Hering, Martin: Consociational Democracy in Canada. In: Ahornblätter. Marburger Beiträge zur Kanada-Forschung. 11. Marburg 1998.(Schriften der Universitätsbibliothek Marburg ; 84)

Martin Hering

Consociational Democracy in Canada

1. Introduction

The terms "elite accommodation", "executive federalism" and "federal-provincial diplomacy" are often used to describe the character of the political process in Canada. In a comparative perspective, the bargaining between political elites in Canada is distinct from the mode of decision-making in other western countries. In the 1990s these traditional patterns are under pressure. The legitimacy of elitist policy-making has considerably eroded in recent years, coinciding with the demand of greater mass participation. Mass political participation is seen as a requirement for enhanced democracy, whereas elite accommodation, it is argued, poses restrictions to democracy. According to consociational democratic theory, however, exactly the reverse is true: elite accommodation is functional for the Canadian political system, and limited participation of the people in decision-making is necessary, otherwise the democracy in Canada could not maintain stability.

At first glance this view might seem paradoxical. In a political-sociological perspective, however, one can understand the proposition that elitist policy-making is favourable for democratic stability in the Canadian political system. Democratic institutions do not operate in a void. The social settings in which they work have significant implications for the political process. Consociational theorists argue that Canada is deeply divided by its ethnic-linguistic cleavage, and that the Francophone Canadians in Québec constitute a distinct subculture. It is assumed that Canada's political unity cannot be maintained, unless ethnic conflicts are regulated. Consociational democratic theory is based on the assumption that the political elites perform the crucial role of conflict management. Examining the Canadian political system from the consociational perspective helps us to understand how the democracy in Canada works successfully, why it works in a particularly elitist way, and which problems Canadian political institutions have in managing ethnic conflict.

The first part of this paper deals with democratic theory in general and discusses the problems of democracy caused by ethnic segmentation. Furthermore, the central elements of the theoretical model of consociational democracy are introduced, such as social segmentation, elite cooperation and principles of consociationalism in political institutions. In the second part, the consociational theoretical model is applied to Canada. The focus is on elite accommodation on the federal and the federal-provincial level.

2. Consociational Democratic Theory

Consociational democratic theory was originally developed as an empirical explanation of the political stability of a number of socially divided European democracies, where one would expect instability: Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. As a theoretical model, however, it can be applied to other segmented countries. Arend Lijphart, the political theorist who coined the term, defines consociational democracy generally as following: "In a consociational democracy, the centrifugal tendencies inherent in a plural society are counteracted by the cooperative attitudes and behaviour of the leaders of the different segments of the population. Elite cooperation is the primary distinguishing feature of consociational democracy" (Lijphart 1977, p.1). The following part of this paper is a discussion of the ideal theoretical model, which must be distinguished from the political reality of consociational democracies.

2.1. Segmented Societies and Democracy
2.1.1. The Social Conditions of Democracy

Democratic theorists often assume that the conditions for stable democracy are related to the bases of social diversity. Generally, social homogeneity is associated with political stability, whereas social heterogenity is associated with political instability. An explanation for this assumption can be found in the concept of political cleavages. A political cleavage is generally a division of a community into different groups (Rae and Taylor 1970). Relevant cleavages are those which are deep and persistent, clearly articulated, and of political salience, such as religious, linguistic, ethnic or ideological cleavages. They are the sources of different, often conflicting demands expressed in society. Therefore, cleavages generate the conflicts which constitute the political process. When there are two or more divisions in society, one must examine how they relate to each other. Two ideal types of cleavage structures need to be distinguished. First, there are overlapping or reinforcing cleavages: those persons who are divided by one cleavage will also be divided by another. Secondly, there are cross-cutting cleavages: those who are divided by one cleavage will be united by another cleavage. Thus, the individual is member of several groups which pull him in different political directions. In other words, the individual is influenced by various forces, and he faces cross-pressures: As Seymour Martin Lipset argues, "multiple and politically inconsistent affiliations, loyalties, and stimuli reduce the emotion and aggressiveness involved in political choice" (1960, p.88). The individual is therefore more tolerant of other opinions, and more pragmatic in his political commitment. The intensity of political conflict is reduced, since the cross-pressures strenghten the individual's interest in compromise. Conversely, the conflict potential of mutually reinforcing cleavages is much larger, so that they tend to undermine lasting democracy. When an individual belongs to a variety of groups that all predispose him toward the same political choice, political issues cannot easily be compromised (Lipset 1960).

Considering the concept of reinforcing cleavages, it is argued that in societies with different subcultures, political consensus is very difficult to reach (Dahl 1989). When individuals live the most time of their lives among members of the same group and within the group's organizations, the political identification with their subculture is presumably very strong. Since the individual is socialized in his own segment, counteracting cross-pressures are weak or even absent. Thus, subcultural conflicts in societies are of a different nature than those originating for example from two reinforcing social cleavages. They are deeper and more emotional, because subcultural segments often feel threatened in their identity and their values by another segment of society. As Robert A. Dahl (1989, p.255) puts it, those disputes often turn into violent, nonnegotiable conflicts, because the legitimacy of oppositional groups is in question. Instead of being united on fundamentals, the country is sharply divided.

2.1.2. The Effects of Majoritarian Democratic Institutions

The essence of the majoritarian model of parliamentary democracy is majority rule and competition. Majorities should govern, whereas minorities should oppose. According to the pure theoretical model, minorities are excluded from decision-making. In relatively homogeneous societies, where people are grouped around the political center, there is no problem with this principle (Lijphart 1984). Moreover, in most majoritarian democratic systems, the exclusion of the opposition is usually only temporarily. Since the individuals are flexible with respect to their political orientations and loyalties, the minority can become the majority in the next election, and government and opposition can alternate. However, in sharply segmented societies with deep reinforcing cleavages, this classic majoritarian model of democracy has profound impacts, because "the flexibility for majoritarian democracy is absent" (ibid., p.22). As Arend Lijphart has put it, under the conditions of a society divided along religious, linguistic, ethnic, or other lines, "majority rule is not only undemocratic but also dangerous, because minorities that are continually denied access to power will feel excluded and discriminated against and will lose their allegiance to the regime" (1984, p.22-23). The majoritarian model eventually leads to disintegration, possibly to a permanent political crisis, and perhaps even to violent conflicts.

2.1.3. The Democratic Problem of Segmented Societies

The problem consociational democratic theory addresses is as following: under particular circumstances, social factors and institutional factors in combination produce conflict, disintegration and instability in democratic political systems. In principle, there are two solutions for this problem. The first one is to change the society, that means to weaken certain political cleavages, or in other words to assimilate the minority subcultures. This is exactly what Lord Durham recommended in his report with regard to the French Canadians in 1839. The second solution is to change the democratic institutions and practices in order to manage social diversity democratically. This is exactly the focus of consociational theory, and the opposite to assimilation (Lijphart 1977, p.42). Proceeding on the assumption that segmented societies need to build political consensus and need to accommodate conflicting interests, consociational theory studies the political process of socially diverse countries. The question is how democracy can work successfully, in spite of the unpromising social conditions. On the one hand, sharp social division in society and viable democracy seem to contradict each other. On the other hand, Anglo-American types of democracy emphasize competition, which is in contrast to the need for responsiveness to a segmented social structure. Consociational theory tries to explore how the apparent contradictions are reconciled. It particularly looks at institutional arrangements, because they are seen as the dependent variable of the social basis.

2.2. The Political Process in Consociational Democracies

Organized Segmentation and Interest Aggregation

Segmented societies are characterized by extraordinary political cleavages. The distinct subcultures are separated from each other. They are virtually self-contained population groups which have their own cultural and political life. Consequently, the cleavages are manifested in all politically and socially relevant organizations: political parties, interest groups, and communication media (Lijphart 1968). It is very important to note that the social segmentation is organized, because political cleavages are structured and reinforced by these distinctive organizations. Being isolated from each other, the subcultures articulate and aggregate their interests separately. Interests in homogeneous political systems are transferred from citizens through mediators to the state, similar to the image of a pyramid, as a process from the bottom to the top. In consociational democracies this mediating process is multiplied depending on how many subcultures exist. There is no pyramid, but there are many separated pillars. Between each of these pillars is a gap. At this point, one can see which function the elites perform: elite cooperation is the bridging mechanism at the top of these pillars, or the separated subcultures respectively.

