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Political decentralization is an avowed goal of many political movements, especially populist and protest movements that view the power networks making major decisions as being corrupt.

Canadian advocates

Notably the Ten Key Values of the Green Party of Ontario - also once avowed by the Green Party of Canada until 2002 - include decentralization.

The Bloc Quebecois and Conservative Party of Canada also advocate decentralizing federal government functions in Canada to provinces.

The Province of Toronto Party advocates the formation of a new province within Canada to take over administration of all functions Ontario presently performs in the City of Toronto, creating a two-tier administration structure. See also Toronto Charter, Toronto Act, Province of Toronto, Jane Jacobs, powers of a province, David Miller, Tooker Gomberg, Mel Lastman.

eternal struggle

The most basic dialectic that makes decentralization such a perennial topic may be that any centralized means of decision making grows ultimately insular and unable to consult the edges affected by the decisions. Most who study this have concluded that groupthink and systemic biases will ultimately dominate any human group entity and prevent any new troll point of view from penetrating comfortable assumptions of the dominant "in crowd". This creates a market for the idea of decentralizing and putting decision making power "back" in the hands of the persons affected, even if they never actually held the power to make the decisions, since the centralized systems that they seek control over, simply never existed in the past before the central power came to be. Once the power is decentralized to any degree, competence problems at the edges become obvious, and there is a push to apply standards from the centre, which ultimately becomes pressure to have the centre arbitrarily decide who to audit and when to take over control.

In Canada this dynamic has been very evident with health care. In Ontario the source water controversies, most notably Walkerton, had elements of this dialectic.


Another plain truth is that "you can't decentralize from the centre", meaning, once a group takes control of centralized power, even if they intend to distribute it, they will end up asserting their own preferences over the edges, and at least making the decentralized structure extremely responsive to values held by the centre. For example, the New Deal for Cities put a great deal of formerly federal money in the hands of Canadian cities, but restricted its use to Environmentally Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure.


People often, maybe usually, advocate decentralized structures without a thought that they might be incompetent to administer them, or that centralized standards of fairness or accountability or transparency or even safety might be compromised. Engineering and medical disciplines often study such feedback and standards problems, to create protocols robust enough to execute the same functions as a centralized authority to the same degree of reliability. Market methods are thought by most economists to have the capacity to replace centralized power structures - but only when commodity contracts can be defined that clarify the roles of everyone involved.


The ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 standards are two globally popular attempts to characterize organization protocols for decentralized execution of centrally maintained standards of process reliability and environmental safety, respectively. The ISO 19011 standard applies one audit protocol to both simultaneously.


While standards achieve decentralization of some functions, they centralize terms used in the audit protocol to decide whether standards have actually been implemented. This can have the effect of improving accountability and transparency, but also of prejudice against unique local situated practices required to deal with unique local conditions.

This problem is studied most closely with respect to participatory democracy, especially in the context of bioregional democracy.

other definitions and discussions