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CSPG Seminar: Inside Party Caucuses

Francoise Boivin MP, Francis Scarpaleggia MP, Retired Senator Lowell Murray, and CSPG Board Member Cathy Piccinin
Caucus Panel: Francoise Boivin MP, Francis Scarpaleggia MP, Retired Senator Lowell Murray, and CSPG Board Member Cathy Piccinin

On October 17, 2014, the Canadian Study of Parliament Group held a half-day seminar to look at the role of party caucuses within Canadian politics. I wore two hats at the event, having both organized the academic panel, and serving as one of the speakers.

I was the first presenter, and focused on defining party caucuses and providing some context as to why they are important to Canadian politics, both theoretically and practically. I stressed that party caucuses theoretically allow backbench government MPs to scrutinize the Prime Minister in private while remaining loyal in public, thus allowing the conventions of responsible government to co-exist with disciplined political parties. However, I noted that many scholars are skeptical as to whether such scrutiny actually happens, or if party caucuses are just window-dressing that mask the concentration of power in the hands of party leaders. To clarify the point, I provided a comparison with the UK, where back-bench members meet separately from party leaders and so are much more likely to express criticism in public. You can see my presentation here.

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