Elite Cooperation and Mass-Elite Relations

By means of overarching cooperation, the leaders of the different subcultures attempt to hold the country together. Whereas on the mass level, the subcultures are isolated from each other, on the elite level they communicate and cooperate. Elite accommodation is essentially a response to the consequences of deep cleavages. It functions as a substitute for the lacking political consensus of the masses. Instead, the elites manage the conflicts and transcend the cleavages, thus providing the bases for limited political unity. Unlike the divided population of the subcultures, they are able to negotiate and reach compromises. First, this is why elites usually have an esprit de corps, because they have a common social background, and they share certain norms. Their similar socialization into a cooperative pattern of behaviour enables them to interact across the conflicting interests of religion, ethnicity and language, for example (Presthus 1973). Secondly, the elites regard politics as a business, where it counts to make a deal. Even if they lack a comprehensive political consensus, the leaders of the segments are able to find pragmatic solutions. Necessarily, the elites must be aware of the dangers of national disintegration, and must rather be committed to preserve national unity. Hence, the elites agree at least on democratic procedural rules, they share a pragmatic orientation toward politics, and accept and respect political differences. Thus, the settlement of divisive issues and conflicts is possible, even though only a minimal consensus on fundamentals exists. These are the reasons why "elite accommodation" in politics can actually work (Lijphart 1968).

Thus far, the focus has been on the relations between the political elites of the different subcultures and the bridging-mechanism. In addition to the overarching inter-elite communication, the relations between the masses and their respective elites are very important to understand the politics of accommodation on the elite level. A number of preconditions are relevant for its functioning. In order to make a political deal, the elites need a high degree of freedom of choice and room for maneuver. The secrecy and the non-public character of elite meetings ensure that the political leaders can act very independently of their followers. Therefore, the information gap between the leaders and their rank and file serves certain objectives. Inspite of this, the masses, in turn, have to remain loyal to their elites. Stable mass support, especially from the segmental organizations, and satisfaction with the policy outcomes are required. Legitimacy is a critical point in elite-mass communication. Therefore, mass acceptance of government by elite accommodation is one of the most important prerequisites for consociational democracy.

2.3. The Institutional Characteristics of Consociational Democracy

After having dealt with the distinct social processes and its conditions which underlie consociational democratic arrangements, we turn to the characteristic rules in these institutions, representing directly relating consequences of the social underpinnings. At the same time, one can recognize how the consociational democratic model differs and deviates from the majoritarian model of democracy. The most striking deviation from the majoritarian model, and simultaneously the most important element of consociational democracy, is government by a grand coalition (Lijphart 1977, p.25). The political leaders of all relevant segments are represented in the executive organs. According to the model, the government-versus-opposition pattern is invalidated, because none of the segments is excluded. Majority rule is not appropriate in consociational democracies, because the political stakes are usually very high in segmented societies. Therefore, every segment tries to protect its own minority interests. The elites prefer coalition instead of competition as the style of political leadership. Usually the cabinet is the site where this type of elite cooperation takes place. However, other institutional arrangements are also possible. The crucial point is that permanent exclusion of a minority from government is avoided. The grand coalition cabinet is only a prototype; the same function can be performed in different ways.

There are three other instruments that serve the purpose to avoid pure majority rule. First, the grand coalition principle is complemented by a minority veto (ibid., p.36). Decisions in the coalition can only be made unanimously. The reason is that the grand coalition only ensures that the segments are represented in the government, but not that their influence in decision-making is guaranteed. A mutual minority veto, however, is a definite protection of the vital interests of the minority segments. Secondly, another modification of the majority rule is the principle of proportionality, which is also linked with the grand coalition principle. This means that the segments are represented in the government according to their numerical strength, and that they influence decisions proportionally. Additionally, civil service appointments and public finances are distributed according to the proportion of the segments. In some cases, the principle of proportionality is further enhanced. Small segments are deliberatly overrepresented, or all groups are even equally represented. Both overrepresentation and parity provide added security. Thirdly, there is the principle of political autonomy of the segments, including the decentralization of decision-making and executive powers (ibid., p.41). The grand coalition should only be concerned with matters of common interest, all the other should be left to the separate segments. As far as the segments are territorially concentrated, this principle can have the form of federalism. In conclusion, it should be indicated again that the general idea behind these principles - grand coalition, minority veto, proportionality, and segmental autonomy - is to guarantee that the interests of the minority segments are protected. As a consequence, this makes it necessary to deviate from the normal rule of democracy. Consensual or consociational arrangements are the alternative to majoritarian decision-making.

