Professor Poirier and her students in front of Old Chancellor Day Hall


Above: In September 2021, when we could finally return to campus, after a year of "online learning", a group of students and Prof. Poirier met for the first time, on the steps of Old Chancellor Day Hall! Photo by Lysanne Larose.  

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Recent media mentions

"La nation québécoise face à ses responsabilités", opinion letter by Johanne POIRIER, La Presse, 28 June 2022.

"Aucun obstacle constitutionnel à la zone de parité", opinion letter by Johanne POIRIER, Daniel TURP and Thérèse MAILLOUX, Le Soleil, 4 February 2020.

What's new?

Good News for Chair Team Members!

Oscar Bisot, our current research assistant, will clerk at the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2025. Congratulations Oscar!

Joseph Ho, our current research assistant, will clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2025-2026. Congratulations Joseph! For more information: 

Job Offers - Research Assistants for Professor Poirier 

Professor Poirier is looking for two research assistants who are students at the McGill Law Faculty to start at the end of the 2024 Winter term. For more information, see the job offer below.

The deadline to apply is March 18, 2024, 1:00 p.m.

Discussion: Postcolonial Federalism: tracing colonial state-formation in the Global South

Join us and the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism for a discussion with Shahal Khoso, Doctoral Candidate at the Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona) and visiting scholar at the Peter MacKell Chair in Federalism, on his paper, "Postcolonial Federalism: tracing colonial state-formation in the Global South," winner of the First Prize of the Baxter Family Competition on Federalism (2023) and of the Ron Watts Award (International Association of Centers for Federal Studies, 2023).


  • Wednesday, February 21, 2024 from 13:00 - 14:30 (ET)
  • McGill Faculty of Law, New Chancellor Day Hall, Room 202


Why do federations from the Global South operate differently from Western democratic federations? Is it important to see the socio-historic pattern in which they were created? Was federating a choice or the only option left by the colonial administration for some ex-colonies? To answer these questions, this paper discusses the different types, ideals, and values of federalism considering existing literature. This paper dissects the British colonial venture in Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Malaysia, and their historical journeys towards federalism, comparing and analysing if these postcolonial federations are in line with Alfred Stepan’s categories of the genesis of federations. This paper proposes a universe of cases that bode multiple commonalities and a pattern that theories of federalism have overlooked. Postcolonial Federalism develops a new lens to scrutinise the complex relationship between colonialism and federalism, especially for its proposed cases, highlighting their unique structuring through colonial socio-political engineering. Moreover, it argues that the creation of these federations was carried out with complete disregard for the existing linguistic, ethnic, cultural, and religious cleavages for the feasibility of colonial administration, leaving federalisation as the only alternative to gain sovereignty. This paper acts as a safeguard against the notion of the federal arrangement only being a product of democratic, liberal, and contractual phenomena.

PODCAST: La diversité nationale dans tous ses états

Johanne Poirier et Dave Guénette

Professors Johanne Poirier and Dave Guénette recently took part in the first episode of Savoir Média’s third season of Horizon Politique. The podcast episode, titled "La diversité nationale dans tous ses états" is hosted by Guillaume Lamy and made in collaboration with UQUAM’s Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire sur la diversité et la démocratie (CRIDAQ). The episode is available on your favourite streaming platform or directly on Savoir média’s website at the following link

Please note that this podcast episode is exclusively available in French.

Stipend: EURAC Winter School on Federalism

The Peter MacKell Chair on Federalism offers a stipend aimed at financially supporting a McGill Faculty of Law student wishing to participate in the EURAC Winter School on Federalism, to be held February 5 to February 16, 2024, in Innsbruck (Austria) and Bolzano/Bozen (Italy). The Winter School is designed for participants from all nationalities who wish to broaden their knowledge of federalism and multilevel governance through an interdisciplinary and comparative approach. For more information, please see The maximum stipend, which would serve to cover registration, travel, and accommodation fees, would be in the amount of $2,000 CAD.

Application procedure:

Interested students should apply directly to EURAC, in accordance with its internal admissibility requirements (information here). The deadline is Sunday October 15, 2023, 5:59 p.m. Montreal time). Please inform Prof. Johanne Poirier that your application has been filed, by sending a message to johanne.poirier3 [at], with "MACKELL Stipend / Allocation" in the subject line. Students who are selected by the program may then apply for the stipend by sending a letter of intent, CV, transcript from McGill Faculty of Law, and proof of acceptance to the program, to Prof. Poirier at the same email address.


The stipend is reserved for undergrad and graduate students currently registered at the McGill Faculty of Law. Students who graduated in September 2023 are also admissible. If several McGill Law students were to be accepted by the programme, a selection process might take place to allocate the stipend.

