Canada and Argentina on opposite ends of the federal spectrum

Prof. Miguel Angel Asensio of Argentina speaks about the many similarities and distinct differences between the Canadian and Argentine federations at a recent Lunch and Learn event at the Forum of Federations’ headquarters in Ottawa.

When Canada and Argentina became federal countries they had to respond to the dictates and pressures from their provinces – which were then economic powerhouses, according to Prof. Miguel Angel Asensio of Argentina, speaking at a luncheon meeting at the Forum of Federations in Ottawa on Sept. 20, 2010.

"The economically powerful region in Canada (Ontario) was protectionist and inland, while the powerful region in Argentina (Buenos Aires) was pro-free-trade and on the coastline,” he said.

"In Argentina … the interior was protectionist,” he added.

The provinces on the coast plus Quebec – were of special importance to Canada just as Argentina’s provinces were of special importance to the South American country, because that was where most ports were, and customs revenue were collected at the ports where ships offloaded foreign-made good and supplies.

"In the 19th Century, the big pie to be divided was not direct taxes, but customs revenue,” Prof. Angel explained.

The two countries represented opposite extremes of the federal idea in many areas. In Argentina, the idea was to create a strong unity, a unity which had disappeared after its separation from Spain.

In Canada, the idea was to unite the disparate British colonies. In Argentina, it took 10 years to bring Buenos Aires into the federation created in 1852 by the poorer 13 provinces; in Canada, the strong provinces Quebec and Ontario were present from the outset and it was the poorer provinces Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland which took much longer to join.

Prof. Asensio is well versed in the comparisons between Argentine and Canadian federations. A new book written by him, Dos federalismos en los extremos: Argentina y Canadá en Siglio XIX (Two federalisms at opposite extremes: Canada and Argentina in the 19th Century), was recently published in Buenos Aires.

Prof Asensio is Professor of Public Administration and Director of the Doctoral and Master’s Public Administration program at Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Santa Fe, Argentina, where he is a professor of economics.

In 2002-2003 he was the Province of Santa Fe’s Minister of the Treasury and Finance. He was also a member of the Federal Tax Committee and an Adviser to the National Senate. He has been a consultant to the Organization of American States, the World Bank, and the International Finance Corporation and has held fellowships in Canada, Spain and United States.

Prof Asensio’s luncheon address was attended by civil servants from Canadian federal government departments, embassy staff members and university professors. It took place on Sept. 20, 2010.

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