Does Canadian federalism amplify policy clashes?

Interesting analysis by Érick Lachapelle, Éric Montpetit, and Simon Kiss of how values may play a more important part than regions on a number of policy issues:

Another example comes from the recent debate over the restriction of religious symbols, which is often interpreted in Canada as an issue that pits ardently secular Quebec against English Canada. But examining new data from over 5,000 Canadians interviewed from across the federation, we find that Quebec is not that distinct when it comes to this issue.

As indicated by the relatively flat slopes in the left panel of Figure 2, egalitarian values do not appear to shape public opinion on religious dress as much as one might expect. This finding probably reflects the tension that exists between egalitarian predispositions toward framing this issue as one of gender equality on the one hand, or of protecting minority rights, on the other. Meanwhile, we find that a greater predisposition toward legal rigorist values is associated with greater support for restricting religious symbols across all regions. In fact, the strongest support for restricting religious symbols is not found in Quebec, but rather among legal rigorists living on the Prairies, and to a lesser extent, in Ontario and British Columbia.

On a range of other issues, from abortion to foreign policy, we find remarkably similar patterns across regions — the same values explain the same contentious policy disagreements across Canada, which suggests that a weak form of regionalism best characterizes policy disagreements in the federation. Moreover, compared to other explanatory factors, we find that values explain a considerable amount more of observed differences in the preferences of Canadians. This holds in models that control for age, gender, religion and partisan affiliation, which account for much less of the overall variation in policy preferences.

The upshot is that there may be a tendency to exaggerate the role of regions as the primary source of policy disagreement in Canada. Our paper thus highlights three main implications for thinking about policy disagreements, and how they might be surpassed.

Regional differences might be overcome through carefully reframing issues in ways that mobilize the value predispositions present in all regions.

Those who seek support for policies may wish to develop regionally sensitive communications strategies, notably to appeal to a region’s dominant value orientation or to appeal to values that have been overlooked in specific regions by policy-makers in the past.
Provincial policy-makers may find it beneficial to exchange with their counterparts in other provinces when developing policies and strategies. This may enhance their capacity to frame proposals in ways that appeal to specific sets of values and to build cross-regional support.

To be sure, policy disagreements are a legitimate part of any well-functioning democracy. However, when they become too entrenched, or are exaggerated by the media, they may be distinctly unhelpful when it comes to developing policy solutions to complex problems. Although regional differences cannot be ignored, our research suggests that paying greater attention to values has much to offer in terms of better interpreting policy disagreements, and that appealing to shared values may actually attenuate regional clashes over policy. This may, in turn, enhance the quality of public debate in Canada, as well as the legitimacy of public policies and programs.

via Does Canadian federalism amplify policy clashes?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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