Centralization and Decentralization

July 4, 2019

Federal systems (see Federalism) differ greatly in the constitutional structures and powers of the two levels of government. Those in which the central government has preponderant weight, whether in legislative jurisdiction, financial capacity or administrative activity are described as centralized. Those in which the constituent states have great authority or financial capacity display decentralization. There are so many arrangements in existing federations that sure comparison of the result is difficult.

Canada is normally considered to be one of the more decentralized federations although the Constitution Act, 1867 had elements of centralization. For example, the federal government has the power to disallow provincial legislation (see Reservation and Disallowance), a power actively used in the first decades of our federal history but now totally in disuse, and the power to appoint the members of our Senate, a power that is still exercised by the Prime Minister with resulting injury to the representative authority of our second chamber. The modern use of the federal financial strength through its spending power (see federal spending power) has greatly increased the influence of the federal government in areas of provincial jurisdiction without any formal change to our Constitution. As a result, Canada now displays elements of both ‘centralization and decentralization’, while still being one of the most decentralized systems.


  • P.W. Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada, looseleaf (Toronto: Carswell, 1977).
  • J.R. Hurley, Amending Canada’s Constitution: History, Processes, Problems and Prospects (Ottawa: Privy Council Office, Policy Development and Constitutional Affairs, 1996).
  • R.L. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems, 2d ed. (Kingston: Published for the School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University by McGill-University Press, 1999).
Subscription Form


Protection of Privacy – Personal information provided is collected in accordance with Section 33(c) of the Alberta Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (the FOIP Act) and will be protected under Part 2 of that Act. It will be used for the purpose of managing CCS’ email subscription lists. Should you require further information about collection, use and disclosure of personal information, or to unsubscribe, please contact: Administrator, Centre for Constitutional Studies, 448D Law Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB, T6G 2H5, Tel: 780-492-5681, Email: ccslaw@ualberta.ca. You may unsubscribe from our email lists at any time.
Centre for Constitutional Studies
448D Law Centre
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB T6G 2H5
chevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram