Events organized by the Chair

Past events - 2021

8 June 2021: webinar on the Belgian federation - Primauté au fédéral? Voorrang voor het federale niveau?

On Tuesday 8 June 2021, the Re-Bel Initiative (Re-Thinking Belgian Institutions in a European Context) held a webinar at which Professor Johanne Poirier spoke. The event was in French and in Dutch.

Quote from Professor Johanne Poirier: La « primauté fédérale » est une règle de conflit, présente dans la plupart des régimes fédéraux. Véritable accroc à l'équilibre fédéral, elle doit être mobilisée de manière très pondérée.Event description: Belgium’s current federal structure aims to facilitate policy making by allocating exclusive competences to the federal government and parliament on the one hand and to the governments and parliaments of Belgium’s regions and communities on the other. Both levels are sovereign in their respective domains. There is no hierarchy that confers primacy to federal legislation over regional and community legislation, in contrast, for example, with Germany’s federal system, where Bundesrecht bricht Landesrecht is one of the guiding principles.

However, the measures necessitated by the pandemic, the need to honour EU-level commitments on the climate and the controversies over Brussels’ air traffic noise norms and congestion charges led many to question the wisdom of dispensing with such a federal primacy principle. To avoid confusion, delays and blockages, would it make sense to allow the federal level to coordinate regional action, issue binding policy guidelines or even overrule regional and community legislation? In other words, should Belgium establish some form of hierarchy between the federal level and the regional level, possibly under specific conditions, such as emergency situations or the risk of failing to comply with European obligations? Or would this amount to depriving the regions and communities of some of their autonomy without any significant gain in the efficiency of policy making?

Moderation: Béatrice DELVAUX (Le Soir) & Karel VERHOEVEN (De Standaard)
Welcoming: Philippe VAN PARIJS (Re-Bel & UCLouvain)
Introduction: Gwendolyn RUTTEN (Open VLD)
Challenges: Johanne POIRIER (McGill University, Montreal), Patricia POPELIER (UAntwerpen), Marc UYTTENDAELE (ULB)
General discussion
Concluding comments: Paul DE GRAUWE (Re-Bel & LSE)

The recording is available online.

22 February 2021: webinar Boundary or Pandemic Control? Understanding Subnational Border Restrictions to Control COVID19 in Federal Systems

On 22 February 2021, Professor Johanne Poirier participated in a webinar hosted by the Australian Centre for Federalism and the Centre for International and Public Law. Poster for the webinar

Official event description: This webinar will explore the use (or, non-use) of subnational border restrictions and closures to control the spread of COVID19 in federal systems. Expert panelists from Australia, Canada, the USA, Italy, Argentina, and Brazil will discuss the legal considerations and potential political motives of using subnational borders as a mechanism of pandemic control. The event will be chaired and moderated by Dr Tracy Beck Fenwick, Director of the Australian Centre for Federalism, School of Politics & International Relations, ANU.

Expert Panel Speakers:

  • Laureate Professor Cheryl Saunders AO, University of Melbourne Law School, Australia.
  • Professor Johanne Poirier, Peter MacKell Chair in Federalism, McGill Faculty of Law, Canada.
  • Professor Daniel Beland, James McGill Professor, Director of McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
  • Professor John Kincaid, Professor of Government and Public Service, Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, USA.
  • Associate Professor Andre Borges, Institute of Political Science, University of Brasília, Brazil.
  • Professor Lucas Gonzalez, CONICET, University of San Martin, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  • Dr Elisabeth Alber, Institute for Comparative Federalism, EURAC, Bolzano, Italy.

This talk was recorded and is available online

12 January 2021: Presentation "Intergovernmental Relations in Federal Systems"

Description of the event and picture of Johanne Poirier and moderator Anja RichterProfessor Johanne Poirier presented at the fourth event of the Hanns Seidel Foundation's and 50 Shades of Federalism's collaboratively organized online seminar "Turn on Federalism". The talk, titled "Intergovernmental Relations in Federal Systems", was moderated by Anja Richter. The event was held in English, and simultaneous translation in Myanmar was provided.

Regardless of institutional design, all federal systems imply substantial degrees of interaction between federal partners. "Intergovernmental relations" (IGR) refer to the many modalities through which this interaction takes place. They are the essential "oil in the machinery" of every federal system, and as such are ubiquitous. IGR take many shapes and forms. They fluctuate with time and according to policy areas.

In this sense, they are idiosyncratic. This presentation explores the actors in the IGR game as well as the rich catalogue of legislative – and mostly executive-techniques on which these actors rely to structure their relations. IGR waltz between institutionalization and informality, often in an opaque fashion which tends to reinforce the executive branch of each federal partner. How do IGR help systems work better? How have IGR in different federations evolved to deal with contemporary challenges, from growing government-coordination needs to handling emergency situations?

