Winter 2019 Constitutional Law students visit Ottawa with Professor Poirier. / Les étudiant.e.s du cours Droit constitutionnel de l'hiver 2019 visitent Ottawa avec la professeure Poirier.


Above: Students of Professor Poirier's Constitutional Law course attended a Supreme Court hearing, and then visited Parliament and Rideau Hall, the Governor General's residence, during a day in Ottawa on January 24, 2019.


NEW! 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?”.

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Baxter Family Symposium on Federalism - 15 May 2021

The MacKell Chair was pleased to welcome the three winners and the recipient of the honourable mention of the 2021 edition of the Baxter Family Competition on Federalism to present their papers.

  1. First prize: Josiah Wamwere-Njoroge (LLB candidate, Riara University, Nairobi, Kenya): “The Utility of a Decentralized Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic”
  2. Second prize: Kelty McKerracher (JD/JID candidate, University of Victoria, Canada): “Relational Legal Pluralism and Indigenous Legal Orders in Canada".
  3. Third prize: Benoît Delerue (PhD candidate in political science, Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, Lyon, France): “Le régime fédératif face au triptyque structure-conjoncture-fracture : évolution structurelle des fédérations canadienne et états-unienne sous l’effet des crises conjoncturelles et des fractures politiques”
  • Honourable mention: Philipp Renninger (PhD candidate in law, University of Lucerne and University of Freiburg, Switzerland and Germany): “‘Federalism, Chinese Style’? or: How to Contain COVID-19 Through a Central-Local Chess Game”

See the Icône PDFSymposium poster.

We received numerous and diverse submissions of an exceptional quality from scholars and junior practitioners from 12 countries (find out more) for this edition of the contest. We thank all our participants, as well as our distinguished jury. We'll be back in 2023!

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.

2021 edition of the Baxter Competition: Federalism, Identity and Public Policy in Challenging Times

12 August 2020: The Faculty of Law and the Peter MacKell Chair in Federalism are proud to announce that the prestigious Baxter Family Competition on Federalism will return for a third edition in early 2021. We invite you to consult the Call for papers.

This edition’s overall theme is Federalism, Identity and Public Policy in Challenging Times. This broad theme should allow for reflections about the impact of federalism on the current COVID-19 crisis – and vice versa – but by no means should entries be limited to this context. Naturally, comparative perspectives are particularly encouraged.

For the first time, the Competition will be open both to law and political science students/PhD candidates, as well as junior scholars and practitioners from around the world.

Contributors must be registered students or have obtained their degrees, in law or political science, less than 5 years before the submission deadline of 1 February 2021.

The three winners will have the unique opportunity to present their papers at a Symposium in May 2021 in Montreal (circumstances allowing). First-, second- and third-place winners will receive prizes of $5,000, $3,000, and $1,000 (CAD) respectively. The prizes will be awarded by a stellar international jury, whose names and bios will be shared shortly.

Please see the Call for papers for information on author eligibility and paper criteria.

Furthermore, the MacKell Chair is delighted to announce the members of the stellar international jury for the third edition of the Baxter Family Competition on Federalism:

  • The Right Hon. Beverley McLachlin, former Chief Justice at the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • The Honourable Clément Gascon, former Justice at the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • Prof. Francesco Palermo, President of the International Association of Centres for the Study of Federalism; Head of the Institute for Comparative Federalism at EURAC Research; and Professor of Comparative Public Law at University of Verona’s Faculty of Law (Italy).
  • Prof. Nicola McEwen, Professor of Territorial Politics at University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science; and Co-Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change (United Kingdom).
  • Prof. Yasmeen Abu-Laban, Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta; Canada Research Chair in the Politics of Citizenship and Human Rights; and Vice-President of International Political Science Association (Canada).
  • Prof. Nico Steytler, Professor at the University of the Western Cape’s Faculty of Law; and South African Research Chairs Initiative Chair in Multilevel Government, Law and Policy (South Africa).
  • Prof. Jaclyn L. Neo, Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law; Director of Centre for Asian Legal Studies; and Co-Chair of International Society for Public Law (ICON-S)’s Singapore Chapter (Singapore).
  • Jan Raeimon Nato, BCL/LLB (2019), assistant legal counsel at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and winner of the 2019 Baxter Competition (Canada).

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 two Chair team members!

On April 30, 2020, the Conseil de la recherche du Québec (FQR) awarded a post-doctoral fellowship to Dr. Dave Guénette for his project entitled "Le consociationalisme, principe structurant du fédéralisme coopératif au Canada?"

