Making Sense of Federal Provincial Relations
An interview with Robert Csehi, PhD student from Hungary, participant in the “Thinking Canada” tour 2011, and the first intern supported by a grant from the Canada-Hungary Educational Foundation through its partnership project with the European Association for Canadian Studies and the European Commission.
December 9th 2011
“From a European perspective, Canada’s approach to federalism is certainly not a traditional one,” says Robert Csehi, a confident and impressive doctoral student from Budapest’s Central European University, an institution founded by George Soros.
Csehi is in Canada as the result of an innovative Canada-Europe educational partnership. The European Association for Canadian Studies (EACS), with funding from the European Commission, runs a program to bring a group of graduate students from member states of the European Union to Canada every year for a three week study tour. The “Thinking Canada” tour provides students of Canadian studies with an opportunity to learn firsthand about the country they have been studying and which may also become part of their chosen career path. The first such tour took place in 2010. The Canada- Hungary Educational Foundation (CHEF) saw a chance to “piggy-back” this project in a creative way by cooperating with tour organizers and by contributing the cost of a 2 to 3 month-long internship for a Hungarian participant. This additional support allows the selected students to stay on in Canada at the end of the tour in order to gain some work experience related to their chosen field.
Some 30 European delegates of the calibre of Csehi are selected each year by the EACS to take part in the project. They come, where possible, from each of the 27 member countries of the EU. They are chosen on the basis of their involvement in Canadian studies in their home countries and the competition is stiff, their tour arduous. Before leaving Europe, the delegates participate in a series of briefings in Brussels, where they meet with government and non-government representatives to provide them with a comprehensive European perspective on key social, cultural, and political issues in Canada.
Next, they travel to Canada for meetings with government officials and a wide range of public and private agencies and institutions. The 2011 tour included visits to Ottawa, Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria. The participants investigated themes that are central to an understanding of contemporary Canada: cultural diversity, French/English relations, Aboriginal issues, the environment, urban issues, the economy, and Robert’s particular focus: federal provincial relations.
CHEF’s cooperation agreement with the programme’s European organizers ensures that at least one of the participants is from Hungary. Supported by a grant offered by CHEF, this individual is able to undertake an internship at an appropriate institution in Canada. It’s a win-win situation for everybody, especially when the candidate is as insightful and well-informed as Robert Csehi.
President of CHEF Judy Young-Drache and Robert Csehi
His participation in Thinking Canada and the added internship have given him much to reconsider. “Canadian federalism is particular from the European perspective because it is widely based on intergovernmental relations which is very important in the EU as well and therefore allows for comparisons to be made.” But he questions some aspects of this relationship: “The European Union is far more advanced than Canada when it comes to the internal market. To me it’s somewhat interesting that within this country you have problems with internal trade in terms of still having barriers and tariffs and what have you. When you travel with a truck and have to reload it at the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta, well to me that just doesn’t fit with what I have in mind when I think of a country.”
He asks: “Why is there limited responsibility for education at the federal level in Canada?” Robert finds this kind of responsibility “gap” especially interesting since his doctoral thesis addresses the issue of “who does what” within federal systems, comparing Canadian and European models of federalism in action.
Csehi has a similar concern about educational and professional qualifications. “Different provinces here have different educational systems and if you get a degree from, let’s say, Ontario, you might not be able to use that particular degree if you go to New Brunswick or British Columbia because this has to be worked out by each institution and each province. And it’s the same with academic credit transfers. To me, these are on-the-ground problems that affect the lives of average Canadians and I do not see how this can’t be dealt with.”
Board member of CHEF Mark Curfort-Mollington and Robert Csehi
Amidst the problems and challenges of federal/provincial relations Csehi has identified what he calls the defining Canadian approach: pragmatism. “I heard that word many times on this trip and coming from Europe where everything has to be written down and on paper and worked out precisely, this is a totally different perspective.”
But what is different isn’t always easy to characterise. “I thought it would all become clearer once I was here,” he admits. “But in reality, the closer I look it seems to be even more obscure. The more I think about this the more puzzled I become by how Canada works as a country, to tell the truth.”
One thing that Robert did not find puzzling was the multicultural reality he encountered in Canada. “In Toronto every day on the subway you hear all these different languages in just one car. This kind of multiculturalism seems to be working just perfectly. It’s amazing.”
Robert, 27, says he hopes to complete his doctorate in time to make it a kind of 30th birthday present to himself. Despite his academic achievements so far and his impressive understanding of the Canadian political landscape, like many university students in Europe and Canada, Robert is uncertain about his future. “We are the generation that looks at issues in a critical way but what we see and what we feel is that more and more doors are being closed to us. There are not many opportunities opening up for us.”
One obvious opportunity for him, though, is the completion of an international university education. While on his internship, he is also doing research at the University of Toronto and is participating in meetings with academics and policy advisors on federal-provincial issues thus gaining further insight into his research project. After the internship, Robert hopes to return to Brussels for another internship programme, this time with the European Union. “I want to see how everything works in practice,” he says.
And after that, will he return to Hungary? “I’m afraid to say,” he confesses. “I really wish I could do something for that country. But the only way you can do that is if you establish yourself first outside the country.”
Robert Csehi seems well on the way to doing just that.
For a story on last year’s Hungarian participant in the “Thinking Canada” tour, click here.