3. Consociational Democracy in Canada
3.1. The Cleavage Structure in Canadian Society

Consociational theorists assume that the province of Québec represents a distinct society within Canada. To understand what the characteristics of the French-English division in Canada are, the cleavage structure in Canadian society has to be examined more closely. According to the Canada Yearbook (Statistics Canada 1994), 24.3 percent of the Canadian population are French Canadians. However, the most striking feature is that almost all Francophones - 85.2 percent - are concentrated in the province of Québec. Four out of five Québeckers are French Canadians, which has remained fairly constant over the last 40 years. Therefore, the ethnic-linguistic cleavage coincides with a territorial cleavage. This fact has profoundly increased the political salience of two other cleavages, culture and religion. The geographical concentration of French Canadians makes it possible to maintain their cultural diversity. In their province they can use the French language in almost all aspects of life, and their day-to-day contacts are mostly with members of their own subculture. Usually they are born and socialized into their culture. Without the coincidence of ethnicity and territory, it seems unlikely that French Canada could have persisted as a distinct cultural identity. Part of this identity is manifested in the distinct French legal system and in the provincial education system. Therefore, ethnic cleavage does not only mean linguistic cleavage, its second significant dimension is the cultural cleavage.

The same pattern applies to religion. While 45.7 percent of the Canadian population is catholic, and 36.2 percent Protestant, virtually all Francophones are catholic. Thus, the province of Québec is predominantly Roman Catholic (86.1 percent of its population). During the formative period of Canada, religious issues were far more important than they are today (McRae 1974, p.242), because the catholic church in Québec was the most influential institution in social and cultural affairs. Religion was the primary line of cleavage, which also led to denominational schools, hospitals, or newspapers, for example. As a result of the Quiet Revolution in Québec in the 1960s, the salience has increasingly shifted to the language cleavage and the dividing line of culture. Nevertheless, "certain cultural characteristics are transmitted via religion" (Whittington and Van Loon 1987, p.87). The last significant component of the cleavage structure in Canada is the socio-economic line of cleavage. As Whittington and Van Loon argue, this is the most important of the cleavages which coincide with ethnicity. Referring to the Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, they argue: "Throughout Canadian history, French Canadians have generally received a proportionally smaller share of Canada's economic wealth than Canadians of English origin" (ibid., p.89). Compared to the Canadian average, significant economic disparities can be shown in terms of lower family incomes, a higher proportion of poor families, and higher unemployment rates. The inequalities are twofold, between Anglophones and Francophones within the province of Québec, and between the "have not"- and the "have"-provinces.

In sum, one can argue that several axes of segmentation coincide as part of the French subculture: language, culture, religion, economic position, and territory. On the one hand, these are mutually reinforcing cleavages, which accentuate and perpetuate the French-English division in Canada. On the other hand, counteracting and moderating forces are virtually absent, for example cross-cutting cleavages or a strong, overriding national identity. Therefore, we can speak of a French minority segment in Canadian society. On the contrary, there is no functional counterpart in form of an English subculture. We can hardly speak of English-Canada as a unified, coherent segment in a divided society. Essentially, it is an ethnic and religious mosaic, but not composed of strongly articulated minority subcultures. One exception might be the aboriginal population. Moreover, English-Canada is divided in regional-economic terms. In contrast to the strong and distinct Francophone identity, the English-Canadian identity is "weak and confused" (Bell 1992, p.86). The same is true for the elite level. As Alan Cairns points out, Anglophone Canada "has no sense of itself. It is headless. No political elites have the roles and authority to speak on its behalf" (1991, p.208). Unlike the four European consociational democracies, Canada does not have two or more segments of roughly equal size as players in the political process. Rather, there is the one-quarter Francophone minority surrounded by the rest of Canada, which is a mixed, three-quarter majority. As we will see later, this incomplete segmentation, coinciding with a lack of balance between different minorities, poses a number of problems for consociational arrangements.

3.2. Organizational Segmentation

Since this cleavage structure generates strong values and intensive feelings for the part of the Francophones, the potential of ethnic conflict in Canada is quite high. This is confirmed by the related organizational segmentation. In Québec, the most important spheres of social and political activity are organized along the lines of the ethnic-linguistic cleavage, especially the education system and the media of communication. To a somewhat lesser extent, this is also true for socio-economic organizations, first of all trade unions and farmers' associations (McRae 1974, p.246). Political parties are the most important institutional means to translate the segmental cleavages into the political realm. Unlike the European cases, in Canada the ethnic-linguistic cleavage is not institutionalized in the party system. Canadian parties on the federal level usually do not mobilize voters along this dividing line. One exception might be the Bloc Québécois. However, this party does not have accommodating intentions.

