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In Memory of Andy Scott, PC, MP

Andy ScottIt was with great sadness that I heard this morning that former MP and cabinet Minister Andy Scott had passed away earlier today from cancer.

I worked for Andy in Ottawa as part of the Parliamentary Internship Program in the Spring of 2006. It was a time of great upheaval, with the Liberal Party having just been voted out of office in January after 13 years in government. Andy himself went from being Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs to being Opposition Critic for Transportation and Communities. While both sound prestigious, the former came with a significant amount of staff, while the latter role gave him no additional personnel beyond those of a typical MP. In a move of tremendous faith, Andy decided to give me almost all of the policy work in his office. This meant I was able to try my hand at everything from drafting questions for Question Period to sitting in on his meetings with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. He even trusted me to do the background work for his private members motion calling for a national strategy on autism. Without these opportunities, I’m not sure that my career at Parliament would have continued past the internship.

Continue reading “In Memory of Andy Scott, PC, MP”

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“Whipped” the documentary – a good diagnosis, but no cure

WhippedLast night I attended the Ottawa screening of “Whipped“, a new documentary by journalist and professor Sean Holman that investigates the practice and impact of party discipline at the Legislature of British Columbia. While this might seem to be a narrow focus, the similarities between that legislature and the other federal, provincial and territorial assemblies means that the documentary raises some important questions about the system of parliamentary democracy in Canada as a whole. However, despite doing a good job of pointing out the problems, it is not clear what the solutions should be.

“Whipped” focuses on how the legislature is no longer a place for genuine debate or representation, but rather a meaningless theatre where politicians talk at each other and vote according to positions given to them by their respective parties. Particular emphasis is placed on the very low number of dissenting votes, with Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) going against their party line less than 0.03% of the time.

Continue reading ““Whipped” the documentary – a good diagnosis, but no cure”

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My first peer-reviewed publication goes live!

CJPSI am very excited to report that my first-ever peer-reviewed publication has now gone live on Cambridge Journals Online!

The article is titled “Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Constituency Population and the Quality of Representation in Canada,” and will be published in an upcoming edition of the Canadian Journal of Political Science. In the piece, Peter Loewen, Michael MacKenzie and I examine whether there is an inherent conflict between efforts to ensure the effective representation of communities of common interest and the idea of representation by population (rep-by-pop).

In brief, the Canadian electoral system allows for large differences in population between constituencies in order to enhance the representation of both geographic communities (e.g. rural areas) and minority groups (e.g. language communities). Using both survey and experimental data, we found that these differences in constituency population have no consistent impact on citizens’ experience of democracy as measured either by self-reported satisfaction or by MPs’ responsiveness to constituents’ requests for assistance. As such, we found no evidence that efforts to ensure the representation of communities of interest has harmed the overall quality of Canadian democracy.

I am very grateful to have worked with two excellent co-authors, and to John Courtney and Bill Cross for their very helpful comments on earlier versions.

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CPSA wrap-up: the work has just begun

The British Columbia Legislature in the Victoria harbourAnother year, another very positive experience at the CPSA conference. Not only was I working with two very talented co-authors (Jerry Sabin and Jane Hilderman), but received some challenging but incredibly constructive feedback from my discussants.

For our paper “Faith Organizing, Party Politics and the Exceptionalism of Abortion in the Harper era,” Ken Carty pointed out that Jerry and I could use the pro-life issue as an entry point to explore intra-party decision making and evaluate how different parts of the party (the grassroots, the National Council, the caucus, the cabinet, and the leader) grappled with the question. There also is the possibility that each of these parts has different ideas about the way intra-party democracy should operate.

Jean-François Godbout had some similarly insightful observations for Jane and me regarding our paper “Climbing the ladder of dissent: backbench influence in the Canadian House of Commons.” For instance, he noted that the increased caucus dissent that we found during periods of parliamentary majorities may flow from the higher levels ideological plurality that could come with having more MPs, rather than from the majority situation itself. More importantly, Jean-Francois stressed that we need to think more critically about the cost-benefit analysis MPs face when choosing to dissent since the benefits of staying loyal to the party (help at re-election, potential cabinet positions, etc.) are so large.

And so the take-away message from this year’s conference seems to be that while we’ve made some good progress, there is much further work to be done. However, it’s really encouraging to know that each of the projects is on to something worth exploring further.

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CPSA 2013 – Victoria BC

After a bit of an adventure with Air Canada (why do they over-book?), I’ve now arrived in sunny Victoria for CPSA 2013. I’m proud to be presenting with two wonderful co-authors, and will also be chairing what should be a great session on provincial public policy. The details are:

Papers:

  • Panel A4(a) – Party Systems, Transitions and Linkages
    “Faith Organizing, Party Politics, and the Exceptionalism of Abortion in the Harper Era”
    Paul Thomas and Jerald Sabin
    Tuesday, June 4, 2013, 13:30 – 15:00, Business and Economics Building 402
    Download: Paper, Presentation
  • Panel A14(b) – Shifting Power of Backbenchers in Canadian Parliaments I
    “Climbing the Ladder of Dissent: Backbench Influence in the Canadian House of Commons”
    Paul Thomas and Jane Hilderman
    Thursday, June 6, 2013, 13:30 – 15:00 – Clearihue Building A206
    Download: Paper, Presentation

Session Chair

  • Panel J6(a): Governance and Public Policy in Canada: A View from the Provinces
    Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 8:45 – 10:15, Continuing Studies Building 110
    Link: Session information