Applying European Ideas on Federalism and Doing It Better? The Government of Canada’s Homelessness Policy Experiment

Despite not having explicit authority to legislate on matters local in nature, in 2000 the federal government launched the National Homelessness Initiative (NHI). I argue that this federal program, in many critical aspects, mirrors a governance model developed in the European Union called the Open Method of Coordination (OMC), a model developed in an institutional context whereby the European Commission has no formal authority to coerce member states into coordinating social policy, but nonetheless uses “soft” or voluntary mechanisms to work toward this goal. Vancouver and Toronto are examined more closely to demonstrate how the flexibility of the OMC-style model manifests itself in practice, and the implications for governance, accountability, and effectiveness. I conclude that while the issue of homelessness is principally plagued by insufficient and unstable funding, further application of principles in the OMC model—uniquely applied to the Canadian context—holds promise for improving governance, coordination, and effectiveness of the public policy response to homelessness. Application of the OMC model thus calls for more attention from Canadian federalism scholars and policy-makers.

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Canadian Public Policy