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Federalism, Political Structure, and Public Policy in the United States and Canada

Abstract

Two of the three large countries on the North American continent—the United States and Canada—share a number of similarities that often make it difficult for the untrained observer to differentiate between the two nations. On the surface, the two are structured similarly as federal systems that, by definition, exhibit shared power between the national government and provincial or state political entities.

Although there are other important social and economic characteristics of the two countries that help explain differences in policy processes and outcomes, it is the contention of this article that one gets the clearest sense of what Elazar has called “thinking federal” by utilizing an analytical approach that joins questions related to federalism with some conceptual frameworks of the public policy field. Two frameworks undergird the argument in this article—the Lowi typology of different types of policies and Deil Wright's typology of different models that describe the American inter-governmental system.

In both countries, policies must be sensitive to the greater interdependencies between units of government as well as to linkages between policy areas. The mechanisms or instrumentalities for dealing with policy issues are intrinsically complex. It is also clear that the intergovernmental networks that exist in both the U.S. and Canada are composed of an array of actors. The differing political structures of the systems do impact the types of intergovernmental policies that have emerged in the two countries. The executive dominance so imbedded in Canadian governments has contributed to their ability to adopt and implement certain controversial redistributive policies, such as a national health insurance program. By contrast, the fragmentation of the U.S. system makes redistributive policies more difficult.

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Radin, B.A., Boase, J.P. Federalism, Political Structure, and Public Policy in the United States and Canada. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis 2, 65–89 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1010050314516

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  • policy
  • federalism
  • Canada
  • United States