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Cooperative Governance

“A party that cannot live with differences of opinion within its own ranks could not hope to cope with differences of opinion outside its ranks and govern successfully a province like Nova Scotia or a country like Canada, where strongly held differences of opinion abound.”[1]

The Right Honourable Robert L. Stanfield, 1978

Stanfield was immensely concerned with the idea of Canadian unity and envisioned leading a party that held strength in all regions.[2] As we continue to encounter, strong regional feelings in Canada make the country challenging to govern. From Meech Lake to the Carbon Tax, provincial and regional perspectives make it difficult to enact policies that are acceptable to a multitude of constituencies. In the words of Stanfield, “a truly national party has a continuing role to try to pull things together… success in this role are particularly important in countries as vast and diverse as Canada,”.[3] Stanfield attempted to bridge the regional gaps that exist in Canada by presenting policies which were resolutely balanced. He ensured all citizens, regardless of socioeconomic or cultural background, were included in his construction of Canada. Stanfield successfully created the foundations of a national equilibrium, exemplified by his rallying the majority of a difficult and divided federal caucus to support Canada’s Official Languages Act in 1969.[4]

For Stanfield, Canadian unity meant more than just representing every citizen; it also includes a multi-tiered approach to cooperative governance.[5] Governing was about more than just civil servants advising the government to do something and then the government persuading the people that it was a good idea.[6] Cooperative governance meant engaging with every stakeholder in the process of decision-making, ensuring that no one group dominated the national conversation. He asserted that governments should not impose responsibilities onto the individual, but rather give outside parties an equal ability to influence decisions that directly affect their lives.[7] We see this trend continuing today, with discussions surrounding the importance of interest groups, “stakeholder”, and citizen engagement at the forefront of policy creation. To Stanfield, cooperative governance and Canadian unity were not about sharpening the difference of opinions that upset and divide us for electoral gain; rather, they were the best means to find acceptable solutions within such a vast and diverse country.[8]

  1. Szende, A. (1978, May 6). “Stanfield’s Last Hurrah,” The Toronto Star: C1.
  2. Frank, J. (1988). Robert Stanfield: On Politics, Polls and Leadership. Canadian Business Review, 15(2), 8-15.
  3. Stanfield, R. (1974, November 14). Leader of the Opposition: Special Meeting – November 20th. Library of Parliament Canada.
  4. Jobb, D. (2003, December 18). “Honest Bob’s Unlikely Career,” The Chronicle Herald/The Mail Star: A4. 
  5. Cooper, J. (1967, October 3). “Mr. Stanfield’s Priorities,” The Globe and Mail: B2.
  6. Frank, J. (1988). Robert Stanfield: On Politics, Polls and Leadership. Canadian Business Review, 15(2), 8-15.
  7. Stanfield, R. (1978, October 8). Notes for the Remarks: International Symposium on Human Development. St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS.
  8. Szende, A. (1978, May 6). “Stanfield’s Last Hurrah,” The Toronto Star: C1.


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Cooperative Governance by Julia Rodgers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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