3.3. Elite Cooperation in Canadian Politics

In all, the cleavage structure and the organized segmentation in Canada would suggest that it must be a centrifugal democracy, according to democratic theory. Conversely, its political stability cannot be explained in terms of cross-cutting cleavages. In order to account for the coincidence of stability and diversity, we turn in our analysis from the mass level to the elite level, and take a look at the bridging mechanisms. The ethnic cleavage in Canada is not only reflected in the political process in a broader sense, in terms of interest mediators, but first of all in the political system in a narrower sense, in governmental institutions. Arend Lijphart has defined four main characteristics of consociational democracy: grand coalition, minority veto, proportionality, and segmental autonomy. In order to analyze the Canadian political system as a consociational democracy, one has to identify these patterns in the political institutions and one has to assess to what extent they are realized. This has to be done necessarily with regard to the French-Canadian subculture.

Two differentiations need to be made. First, it makes sense to divide these four consociational principles into two opposite approaches. Whereas grand coalition, minority veto and proportionality are based on participation in federal institutions (intrastate accommodation), the principle of autonomy largely rejects accommodation in federal decision-making bodies. It rather emphasizes provincial self-determination, and stresses the bargaining power of the province (interstate accommodation). Depending on the method, consociational practices therefore take a different form and take place on different sites. Second, we have to break down Canadian consociationalism into three different periods of time: the United Province of Canada (1840 to 1867), traditional Canadian federalism (1867 to 1960) and modern federalism (1960 to 1993). The first and the second period represent different institutional settings which are related to demographic change. The distinguishing feature of the second and the third period is primarily one of social and political change: the Quiet Revolution in Québec and the new functions performed by the federal and the Québec states. These differences account for different consociational practices. Although it will be mainly dealt with the period from 1960 to 1993, comparisons to former periods are helpful for the understanding of consociationalism in Canada.

3.3.1. Intrastate Accommodation

Grand Coalition

To begin with the grand coalition-principle, one has to examine the highest decision-making body, the federal Cabinet. As striking difference to consociational countries with proportional representation, coalitions between parties of the different segments are not existing in Canada. Instead, the British-styled electoral system produces single-party governments. Although Canada does not have grand coalition governments in the true sense, it has a functional equivalent: the accommodation of ethnic interests takes place within the governing party, not among different parties. "Longstanding and firm traditions require the Cabinet to be faithfully representative not only of provinces but also of religion and language" (McRae 1974, p.251). This example shows how the majoritarian model with its emphasis on party competition and majority rule can be adapted to the needs of Canadian society for consensual institutions. It should be noted, however, that this is possible because of the territorial concentration of the French- Canadian segment. Under these conditions, even the single member district simple plurality vote-system will produce almost proportional representation of Francophones in the House of Commons.

Federal Cabinets can be regarded as grand coalitions, even though this arrangement does not correspond with the abolishment of the government-opposition pattern, which is still maintained. The Cabinet's composition generally follows the proportionality principle. The average proportion of French ministers is about 30 percent since Confederation (Whittington and Van Loon 1987, p.444). Pierre Trudeau and John Turner both had more than 40 percent Francophone ministers (ibid.), whereas throughout the Diefenbaker period, French-Canadian representation in the Cabinet remained relatively unimportant (McRae 1974, p.252). Particularly the Liberal Party performs the role of a grand coalition, since its leadership has rotated between Anglophones and Francophones, and consequently in the prime ministership in Liberal Cabinets. Other typical grand coalition-arrangements are the rotation in the office of the Governor General since the appointment of the first Canadian, in the speakership of the House of Commons, and in the position of the chief justice of the Supreme Court (Lijphart 1977, p.127).

