Another 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.