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Monday, 14 March 2016

The Council of the Federation: Effectiveness in Intergovernmental Institutions

By Megan Semaniuk

The Council of the Federation (COF) meets twice a year to discuss issues of
importance to Canadians, identify possible solutions, and share best practices. The
following were some lessons learned from a recent analysis of communiqués from the
2000 to 2015 summer meetings of Canada’s premiers.

Three things to know about COF:

1. Formerly known as the Annual Premiers’ Conference, COF was institutionalized
with the signing of the Founding Agreement in 2003. From the 1960s to 2003,
premiers met routinely but the rules and requirements surrounding meetings were not

2. The 2003 Founding Agreement defines interactions among premiers. This
document was signed by all provincial and territorial premiers and established a
mandate, a common Secretariat, and a consensus decision-making procedure. This
document acts as the framework for COF.

3. The Council of the Federation is a different institution than First Ministers’
Meetings (FMMs). Premiers may invite the federal government to participate at the
intergovernmental table with them. However, this provision in the Founding Agreement
has not been utilized to date.

 Three myths about COF:

Myth #1: There is an abundance of academic research on COF and its predecessor, the
Annual Premiers’ Conference.

Reality: Rather, there is a significant lack of academic research on the topic.
Where academic research does exist, it tends to focus on the interactions between
premiers and the prime minister of the day, or the premiers’ conference in relation to FMMs.

Myth #2: Premiers’ meetings are “interprovincial dress rehearsals” for FMMs.1

Reality: In fact, interprovincial matters have become the most salient element of COF communiqués.2
This goes against the assumption that premiers’ meetings are held primarily to discuss
items of federal-provincial importance.

Myth #3: Now that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has conducted two FMMs, there is no
need for COF meetings.

Reality: These meetings were the first to be held since 2009. Premiers continue to meet to discuss
issues that are uniquely provincial and that are within their constitutional jurisdiction.

1 Meekison, J. Peter. 2004. “The Annual Premiers’ Conference: Forging a Common Front.” In 
Canada: The State of the Federation 2002. Reconsidering the Institutions of Canadian 
Federalism, eds. J. Peter Meekison, Hamish Telford and Harvey Lazar. Montreal and 
Kingston, QC and ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press. 
2 Semaniuk, M. Forthcoming. “The Council of the Federation: Effectiveness in Intergovernmental