The FRQ also awarded a doctoral grant to Mr. Atagün Kejanlioglu for his thesis on "The "People" as a Constituted Power: Reimagining Constitutional Amendments as Shields against Populism".

Both projects are under the supervision of Professor Johanne Poirier.

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.

Johanne Poirier receives 2019 Durnford Award

Johanne Poirier recevant le Prix Durnford des mains de la principale Suzanne Fortier. Johanne Poirier receiving the Durnford award from Principal Suzanne Fortier.

Professor Johanne Poirier (BCL’91, LLB’91) received the John W. Durnford Teaching Excellence Award at the Law Convocation ceremony on May 30, 2019. Professor Colleen Sheppard presented her. This award – named in honour of the late emeritus professor and former dean John W. Durnford – annually recognizes the exceptional pedagogy of a law professor selected by students via the Law Students’ Association.

A look back at the 2019 Baxter Symposium

On May 11, Jan Raeimon Nato, Berihun Gebeye, Catherine Mathieu and Rafael Viotti Schlobach, this year's winners of the essay competition, presented their papers at the 2019 Baxter Symposium, and engaged in lively conversation with the audience. We share some photos of the proceedings.

New publication: Le fédéralisme coopératif comme terrain de jeu du droit

mikado game

Professeur Johanne Poirier, MacKell Chair in Federalism at McGill University, and Professor Nicolas Levrat, Global Studies Institute, Faculty of Law, University of Geneva, have edited a special edition of the Fédéralisme - Régionalisme (volume 18: 2018) journal that examines the operation of the federal systems of Belgium, Canada, Switzerland and the European Union through the lens of games.

The studies presented in this volume are the result of cooperation between three French-speaking universities outside of France: the University of Geneva, the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Université de Montréal, which in 2013 instituted the G3 of the francophonie. This consortium mainly supports the creation of research groups between partner universities. Thus was formed a "study group on public policies in the framework of cooperative federalism". Interestingly and unintentionally, it immediately became apparent that the countries in which the G3 partner universities (Belgium, Canada and Switzerland) are located are Federations that implement cooperative federalism in various forms. The issue is open access.

The Challenges of Coexistence: Language Policy in Canada

22 February 2019, 13:00-17:00, McGill Faculty Club


Much has been written recently about language policy in Canada, in light of political developments in provinces like New Brunswick and Ontario, the 50th Anniversary of the Official Languages Act and the announced recognition of Indigenous languages in Canada. The objective of this Symposium is to discuss language policy in Canada, with a particular emphasis on language minorities. The event focuses on Canada’s two official languages and their fate at the federal and provincial levels while also bringing to the fore issues related to other languages present in Canada, including Indigenous languages. See the complete program [.pdf]

Les enjeux constitutionnels entourant la succession royale au Canada

6 November 2018, 16:00-18:00, New Chancellor Day Hall, room 101

Les enjeux constitutionnels entourant la succession royale au Canada - 6 Nov 2018

The MacKell Chair is co-organising a Constitutional Moment with Patrick Taillon, Julien Fournier, Catherine Mathieu and Mark D. Walters. Find out more...

Metaphors and Constitutional Amendments in Canada and the UK

28 March 2018, New Chancellor Day Hall, room 203

 Metaphors and Constitutional Amendments in Canada and the UK, with Paul Daly, Cambridge U.

The MacKell Chair is co-organising a Constitutional Moment with Paul Daly, Professor of Law at the University of Cambridge. Find out more...

Constitution of Canada, 2017: Reinventing the fundamental law of a plurinational State

November 22, 2017, Maxwell Cohen Moot Court

We held a Constitutional Moment talk with Professor Johanne Poirier (McGill U) and Professor Daniel Turp (UdeM), and their students. Find out more.

22 nov 2017: La Constitution du Canada de 2017: un exercice de réinvention de la loi fondamentale d’un État plurinational


Focus Law Droit

Chair news!

The Faculty of Law's annual alumni magazine, Focus Law | droit, featured an article about the Chair's activities this year regarding Canada's 150.

Download the excerpt: PDF icon150 ans en mouvement

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.

Media mentions

Une Chaire sur le fédéralisme voit le jour”, entrevue avec Pierre Vallée, Le Devoir, 14 nov 2015.

Regards neufs sur la Constitution”, interview with the MacKell Chair, Law Focus online, McGill’s Faculty of Law monthly electronic magazine.

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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