This talk was recorded and is available online.

Past events - 2020

21 May 2020: webinar on federalism and COVID-19

Les oratrices et orateurs (absente de la photo : Mireille Paquet) ainsi que les organisatrices et organisateurs du webinaire. The speakers (absent from picture: Mireille Paquet) and organizers of the webinar.

On May 21, 2020, the Peter MacKell Chair in Federalism and the Groupe de recherche sur les sociétés plurinationales organized a webinar on federalism and COVID-19. With researchers coming from nine federations and quasi-federation (Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States), this online event outlined, through concise presentations, various federations' responses to the pandemic. It enabled us to draw of parallels between countries, while highlighting approaches specific to each.

The discussion was crisp, informative and stimulating, and gave researchers the opportunity to build connections around the world. A second discussion is planned in a few weeks to deepen the ideas exchanged during the first – and provide well-needed updates.

We were fortunate to hear presentations from the following researchers on their country's situation:

  • Italy: Francesco Palermo (EURAC Institute for Comparative Federalism, Bolzano/Bozen)
  • Australia: Nicholas Aroney (University of Queensland)
  • Germany: Sabine Kropp (Free University of Berlin)
  • South Africa: Nico Steytler (University of the Western Cape)
  • Belgium: Patricia Popelier (University of Antwerp)
  • Brazil: Augustina Giraudy (School of International Service, Washington DC)
  • Canada: Mireille Paquet (Concordia University)
  • Switzerland: Eva Maria Belser (Institute of Federalism, Fribourg)
  • USA: Jennifer Selin (University of Missouri)

Past events - 2017

8-9 June 2017: Fiscal Federalism in Plurinational Societies: Equality and Autonomy


The MacKell Chair participated to the CRIDAQ conference at Université du Québec à Montréal.

Find out more... [.pdf]

19 May 2017: 2e Conférence Beetz-Laskin en droit constitutionnel canadien

The MacKell Chair was at the Beetz-Laskin conference to participate on a panel examining Federalism, Cooperation and Amendment, at Université de Montréal's Faculty of Law.

Find out more...

April 2017: Concluding the Questions approfondies de droit constitutionnel course in Ottawa

Group of professors and students during a simulation of a Constituent Assembly in Ottawa in 2017.

Taking place in 2017, the year marking the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Canadian federation, the Questions approfondies de droit constitutionnel course was taught in collaboration by Professors Johanne Poirier (U. McGill) and Daniel Turp (U. de Montréal). The course brought together 26 students from both law faculties.

The primary objective of the course was to “modernize” the Constitution of Canada: regroup its scattered sections (the multiple “constitutional laws” and their annexes) and propose potential modifications, notably to codify certain conventions, or even entrench certain principles. The main idea was to propose a legible, living and contemporary constitutional instrument. After the students drafted together the text of a new (and ficticious) Canadian Constitution [.pdf], the class ended with a simulation of a Constituent Assembly in Ottawa.

March 27, 2017: Constitutional Moment with Cheryl Saunders

The Regroupement Droit, changements et gouvernance welcomed a talk on "Constitutional Architecture for Divided Societies" with Cheryl Saunders, Professor Emeritus, University of Melbourne. This event took place in Prof. Poirier's class.

March 23 and 24, 2017: Canadian Federalism and its Future/Le fédéralisme canadien et son avenir

The "Canadian Federalism and its Future: Actors and Institutions" colloquium was organized in the broader context of the 150th anniversary of the Canadian confederation by the Groupe de recherche sur les sociétés plurinationales (GRSP) in partnership with McGill University's Peter MacKell Research Chair on Federalism and the McGill and Laval University faculties of law. Taking place over two days, the conference started at McGill University in Montreal, continued on a train to Quebec City, and ended at the Musée de la civilisation in Old Quebec City. See a write-up of the colloquium and some photos in Focus online (McGill Law's e-monthly).

FILM: The Ways of Reconciliation

A portion of the colloquium took place at McGill University; the other, at the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City.

Between Montreal and Quebec City, a three-hour "Moving Seminar: The Ways of Reconciliation" took place aboard a train wagon specially chartered for the occasion. Participants (some coming from as far as Australia, Germany and Switzerland) experienced a section of the railway that was so crucial both to the unification of Canada, and to the Canadian colonial undertaking that deprived so many Indigenous peoples of their lands and autonomy.

This unusual setting allowed us to reflect in a very concrete manner on the impact and meaning of federalism for Indigenous Peoples. Simply recognizing the three First Nations territories that the train crossed along this 250-km journey was a significant pedagogical and emotional moment for all travellers.