Minority Veto

The representative character of the Cabinet is an important element in consociational politics. However, the equality of the French-Canadian influence on decision-making is uncertain, as long as there is no minority veto. In the time of the Union government from 1840 to 1867 an equal number of seats in the assembly were allocated to French-and English-Canada. This was practically a veto, because the French Canadians "had enough seats to block any legislation that appeared contrary to the interests of the French-Canadian community" (McRoberts 1988, p.52). There was even some informal recognition of the double-majority principle (Smiley 1987, p.126). With the Confederation of 1867, this veto was abandoned in favour of a more majoritarian mode of decision-making. As Kenneth McRoberts argues, Canadian political life has not been organized on the basis of minority protection on the federal level: "In particular, there is no evidence of adherence to the 'consociational' decision-making rules that require more than a simple majority in order to afford adequate protection to 'subcultures'" (1988, p.35). He argues that there is no evidence that Québec Cabinet members enjoyed a formal veto. We can conclude that a formal minority veto as a permanent consociational principle is missing in Canadian democracy. However, this does not necessarily mean that there have never been particular cases of a Francophone veto. Arend Lijphart speaks of a largely effective informal veto over decisions that concern the vital interests of French Canadians (1977, p.125).


As for the proportionality principle, we have already examined the federal Cabinet. In the federal bureaucratic elite, the representation of French Canadians is almost proportional, at least in the last three decades, after the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism concerning the civil service were implemented. Whereas their proportion was only 13 percent in 1953, it increased to 24 percent in 1973 (Olsen 1980, p.78). Another example of this principle is the Supreme Court Act of 1949 which ensures that at least three of the nine justices must be appointed from the superior courts or the bar of Québec (Lijphart 1977, p.126).

3.3.2. Interstate Accommodation and Segmental Autonomy

As we have seen, the three principles which are oriented toward equal participation and minority protection in the national institutions are only partially realized. While this method is weakly developed, the method of segmental autonomy is much more important in Canadian consociationalism. Political accommodation rather takes place in the arena of federal-provincial relations than within the federal Cabinet. Segmental autonomy, embodied in the federal system, is the strongest consociational feature of Canadian democracy. According to Robert A. Dahl (1989, p.259) the high degree of autonomy granted to Québec is the key element of the management of Canada's ethnic-linguistic division.

Traditional Federalism

The Confederation settlement was a response to the fact of French-English duality in the United Province of Canada. The type of consociationalism of the time before confederation, which was based on equal and balanced power in the institutions of the Union, proved as unworkable and led to a political deadlock (Smiley 1987, p.127). Equal representation was increasingly against the interests of English-Canada, because it now had a larger population than French-Canada. The pressures for representation by population and for majoritarian decision-making became stronger. This is the point where the Canadian political system departed from the complete realization of the participatory consociational principles like grand coalition, minority veto, and proportionality. They were weakened in favour of a new type of consociationalism which stresses segmental autonomy as the alternative principle. On the one hand the French Canadians became a permanent minority at the federal level, where their rights and powers "were subject to the actions of the Anglo-Canadian majority" (McRoberts 1988, p.53). They were no longer protected in the national institutions, but only protected to some extent by the informal intraparty alliance of French and English elites, and as an important factor in national elections (ibid.). On the other hand, the guarantee for protection of the Francophone minority instead shifted to the provincial level. The BNA Act provided Québec with a range of powers over its own affairs, especially in language, cultural, religious, and legal matters. These powers permitted the Francophone community to ensure its integrity and survival. The division of legislative powers was complemented by French-English mediation within the federal parties. Anglophone party leaders usually had their Québec lieutenants, the Liberals even practiced bi-ethnic sharing of power after 1896 (Smiley 1987, p.130). Although Confederation did not eliminate conflict between French and English communities, these consociational arrangements were quite successful. They made Canada "one of the most stable of Western nations", as Donald Smiley has put it (ibid., p.129). This kind of stability, however, lasted only from 1867 until 1960, when the Quiet Revolution began in Québec.