For more information, please contact Professor Johanne Poirier (johanne.poirier3 [at]

Shahal Khoso Awarded the 2023 Ron Watts Award by the International Association of Centers for Federal Studies (IACFS)

Shahal Khoso during the 2023 Baxter Symposium.

In May 2023, Shahal Khoso (Pakistani PhD candidate in Political Science, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain) won First Prize in the Baxter Family Competition on Federalism. The Peter MacKell Chair in Federalism at McGill’s Faculty of Law is delighted to announce that Shahal has also been awarded the 2023 Ron Watts Award by the International Association of Centers for Federal Studies (IACFS) for his original and ground-breaking paper “Postcolonial Federalism: Tracing Colonial State-Formation in the Global South”.

Many congratulations Shahal!

Winners of the Baxter Family Competition on Federalism 2023: Federalism: What Makes it Work (or not!) 

2023 edition – Federalism: What Makes it Work (or not!) winners poster

McGill University’s Faculty of Law and the Peter MacKell Chair in Federalism are delighted to announce the winners of the 2022-2023 Baxter Family Competition on Federalism. Organized by Professor Johanne Poirier, this essay competition was open to students and recent graduates in law and political science.    We received numerous submissions of an exceptional quality from scholars and junior practitioners from 13 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Haiti, India, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. We thank all our participants, as well as our distinguished jury. We'll be back in 2023!

For more information on the 2023 edition of the Competition:

Cooperative federalism, a presentation by Professor Poirier

Professor Johanne Poirier. On-screen text reads "Professeure Johanne Poirier, Chercheuse au CRIDAQ, Axe 2: Insititutions, justice sociale et territoires".

In this explanatory video by the Abécédaire du CRIDAQ, Professor Johanne Poirier presents cooperative federalism in the Canadian context. A concept which promotes negotiation, collaboration, and the acknowledgement of the respective interests between different orders of government, cooperative federalism has experienced a surge in popularity over the last 15 years, especially as a principle of constitutional interpretation. To view the capsule:

Johanne Poirier receives 2022 Durnford Teaching Prize

Image by Credit : Owen Egan and Joni Dufour.

Professor Johanne Poirier (BCL’91, LLB’91) received the John W. Durnford Award for Teaching Excellence at the Law Convocation ceremony on May 26, 2022. Conferred by students, this award each year recognizes a law professor’s exceptional pedagogy. Students' nomination letters praised Professor Poirier’s care for her students, her “infectious” passion for her subject, and her efforts to create community and facilitate exchanges. This was the second time Professor Poirier was honoured with the Durnford Award, as she was also its 2019 recipient. For more information:

Comparative Federalism and Covid-19: Combating the Pandemic

Couverture de l'ouvrage et 1re page du chapitre rédigé sur le Canada.

The Chair is happy to announce the publication of Nico Steytler (ed), Comparative Federalism and Covid-19: Combating the Pandemic (London: Routledge, 2021): With case studies from 19 federal countries, this collection explores the core elements of federalism that came to the fore in combatting the pandemic: the division of responsibilities (disaster management, health care, social welfare, and education), the need for centralisation, and intergovernmental relations and cooperation.

The authors adopt a multidisciplinary approach to question whether federalism has been a help or a hindrance in tackling the pandemic. Johanne Poirier and Jessica Michelin contributed the chapter on Canada, which is entitled “Facing the Coronavirus Pandemic in the Canadian Federation: Reinforced dualism and muted cooperation?”.

Publication of Canadian Federalism and Its Future / L’avenir du fédéralisme canadien

Nearly four years after the “Canada 150” conference, we are happy to announce that the collections are available in English and in French from McGill / Queen's University Press and from les Presses de l'Université Laval (2020).

"The time is ripe to revisit Canada's past and redress its historical wrongs. Yet in our urgency to imagine roads to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, it is important to keep in sight the many other forms of diversity that Canadian federalism has historically been designed to accommodate or could also reflect more effectively. Canadian Federalism and Its Future brings together international experts to assess four fundamental institutions: bicameralism, the judiciary as arbiter of the federal deal, the electoral system and party politics, and intergovernmental relations. The contributors use comparative and critical lenses to appraise the repercussions of these four dimensions of Canadian federalism on key actors, including member states, constitutive units, internal nations, Indigenous peoples, and linguistic minorities. Pursuing the work of The Constitutions That Shaped Us (2015) and The Quebec Conference of 1864 (2018), this third volume is a testimony to Canada's successes and failures in constitutional design. Reflecting on the cultural pluralism inherent in this country, Canadian Federalism and Its Future offers thought-provoking lessons for a world in search of concrete institutional solutions, within and beyond the traditional nation-state."

