participants to dwell upon the future perspectives of federalism and democracy for the new millennium. Mindful of the past, it is intended to concentrate minds upon the continuing significance of federal democracy for managing different kinds of contemporary conflict in the world and to focus upon precisely what kinds of conflicts might be in some sense ameliorated by adopting and adapting federal principles in the new age of ‘glocalisation’.

Michael Burgess

Observatoire des Diasporas

Observatoire des Diasporas

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