One has to explain why conflict regulation in the period before 1960 was quite successful, whereas in the period from 1960 to 1993, conflict management became more difficult. Until 1960 Québec was a traditional society, in which the Roman Catholic church played a pre-eminent role. This was congruent with a traditional distrust of the state. In the Francophone political culture, government in any event played a minimal role (McRoberts 1988, p.53). Social matters were regarded outside the governments provenance, and were rather left to the church. The French culture and religion could be maintained by traditional values and institutions and by the resistance to pressures against assimilation. This is what the term "la survivance" means. The underlying assumption was that the effective power is held by private institutions, above all the church. As long as the protection of these private institutions was assured, conflict over decision-making at the federal level simply did not arise very frequently. National economic policy, for example, was regarded as a politically neutral issue, without effect on the traditional French society and thus in the common interest of both ethnic groups. In these matters, majoritarian decision-making at the federal level was therefore not challenged. The distribution of powers between the two levels of government was not an issue in French-English relations, Québec was strictly oriented on the provisions embodied in the BNA Act. A case in point for this defensive and conservative approach are the relations of the Duplessis regime with Ottawa. There was rarely a confrontation of power. Usually, Québec only sought to block federal jurisdiction it saw as interference in provincial matters. However, Québec did not claim to exercise these jurisdiction itself. For example, the Duplessis administration simply refused to participate in many of the shared-cost programs without demanding financial compensation (McRoberts 1988, p.124). We can conclude that the first factor which made the functioning of the consociational arrangements in the period from Confederation to 1960 possible was the particular political culture of Québec. Nevertheless, the structural problems that led to the later conflicts were already inherent in this type of consociationalism. One of the greatest crises of French- English relations in this period was the imposition of conscription during the First World War. Since Québec did not have a veto on the national arena, although it was represented in the Cabinet, its opposition remained unsuccessful. According to Reg Whitaker, the conscription crises demonstrated that, "when an issue sharply divided the two communities, the English majority would always win" (1984, p.73).

Modern Federalism

The Quiet Revolution and the election of Jean Lésage as Québec premier radically changed the social and political conditions of consociational democracy. Not until the 1960s did the structural characteristics of this type of consociationalism become a major and permanent obstacle to conflict management. The Québecois' suspicion of the state came to an end. Now Francophones saw the provincial government as the major instrument to reform, develop and modernize Québec society. The church, in turn, was largely displaced. The Lésage government challenged the established procedures of Canadian federalism and consociationalism. In addition to the change in the political culture, the second important factor leading to the end of the fairly successful Confederation model was the development of the modern welfare state. The expansion of governmental activities posed several problems, because the objectives of the French community were no longer compatible with those of the English community. The federalist solution of 1867 was based on disengagement of the two segments. Each was free to pursue its own interests largely independent of the other. As Richard Simeon has put it, "such a solution works only so long as the actions of one party do not spill over to affect the other, and so long as the goals of one side do not imply demands on the other" (1972, p.289). With the new responsibilities of government, these conditions were no longer met. As federal policies increasingly affected Québec's society, Québec demanded additional funds and powers from the federal government.

Both factors led to increased tensions in Canadian ethnic relations. To implement programs of political modernization in Québec, Lésage no longer only refused federal policies, but struggled over the fiscal and legal power to exercise these policies by the provincial government. Now the federal powers became a salient issue for Québec. The distribution of powers was politicized; it was assumed that vital and distinct French-Canadian interests are involved in federal governmental activity (McRoberts 1988, p.142). Whereas Duplessis acted defensively, Lésage actively demanded control over federal revenue and spending. For example, the Québec government sought to "opt out" of federal programs, to get a larger share of the tax fields, and to have the recognition of its "right to be consulted before the federal government took action within areas of recognized federal jurisdiction" (ibid.). The last goal is particularly important, because it represents an attempt to have a veto over federal legislation. What was achieved within the federal government prior to 1867 through equal representation, was now being attempted in the federal-provincial arena. As the site of political accommodation between the elites of the segments, the federal-provincial arena became more important than the federal institutions. The ethnic-linguistic conflict was transformed first of all into a contest between federal and provincial governments and its political elites, a pattern which is still existing today.