Cover: Le fédéralisme canadien et son avenir : acteurs et institutions

L’avenir du fédéralisme canadien (available in open access)

Publication of Cinquante déclinaisons de fédéralisme: Théorie, enjeux et études de cas

Cinquante déclinaisons de fédéralisme: Théorie, enjeux et études de cas This French-language collection was co-edited by our postdoctoral researcher, Dave Guénette.

Cette collection de 50 brèves contributions de spécialistes internationaux "propose un apport d’une grande ampleur tout en se voulant le plus exhaustif possible. Il s’agit d’un ouvrage de référence qui expose clairement les concepts que les chercheurs en études fédérales mobilisent, les cadres d’analyse qu’ils emploient ainsi que les spécificités sociopolitiques qu’on observe dans les diverses structures fédérales existantes. Ce livre comprend également un glossaire constitué de cinquante notions clés, toutes définies de manière simple et usuelle. Faisant le point sur les débats contemporains, il a pour vocation d’initier les étudiants, les décideurs et le grand public à ce champ d’études en pleine effervescence."

This collection, published in 2020 by Presses de l'Université du Québec, is available in open access.

Federalism & the COVID-19 Pandemic - A compendium of (re)sources

11 May 2020: DCL candidate Atagün Kejanlioglu and Professor Johanne Poirier are currently collecting sources on the intersection between federalism-writ-large and COVID-19. We will seek to update every week.

If you wish to contribute to the list, email relevant articles, links, etc. at [at]

Good news for Chair team members!

Olivier Henripin, group assistant for Professor Poirier's Constitutional Law course, will clerk at the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2024. Congratulations Olivier!

Our post-doctoral researcher Dave Guénette will continue his career as a professor of constitutional law at Université de Sherbrooke's Faculty of law! Dave, who is currently completing a three-year postdoctorate financed by the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Société et culture (FRQSC), will take up this new position as of June 2023. Congratulations Dave, the entire MacKell team wishes you great success in your future endeavours!

David D'Astous and Jessica Michelin, two of our former research assistants, will clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2023-2024. Congratulations to both! For more information:

Cooperative Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations:
What's Law Got To Do With It?

2019-2022 Research project funded by the Secrétariat du Québec aux relations canadiennes

In 2019-2022, Professor Johanne Poirier will be leading a major research project on intergovernmental relations and cooperative federalism.

The technical ramifications and legal implications of intergovernmental agreements, as well as their implementation, have been generally neglected by jurists. However, cooperative mechanisms crafted by the executives can have undeniable collateral effects on the scope of parliamentary scrutiny over the executive, on judicial review of administrative action and on the balance of federal architecture.

Professor Johanne Poirier will attempt to fill these doctrinal gaps by studying the law that emanates from, structures and affects intergovernmental agreements. She also plans to initiate a form of “catalogue” of cooperative techniques and of the role played by law in structuring them. While the project is focused on cooperative federalism in Canada, it will benefit from a comparative lens: analysing foreign experience being so often the best way of decoding the particularities of one’s own system.

Ultimately, her work harbors significant potential to provide answers to the various components of the Canadian federations on the uncertainties inherent to the modalities of intergovernmental cooperation, on the stability of cooperative mechanisms and on the courts’ responses to them.

About the Chair

The Peter MacKell Chair in Federalism aims to reflect on the foundations, potential, risks and concrete incarnations of the “federal phenomenon” understood broadly.

The inaugural holder of the Peter MacKell Chair is Professor Johanne Poirier.

The Peter MacKell Chair in Federalism was created at the Faculty of Law thanks to a generous bequest from Peter R.D. MacKell.

About Peter R.D. MacKell

Peter R.D. MacKell, QC, BCL’51 (1927-2011) was a well known Montreal business lawyer. Born in Ottawa, the son of Air Commander David Edward MacKell, CBE, and of Margaret Eileen Kehoe, Peter MacKell was educated at the Royal Canadian Naval College at Royal Roads, and at McGill University.

After his law studies at McGill, he was admitted to the bar in 1951. He began his career with Duquet MacKay, later moving to Martineau Walker, today known as Fasken. He led the firm as Chairman for several years, before retiring in 1995.

Peter MacKell handled many significant litigation and commercial briefs in the course of his career, representing major Canadian and foreign clients. He was also a highly sought-after corporate director, and a member of the board of Goodfellow inc. for many years, as well as a director of the Régie de l’assurance-dépôts du Québec.


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