The article 'Federalism: A Comparative Analysis of Canada, Australia, and India' examines the constitutional foundations and principles underpinning federalism in three diverse countries

The article 'Federalism: A Comparative Analysis of Canada, Australia, and India' examines the constitutional foundations and principles underpinning federalism in three diverse countries. Federalism, as a system of government, involves the division of power and authority between a central government and subnational units. The objective of this study is to examine the federal structures, origin and mechanismsIntroduction: Meaning of FederalismThe word "federal" comes from the Latin word...

The article 'Federalism: A Comparative Analysis of Canada, Australia, and India' examines the constitutional foundations and principles underpinning federalism in three diverse countries. Federalism, as a system of government, involves the division of power and authority between a central government and subnational units. The objective of this study is to examine the federal structures, origin and mechanisms

Introduction: Meaning of Federalism

The word "federal" comes from the Latin word foedus, which means "covenant" in English. The federal idea is based on cooperation, reciprocity, and mutuality since this embodies the concepts of promise, obligation, and endeavour. Federalism is a strategy for separating authorities such that the national and local governments operate cooperatively and independently within their own domains. To put it simply, federalism proposes a constitutional mechanism for establishing unity in diversity by balancing the opposing forces of centrifugal and centripetal trends in the nation to achieve shared national goals.

As a result of an agreement or treaty, a federal state is viewed as a compact or alliance of states or provinces. It is a system whereby numerous, fairly autonomous pieces are brought together to form a whole. It alludes to a system of government that is structurally and operationally divided between national governments and their constituent provinces or states. The political structures, the people who make up them, and how federal states run must all reflect this associational link. According to Robert Garan, federalism is a type of government where sovereignty or political power is split between the federal and provincial governments so that each one is independent of the other within its own realm.

Federalism: Defining Characteristics

Various types of federal states have a few traits that make them identifiable as federations. The bicameral legislature, dual governance, supremacy of the constitution, written and rigid constitution, division of powers, and dual citizenship are all examples of the federation's defining traits. Let's look at these distinguishing qualities.

Division of Authority: In federal system the division of authorities is a key characteristic. Territory and functions are used to divide power. The territorial division of authority is between the central/national government and several constituent units, also referred to as state/province or regional governments. Each province consists of a fixed land, a fixed population, and a fixed administration. 

Concurrent powers may include taxation, law enforcement, and the administration of justice. In such cases, both levels of government can exercise authority within their respective spheres. moment and several constituent units, also referred to as state/province or regional governments. 

Dual Government and Citizenship: In federal states, there are two levels of government: provincial and national. This is due to the territorial partition of power and the development of the fusion of several constituent units. Both tiers of government coexist side by side, each with its own legislative, executive branch, and court. Exclusive control over citizens in each level of government's particular domain is exercised. Some federal states, like the USA, offer dual citizenship, one under the federal government and the other under a provincial government. Switzerland stands out among other countries in this sense because it offers three different types of citizenship: communal, cantonal (district), and citizenship granted by the federal government.

Supremacy of the Constitution: A federal state's constitution is its guiding document. The governing body's ultimate legislation specifies the boundaries and roles of each branch of government. The national and provincial governments derive their authority and functions from the Constitution. It controls interactions between the provinces and between the provinces and the federal government. It tells the federal government and the provinces where their borders end and other countries' jurisdictions begin. The Constitution's supremacy forbids the federal and provincial governments from encroaching on one another's purview. Because the constitution is ultimate, an impartial judiciary serves as the final arbiter of constitutional issues, interpreting the text to settle disagreements between the federal and provincial governments.

Written and Rigid Constitution: One characteristic of federal states is the rigidity of their written constitutions. A rigid constitution is one that neither the central nor the states may unilaterally alter. In other words, neither the national government nor the constituents alone can decrease or extend the powers and roles of the other. The strict constitution protects independence and forbids interference and violations of rights by one level of government against another level of government.

Federalism in Australia

Initiated on January 1st, 1901, Australian federalism was made up of six British colonies. However, discussions for the formation of an Australian federation began in the middle of the nineteenth century. The leading variables were economic ones. A law establishing "free trade" between New South Wales, Van Diemen's Land, and New Zealand had been passed. Other products were subject to tariffs or import duties.