The symposium brought together Mr. Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Professor Janique Dubois, specialist (among others) in governance in Metis communities, and Mr. Ry Moran, director of the National Centre on Truth and Reconciliation (University of Manitoba), and was facilitated by Mr. Daniel Salée, professor of Political Science at Concordia University.

Watch the 48-minute film, “A Moving Seminar: The Ways of Reconciliation:

March 22, 2017: Baxter Competition Symposium

The three finalists of the Baxter Family Competition on Federalism presented their papers at McGill University's Faculty Club in front of many of the jury members who have selected them.

150e anniversaire du Canada: Le moment de faire le point

Johanne Poirier | 20 mars 2017 | Le Devoir

"L'année 2017 marque les 150 ans de la fédération canadienne. L’anniversaire ne mérite pas nécessairement une célébration. Mais c’est le moment de faire le point et de lever les tabous. Imaginez des jeunes qui se disent que la coexistence pacifique et les différents modes de réconciliation doivent, aussi, passer par une discussion sur nos valeurs partagées et sur les modalités d’organisation et de partage du pouvoir. Imaginez que le mot « Constitution » ne soit plus un « vilain mot »… ou un somnifère…" Continue reading...

February 24, 2017: Constitutional Moment with Naomi Metallic

 urgence d’agir. Naomi Metallic 

The Regroupement Droit, changements et gouvernance welcomes a talk on « Revitalisation des langues autochtones et réconciliation : urgence d’agir » with Naomi Metallic, Assistant Professor and Chancellor's Chair in Aboriginal Law and Policy at the Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie. Find out more.

Past events - 2016


November 25, 2016: Vers un esprit sain en partage des compétences ? Normativity in Health and Criminal Jurisdictions in Canada

A Constitutional Moment talk with Professor Alana Klein, Faculty of Law, McGill University. Kindly note this talk takes place at Université de Montréal.

This year, the Matinées constitutionnelles / Constitutional Moments series, which is co-organised by McGill Law and the Centre de droit public de l’Université de Montréal (RDCG), will be devoted alternatingly to federalism and linguistic rights.

Time, place: 11h30, Salon François-Chevrette, Université de Montréal. Find out more...

October 28-29, 2016, Ottawa - Constitutional Politics in Multinational States

A Groupe de recherche sur les sociétés plurinationales conference, organized by André Lecours (Ottawa U.), Johanne Poirier (McGill U.) and Guy Laforest (Laval U.)

See the program and the project description [.pdf].  This conference is closed to the public, but interested persons can contact the Chair.

October 26, 2016, McGill: Gestion de l’immigration et politiques d’intégration dans des Etats fédéraux : Belgique et Canada

A MacKell Chair in Federalism Conference with Catherine Xhardez, PhD Candidate at Sciences Po Paris. Discussant: Daniel Weinstock.

Time, place: 12:30-14:00, NCDH 316. Find out more...


November 16, 2016, McGill: The Impact of BREXIT on Linguistic Issues in the EU

A Constitutional Moment talk with Stéphanie Chouinard, postdoctoral researcher and lecturer, Faculté de droit, Université de Montréal.
Time, place: 12:30-14:00, NCDH 201. Find out more...


April 6, 2016
PAPILLON, Martin, « Le fédéralisme est-il un modèle viable de gouvernance autochtone? », Faculty of Law, McGill. 

March 31, 2016
LEVRAT, Nicolas, « Gouvernance européenne et migration », Faculty of Law, McGill, in collaboration with the Oppenheimer Chair.


March 16, 2016
LEVRAT, Nicolas, “The Impact of Globalisation on Multinational Federations”, Les Matinées constitutionnelles, Faculty of Law, McGill, in collaboration with Centre de recherche en droit public (CRDP) at Université de Montréal.

Past events - 2015

December 8, 2015
TOMKIN, Adam (Edinburgh University), “Britain’s Territorial Constitution: Can The Union Hold?”.

November 23, 2015
WELDON, Laurel (Purdue University), “Gendered Federal Systems:
Informal Institutions, Intersectionality and Change”, (co-organized with the Annie MacDonald Langstaff Workshop), Faculty of Law, McGill.

October 26-27, 2015
VINTRO, Joan (Faculté de droit, Université de Barcelone), « Les bases juridiques et politiques de l’accession d’une Catalogne indépendante à l’Union européenne ».

August 11, 2015
World Federalist Movement - Canada, in collaboration with the McGill Center for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism: “From Global to Local : the Importance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to Reconciliation in Canada", by Senator Murray Sinclair, the former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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