Since the French-English question became more conflictual, one has to ask if the period from 1960 until 1993 can actually be described as consociationalism. On the one hand, two examples might illustrate that the Canadian democracy is rather centrifugal and conflictual than consociational and cooperative. First, the emergence of a separatist movement in Québec, leading to separatist governments (and after the 1993 federal election to a separatist party in Ottawa) is certainly contradictory to accommodating political practices, because parts of the elites are not committed to maintain Canada's national unity. Second, the making of the Canadian Constitution in 1982 shows that the consent of the French-Canadian province is not generally obtained in major policy decisions. On the other hand, the patterns of negotiation, consultation and agreement in federal-provincial relations confirm the important role of elite accommodation, which is central to the maintenance and operation of the Canadian political system. One example for a successful French-English conflict management at federal-provincial conferences is the pension settlement in the 1960s, which Richard Simeon describes as "a creative way of satisfying some of Québec's basic goals while not preventing the English-Canadian majority from achieving its objectives" (1972, p.259). But other policy areas could not be managed very successfully, the attempts for constitutional reform are a case in point. However, discussing certain issues of conflict or policy outcomes is beyond the scope of this paper. The focus is rather on the consociational characteristics of "federal-provincial diplomacy" and "executive federalism". It is true that federal-provincial conferences give Québec formally only one voice out of ten. Therefore, French-Canada has no more authoritative sanctions than any other province. The process does not provide guaranteed minority protection for Francophones, because the French-Canadian subculture is not dealing on equal terms with English-Canada. However, as Richard Simeon has put it, "there is no doubt that in fact Québec's political resources far outweigh those of other governments" (1972, p.288). The special status of Québec indicates that there is consociationalism to some extent. However, the accommodation is not institutionalized, for example there is no formal veto. The adjustment of the diverse interests is rather continuous and highly flexible. It is a responsive process, which can vary from time to time, depending on the political conditions and circumstances in a particular situation. The two opposite poles in democratic theory are pure majoritarianism and fully realized consociationalism. Canada is somewhere in between, sometimes more oriented toward the one or more toward the other pole. Consequently, as Arend Lijphart suggests, Canada fits in between the centrifugal and consociational types of democracy (1977, p.129).

4. Conclusion

We have seen that in many respects Canada does not easily fit in the consociational democratic model. Kenneth McRae concludes that "the existing Canadian political system, even at its best, must be viewed as a very imperfect example of consociational democracy" (1974, p.300). To conclude, some of the characteristics of the Canadian political system should be highlighted. First, consociationalism in Canada as a pattern of social structure can only be partially identified. The French Canadians are a distinct segment in Canadian society, whereas English-Canada can be described as a segment only in a very abstract way. On the mass level, we can find multiculturalism. Secondly, the same can be said about consociationalism as a pattern of elite behaviour and mass-elite relationships. French-Canada has segmental elites which can perform the role of a mediator. But in English-Canada, we can find provincial governments on the elite-level which are divided in regional-economic terms. They usually speak for their province, but not for English-Canada as a whole. The Anglophone elite in the federal government faces difficulties in performing the mediating role necessary for consociational democracy. In sum, these conditions are not very favourable for consociational democracy, because one part is simply lacking. The segmentation is one-sided, and the French-Canadian minority has no counterpart. Furthermore, there is no balance of power. According to Lijphart's theory, "a multiple balance of power among the segments in a plural society is more conducive to consociational democracy than a dual balance of power or a hegemony by one of the segments" (1977, p.55). In Canada, perhaps one cannot speak of a hegemony of one segment on the national level, because English-Canada is not a distinctive segment, although it is numerically predominant. However, one can speak of the inferiority of the French-Canadian segment. Additionally, a multiple balance is absent, and thus not all segments are minorities.

The preconditions for consociationalism in Canada are not very encouraging. Nevertheless, consociational practices have developed to a remarkable extent. Two factors account for that. First, the province of Québec is the homeland for the vast majority of French Canadians in Canada. Second, in combination with federalism, this territorial concentration makes Québec a distinct political entity. As a result, Canadian federalism makes it possible to preserve distinct minority identities, and to accommodate diversity. It thus allows diversity and unity, which is one of the major features of consociationalism. To formulate it in terms of democratic theory, "federalism commits the territorial units to seek accommodation without outvoting the minority and without the use of force" (Gagnon 1993, p.24). Therefore, federalism shapes the decision-making principle of Canadian democracy: it does not allow pure majority rule, but encourages a more diffuse mode of decision-making. This mode is partially consociational. However, within federal institutions, political decision-making has been heavily structured by the demographic make-up of the electorate. As Kenneth McRoberts argues, "even if some dualistic practices, such as alternating the Governor-Generalship, might suggest a political equality between Francophones and Anglophones, the reality has been otherwise" (1988, p.35). Therefore, majoritarianism and consociationalism are both part of the Canadian political system. This balancing act gives us an idea why Canada is relatively stable on the one hand, and why it faces problems in maintaining its national unity on the other.


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Martin Hering, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218-2685, USA
e-mail: hering@jhu.edu