The Australian Constitution is the source of authority for both the Commonwealth and state powers. It is written down and rigid. In other words, the Constitution serves as the primary source of authority for both the Commonwealth and the states. The Australian Constitution is similarly rigid. The constitutional amendment needs to be approved by a majority of voters in at least four of the six states, as well as by a majority of people nationwide. Forty-four referendums have been held but only eight amendments have been passed. States and the Commonwealth are effectively guaranteed by the constitution's rigour that their respective rights cannot be arbitrarily violated.

Legislative body with two chambers: The Australian Parliament consists of the Crown and the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives has 151 members, while the Senate has 76 senators. In the Senate, the states are represented. The equal representation rule is adhered to by the Senate. Each state has been given an equal number of twelve Senate seats, regardless of its population or the size of its territory. The Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory each send two senators from their respective mainland territories. of the twelve representatives chosen for six years from each state using the proportional representation system. The 151 members of the House of Representatives are chosen by a preferential voting process for a three-year tenure.

Dispute Resolution Mechanism: The courts and intergovernmental agencies play important roles in resolving disputes between the states and the federal government or between states in the Australian federal system. The High Court is Australia's top court. It has been crucial to maintaining federalism for more than a century. The last court of appeal adjudicates conflicts between federal and state jurisdiction in accordance with Section 77 of the Australian Constitution. The Constitution may be interpreted by it.

Federalism in Canada

A self-governing region of the British Empire called the Dominion of Canada was created by the British North America Act of 1867, which was passed by the British Parliament.

By uniting the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into one federal union, it brought federalism to Canada. Later, additional provinces joined the Dominion. The Ontario, Western Provinces, Quebec, and Maritime Provinces regions make up the Canadian Federation. In addition to regions, Yukon and the territories of the Northwest are included in Canadian federalism. The Canada Act of 1982 has reinforced Canadian federalism even more. According to the Canadian Constitution, the following are its federal characteristics:

Written and Rigid Constitution: The British Parliament passed the Constitution Act, 1867, also known as the British North America Act, 1867, which established a parliamentary form of government and a federal system in Canada. Over time, the Canadian constitution's amending procedure has changed. There was no method for changing the constitution under the 1867 Act. The British Parliament used to be asked by the Canadian Parliament to determine if the amendment should be made. The Canadian Parliament was granted the authority to change certain provisions of the Constitution in 1949.

Bicameral Legislature: In Canada, the bicameral legislature is an integral part of the country's constitutional framework. The Canadian Parliament consists of two houses: the House of Commons and the Senate. This arrangement reflects the bicameral tradition inherited from the British parliamentary system.

House of Commons: The House of Commons is the lower house of Parliament and holds significant legislative power. Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected by Canadian citizens in their respective constituencies or electoral districts. The number of seats in the House of Commons is based on population, with each electoral district representing roughly the same number of people.

The House of Commons is responsible for initiating and passing legislation, as well as forming and supporting the government. The political party with the majority of seats in the House forms the government and its leader becomes the Prime Minister. The House of Commons also plays a crucial role in scrutinizing the government's actions, proposing amendments, and debating various issues.

Senate: The Senate is the upper house of Parliament and is designed to provide regional representation and act as a chamber of "a sober second thought." Senators are appointed by the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister. Each province and territory has a designated number of seats, which are not based on population.

The Senate's primary functions include reviewing and revising legislation proposed by the House of Commons. Senators carefully examine bills, offering expertise and a regional perspective. They can suggest amendments or reject bills, but their powers are limited compared to the House of Commons. Senators are appointed until the age of 75 and do not face re-election.

Division of Powers: Canada has a formal mechanism in place for dividing power. The key document outlining the distribution of powers in the Canadian Federation is the Constitution Act of 1867. The federal government has the authority to enact laws under Sections 91 and 92(10) of the Constitution on matters of "national interest," including national defence, foreign policy, employment insurance, banking, federal taxes, post offices, fisheries, shipping, railways, telephones, pipelines, Indigenous lands and rights, and criminal law.

Dispute Resolution Procedure: Prior to 1949, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had the authority to interpret the Constitution. In 1949, Canada abolished appeals to the JCPC and established the Supreme Court of Canada as the final appellate court in the country. The Supreme Court of Canada, not the Supreme Court of the United States, has the authority to interpret the Canadian Constitution, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was enacted in 1982. The Supreme Court of Canada plays a crucial role in interpreting and applying the law in Canada, and its decisions have a significant impact on the country.

