Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Workability of Intergovernmental Administrative Relations: A Comparison of Labour Market Policy in Post-Devolution Canada and the United Kingdom

Document type Thesis
Author Wood, Donna
Degree Ph.D., School of Social and Political Sciences
Publisher University of Edinburgh; Edinburgh, UK
Date 2008
Pages 324 pages


This is a comparative study of intergovernmental relations in labour market policy in Canada and the United Kingdom (UK) between 1996 and 2006, the first phase of devolution in each country. The study focuses primarily on relations between the central government and a single sub-state in each country (Alberta in Canada and Scotland in the UK) and addresses three research questions: 1) to what extent were there differences in intergovernmental relations between the countries?2) what accounted for these differences? 3) what impact did these differences have on the character and workability of the intergovernmental relations system in each country? Workability was assessed based upon the degree to which trust ties developed between senior officials. The analysis concludes that the structure of the state, the structure of the policy domain, and the presence of two important accommodation mechanisms in the UK not found in Canada (the party system and the civil service) made intergovernmental relations in labour market policy in the two countries fundamentally different. In Canada, intergovernmental relations were multilateral, interprovincial and bilateral, whereas in the United Kingdom they were only bilateral. Despite devolution, the UK Government retained control of most policy levers, whereas in Canada devolution has limited federal control and influence and any notion of a national labour market system. Trust ties were enhanced by consistency between the key players, routinized engagement, reliability, honesty, respect, capacity and willingness to engage, and transparency. Although shared objectives made engagement easier, they were not a prerequisite for a positive relationship. Bilateral relationships that took place within the geographic boundaries of Alberta and Scotland were considered as positive and highly workable. Difficulties arose when relationships became multilateral or bilateral relations were managed at a distance. Despite devolution, multilateral relations in the historically conflicted labour market policy domain in Canada remained competitive, with a low degree of workability. Relationships with respect to disability and immigration issues were more positive. In the UK relationships in the welfare to work policy area were cooperative and highly workable. Relationships in skills and immigration did not fare as positively.