Forging the Canadian Social Union: SUFA and Beyond
At the close of their 44th annual conference in July 2003, Canadian premiers unveiled a five-point plan "to build a new era of constructive and cooperative federalism." The premiers' ambitious proposals - which included the creation of a Council of the Federation - and their assertion that, "the current dynamic of Canadian federalism is not working well enough for Canadians" may have come as a surprise to casual observers of the federal-provincial scene. After all, in the past four years the first ministers have announced a number of "landmark" agreements - starting with the Social Union Framework Agreements (SUFA) in 1999 and leading to the much-touted "health accords" of 2000 and 2003 - that were meant to establish more constructive and co-operative intergovernmental relationships in social policy. In all cases, however, the reality has fallen well short of the rhetoric found in official documents.
Forging a workable social union is a continual challenge for a decentralized and multinational federation like Canada. According to the noted social policy and federalism experts who contribute to this volume, SUFA did not respond satisfactorily to this challenge, on a number of counts: it did not take into account Quebec's view of the federation; it did not help clarify the respective roles of each order of government in social policy; it did not produce effective rules to address the power balance in the federation; and finally, it did not engage citizens meaningfully in setting social priorities.
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