Federalism in India

India's Constitution was ratified on January 26, 1950. Despite the fact that neither the words "federation" nor "federalism" are used anywhere in the Indian Constitution, which states that "India, that is, Bharat, shall be a union of states" (Article 1), Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said in the Constituent Assembly:

“The Indian Constitution is a federal Constitution in as much as it established what may be called a dual polity which will consist of the Union at the Centre and the States at the periphery each endowed with sovereign powers to be exercised in the field assigned to them respectively by the Constitution”.

It is designed to function as a federal system in most circumstances. However, it is intended to function as a unitary system during times of war. The Indian Constitution demonstrates the following features of federalism.

Written Constitution: The 1950 Indian Constitution included 395 Articles, 22 Chapters, and 8 Schedules. It is the origin of the authority and powers of the states and the federal government. The rigour and flexibility of the Indian Constitution are combined. The Indian constitution is more open-ended than those of the USA and Australia. On matters pertaining to relations between the centre and the states, the constitution is strict. The Constitution of India outlines specific procedures for the amendment of its provisions, including those related to centre-state relations. For a constitutional amendment related to centre-state relations or any other matter, it requires a majority of the total membership of both houses of Parliament and a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting in each house at the time of the vote.

Division of Powers: The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India presents the plan for the division of powers in the Indian Federation. The Union, State, and Concurrent lists of the Constitution are used to divide the authorities between the federal government and the states. There are 100 subjects on the Union list under which the federal government has sole authority.

Bicameral Legislature: The Indian Parliament is a bicameral body. Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber, and Lok Sabha, the lower chamber, are the two chambers. The Lok Sabha (People's Council) represents the nation's citizens in a bicameral legislature. The Rajya Sabha (Council of States), on the other hand, serves as the national legislature's representative for the states. The Rajya Sabha is elected by state legislatures, as opposed to the Lok Sabha, whose members are chosen by popular vote.

Dual Government: There are state governments and a central government in India, each with its own political institutions and procedures. Their legislative, executive, and judicial branches are distinct. While the Governor is the legally recognised head of state, the President is in charge of the Union of India. The High Courts are the state's highest judicial branch and the Supreme Court of India is the country's highest judicial branch. In the Indian Federation, there are now two tiers of government as a result of the establishment of separate sets of political institutions for the national and state governments. But there is only one citizenship, and that is the citizenship of India, unlike the United States and Switzerland.

Functioning of Federalism in Australia, Canada and India

Over time, federalism's operation has altered. The effectiveness of federalism has been impacted by a variety of factors, including ideologies and governing parties. Federalism has evolved into different forms and patterns, including quasi-federalism, cooperative federalism, bargaining federalism, and competitive federalism, as a result of shifting roles of the ruling parties, judicial rulings, ideological perspectives, and the operation of the federal and provincial governments. For the majority of federal states, the forces of centralization and decentralisation have been at odds.

Through cooperation and positive participation, Canadian federalism has progressed from a conflictual to an interdependent phase. Cooperative federalism gave way to competitive federalism through bargaining federalism in the Indian federal system. Australia practices a federal system with a strong central government.


Comparative analysis of federalism in Canada, Australia, and India reveals both similarities and differences in their respective systems. Each country has adopted federalism as a means to accommodate diverse regional interests and maintain a balance between centralization and decentralization of power. However, the implementation and functioning of federalism vary across these nations. Canada maintains a well-balanced federal structure with a high degree of decentralization, whereas Australia has a more centralized approach, and India showcases a mix of centralization and devolution. The effectiveness of federalism in these countries is influenced by factors such as historical context, constitutional provisions, political culture, and the ability to foster cooperation between different levels of government.

Contributions from: Dikshita And Apurva Neel


[1] Federalism in Canada, Australia and India, Available Here

[2] A Journey through the History of Federalism, Available Here

[3] Federalism in India – Analysis of the Indian Constitution, Available Here

[4] Federalism, Available Here

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Updated On 30 May 2023 6:51 AM GMT
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Dikshita More

Vivekanand College of Law, Chembur

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