Hering, Martin: Consociational Democracy in Canada. In: Ahornblätter.
Marburger Beiträge zur Kanada-Forschung. 11. Marburg 1998.(Schriften
der Universitätsbibliothek Marburg ; 84)
Consociational Democracy in Canada
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
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).
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
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).
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
Bell, D.: The Roots of Disunity. A Study of Canadian Political Culture.
Cairns, A. C.: Disruptions. Constitutional Struggles, from the Charter
to Meech Lake. Toronto 1991.
Dahl, R.: Democracy and its Critics. New Haven 1989.
Dyck, R.: Canadian Politics. Critical Approaches. Scarborough 1993.
Esman, M. J. (Ed.): Ethnic Conflict in the Western World. Ithaca und London
Gagnon, A. G. (Ed.): Quebec. State and Society. Toronto 1984.
Gagnon, A. G.; Montcalm, M. B.: Economic Peripheralization and Quebec Unrest.
In: Gagnon, A. G. (Ed.): Quebec. State and Society. Toronto 1984.
Gagnon, A. G.: The Political Uses of Federalism. In: Burgess, M.; Gagnon,
A. G.: Comparative Federalism and Federation. Toronto 1993.
Lijphart, A.: The Politics of Accommodation. Pluralism and Democracy in
the Netherlands. Berkeley 1968.
Lijphart, A.: Democracy in Plural Societies. New Haven 1977.
Lijphart, A.: Democracies. Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government
in Twenty-One Countries. New Haven 1984.
Lipset, S. M.: Political Man. The Social Bases of Politics. New York 1960.
McRae, K. (Ed.): Consociational Democracy. Political Accommodation in Segmented
Societies. Toronto 1974.
McRoberts, K.: Quebec. Social Change and Political Crises. Toronto 1988.
Olson, D.: The State Elite. Toronto 1980.
Presthus, R.: Elite Accommodation in Canadian Politics. Toronto 1973.
Rae, D. W.; Taylor, M.: The Analysis of Political Cleavages. New Haven
Simeon, R.: Federal-Provincial Diplomacy. The Making of Recent Policy in
Canada. Toronto 1972.
Simeon, R.; Robinson, I.: State, Society, and the Development of Canadian
Federalism. Toronto 1991.
Smiley, D. V.: The Federal Condition in Canada. Toronto 1987.
Statistics Canada: Canada Yearbook. Ottawa 1994.
Whitaker, R.: The Quebec Cauldron. A Recent Account. In: Gagnon, A. G.
(Ed.): Quebec. State and Society. Toronto 1984.
Whittington, M. S.; Van Loon, R. J.: The Canadian Political System. Environment,
Structure and Process. Toronto 1987.
Martin Hering, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University,
Baltimore, MD 21218-2685, USA