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The Institutional Politics of Territorial Redistribution: Federalism and Equalization Policy in Australia and Canada

  • André Lecours (a1) and Daniel Béland (a2)


Abstract. A key challenge for comparative politics is to explain the varying degrees of political conflict triggered by the territorial redistribution of financial resources. Federal systems pose this question particularly acutely since they typically operate equalization programs that generate different levels and patterns of intergovernmental conflict. For instance, in Canada equalization has generated serious conflict between federal and provincial governments whereas in Australia it has only led to low-level grumblings on the part of some states which have taken shots at others. This article sheds light on the causes for conflict around the territorial redistribution of financial resources by explaining why equalization has produced more severe intergovernmental conflict in Canada than in Australia. It argues that institutional factors linked to the governance structures of equalization and the nature of federalism are at the heart of the cross-national difference. More specifically, the presence of an arms-length agency administrating equalization in Australia compared to executive discretion over the program in Canada and the weaker status and lesser power of states in comparison to Canadian provinces means that equalization policy is more subject to political challenges in Australia than in Canada.

Résumé. Une question majeure pour la politique comparée contemporaine, et plus particulièrement le fédéralisme comparé, est celle des conflits politiques et intergouvernementaux générés par la distribution territoriale des ressources fiscales. Au Canada, au cours de la dernière décennie, le programme de péréquation a suscité des conflits importants entre le gouvernement fédéral et les provinces, tandis qu'en Australie la péréquation ne provoque qu'un mécontentement épisodique entre les états fédérés. Cet article cherche à expliquer cette différence. Il suggère que des facteurs institutionnels liés à la gouvernance de la péréquation et à la nature des systèmes fédéraux sont au centre de l'explication. Plus précisément, l'article suggère que la présence d'une agence quasi-indépendante pour administrer la péréquation en Australie et son absence au Canada ainsi que la faiblesse relative des états australiens par rapport aux provinces canadiennes font que la péréquation au Canada est plus sujette aux attaques politiques qu'en Australie.


Corresponding author

André Lecours, University of Ottawa, 55 Laurier East, Ottawa, ON K1N 5N6,
Daniel Béland, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, 101 Diefenbaker Place, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5B8,


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