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Network on devolution, local autonomy, and the multi-level governance of place in Britain and Canada

We live in an era of devolution. Practically, international organisations, as well as domestic advocates, have promoted decentralising authority and public finance.

Scholars working from diverse disciplinary perspectives, with reference to specific national and local settings, have made a variety of claims regarding local autonomy and devolution.

This network will investigate these themes, facilitating knowledge building between early-career scholars in Britain and Canada, to develop a state-of-the-art understanding of devolution in the 21st Century.


Autonomy advocates see a protected sphere of local governance as a necessary bulwark against arbitrary and sometimes predatory national government action. Others argue that devolution enables more inclusive, creative, and responsive policymaking. There is also evidence that devolution correlates with elevated aggregate economic growth and innovation.

Critics point to devolution as a driver of inequality and injustice because it fuels zero-sum competition between places, promoting the segregation of rich and disadvantaged places. Others highlight national government orchestration of the ‘rescaling’ of authority in ways that on the surface appear empowering but may amount to downloading policy responsibilities without commensurate fiscal resources.

A separate body of work on multilevel governance emphasises task-specific intergovernmental pooling of knowledge, fiscal resources, and administrative capacities. This work highlights how legal and fiscal frameworks may both enable and constrain, and how degrees of legal and fiscal devolution may vary by policy area.

This project will launch an interdisciplinary network to facilitate interchange and knowledge building between early-career scholars, theorise and investigate these associated themes to develop a state-of-the-art understanding of contemporary devolution in Britain and Canada.


Our objective will be to develop a novel synthetic understanding of devolution and local autonomy in the context of multilevel governance with an empirical focus on seldom compared Britain and Canada.

In unitary Britain, devolution is connected to national policy agendas: austerity, localism, ‘levelling up’, and city-regionalism, often through asymmetrical ‘deals.’ In federal Canada, different patterns of intergovernmental relations occur in each of the 10 provinces, the general trend being toward the enlargement of local jurisdiction.

A Canada-Britain comparison is useful because the Canadian system resembles the envisioned outcome of some Britain reforms, including elected mayors and special arrangements for large cities and metropolitan areas. Canada and Britain are also sites of growing divides between metropole and hinterland, producing multiple scales of policy intervention: municipal, city-regional, and regional.

The project team

Principal investigator

Dr Matthew Wargent

Lecturer in Urban Planning and Development


  • Zachary Taylor

    Zachary Taylor

    Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Western University, Canada


This research was made possible through the support of the following organisations: