Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Joe Garcea (University of Saskatchewan)
Session Abstract: Much has been written about the relationship between federalism and public policy. This scholarship suggests that adopting a comparative approach can provide new insight about this relationship. For instance, comparative research has pointed to the institutional and political “varieties of federalism” is it affects the politics of public policy. Federalism can take many different forms across countries but also from policy area to policy area within the same country, in terms of institutional arrangements, levels of centralization-decentralization, and even the nature and intensity of the territorial conflicts at hand.
Featuring scholars from Australia, Canada, and Mexico, addresses theoretical and empirical challenges stemming from the comparative study of federalism as it relates to public policy, especially fiscal and spending issues. The first paper maps and addresses some of these challenges while the three other contributions explore issues dealing with fiscal and spending policy in four federal countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico. This focus on four federal countries located on the Americas allow us to stress “varieties of federalism” in fiscal and spending policies. While the papers on Argentina and Brazil focuses on spending and resource allocation at the subnational level as it related to the politics of federalism, the paper on Brazil and Canada focuses on the revenue side of oil ownership as it affects federalism and intergovernmental relations.
Comparative Federalism and Public Policy: Theoretical Quagmires and Methodological Minefields: Alan Fenna (Curtin University) Abstract: Application of ‘the comparative method’ has been widely regarded as the ‘gold standard’ for social science research focusing on causal explanation since it, in principle, provides the only available way of controlling variables. As an identifiable sub-set of the available cases, federations invite comparative analysis — with their distinctive institutional architecture either the dependent or the independent variable. Since at least the 1930s, there has been ongoing interest in the latter: federalism’s impact on public policy. The more recent popularity of various institutionalist modes of explanation in political science makes the question of federalism’s effects even more germane. This paper assesses the success we have had to date in such studies and gauges their future potential. In doing so it highlights not only the methodological hazards facing such an enterprise, but also the problematic nature of theory-building and theory testing in this domain as in the social sciences more broadly.
Federalism and Social Spending at State-Level in Mexico: An Exploratory Study : Anahely Medrano (Centro de Investigación en Ciencias de Información Geoespaci) Abstract: During the twentieth century, the Mexican federalism was characterized by a centralization of powers in the hands of the federal government. However, since the 1980s, different decentralization processes have gradually increased the political leverage and income of states. In the realm of social policy, decentralized government is usually associated with more opportunities of innovation at state-level, as well as more responsiveness of subnational governments to social demands. Following this line of thought, it may be expected that decentralization had led to an increase in social spending at state level in Mexico. However, the analysis of the state social spending has been scarcely analyzed in this country. This is partially due to the lack of systematized data on social spending at state-level available to public. Therefore, the purpose of this study is twofold. First, this study aims to analyze the evolution and characteristics of social spending at state level in Mexico, from 2000 to 2018. In addition, this study seeks to explore some factors that may explain variability in social spending across states during this period of time. This quantitative analysis uses data from state public accounts of the 31states and Mexico City.
Undermining Governors: The Politics of a Dual Federal Spending Strategy : Tracy Fenwick (Australian National University), Lucas Gonzales (Universidad Nacional de San Martín) Abstract: When do presidents decide to allocate their resources in a discretionary or in a programmatic way? Why do presidents keep both types of spending? Using original data on federal infrastructure and social programmatic spending for the 24 provinces in Argentina (1999-2015), this study provides empirical evidence that presidents penalized opposition districts and more populated urban provinces (regardless of partisan affinity) governed by challengers to presidential power when they distributed infrastructure spending, while benefiting these same provinces with social spending. This paper explains these apparently contradictory findings suggesting that presidents use a dual logic of spending to undermine strong governors, particularly potential challengers. Discretionary spending increases the ability of an allied governor to generate political gain, while punishing opposition governors and challengers. Programmatic spending allows the president to maintain support in large populous provinces, while decreasing the ability of a governor to use social goods to generate local political support.
The Politics of Resource Revenue: Fiscal Federalism, Oil Ownership, and Political Institutions in Brazil and Canada: Catarina Segatto (University of Regina), Daniel Béland (McGill University), André Lecours (University of Ottawa) Abstract: Grounded in historical institutionalism, this article explores the fiscal politics of oil revenue in Brazil and Canada, two oil-rich federal countries that have different constitutional arrangements for revenue allocation and where subnational governments have different powers in the energy sector. More specifically, the article offers a comparative and qualitative analysis of both countries in the last 30 years. The argument is that constitutional provisions on natural resources in federations (federal ownership or constituent-unit ownership) produce distinct federal dynamics as it pertains to intergovernmental relations. Federal government ownership of natural resources produce conflicts between constituent units as they vie for their share of the proceeds. In contrast, provincial ownership eliminates this direct competition between constituent units for natural resource revenues, although intergovernmental tensions over natural resources can still appear as constituent units pressure the federal government to adopt horizontal fiscal equalization formulas friendly to their oil producing, or non-oil producing economies.