Such a change would also have the added benefit of strengthening the opposition, both by giving it more leverage to pass amendments and by reducing the number of days when Parliament is not sitting. If you’d like to know more, you can find the full piece here.
I am very honoured to have been invited to become one of the Academic Advisors at Samara, an independent think-tank based in Toronto that studies citizen engagement with Canadian democracy (the charity is named for a “samara” – a winged seed, like a maple key). The Advisors include some of the most distinguished political scientists in Canada, and I am excited about to contributing to Samara’s work as it goes forward.
My colleagues Peter Loewen, Michael MacKenzie and I have an op-ed it today’s Ottawa Citizen on the question of whether democracy is harmed when some constituencies have larger populations than others.
In the op-ed we describe research on the issue that we recently conducted using both experimental data and survey results from the Canadian Election Study. Contrary to the popular wisdom, our results found no evidence that those in more populated constituencies either experienced worse representation or were less satisfied with democracy than those in less populated constituencies.
As such, we argue that the desire to ensure equal representation should not necessarily take priority over the desire to ensure that rural areas and other communities of common interest are effectively represented.
On February 10th, I presented a paper that I coauthored with Professor Peter Loewen of University of Toronto and Michael MacKenzie of UBC. Our research looked at whether differences in population between national level constituencies in Canada and the UK affects either the quality of the representation that citizens receive from their elected representatives or their overall views of democracy.
Using both survey and experimental research we found that there was no clear relationship between constituency population and citizens’ experiences of democracy. This result, which contradicts the accepted wisdom, suggests that governments in both countries may have more flexibility to create ridings with smaller than average populations so as improve the representation of both less-populated rural areas or communities of common interest.
The paper was well received and the conference, put on by the Honourable Dick and Ruth Bell Chair for the Study of Canadian Parliamentary Democracy, provided a wonderful opportunity to connect and exchange ideas with graduate students from across the country.
Today I presented some of my research on Canada’s recent experience with minority governments at the “Minority Report” conference at Wilfrid Laurier University. It was an honour to appear with such a distinguished group of researchers and to have my work recognized by the institution where I started my studies.
I led off the first panel by comparing the performance of Canada’s recent minority parliaments with the majorities that they followed. The goal of my research has been to help clarify whether minority governments are helpful or harmful to the operation of parliament, and so I conducted the comparison on the basis of four criteria: legislative efficiency, legislative deliberation, the role of private members, and the accountability of the government to parliament. I also examined whether there was any change in the way legislation was passed by the Senate.
Contrary to the critics of minority governments, my results showed that parliaments in which no party has a majority are not any less efficient at passing legislation. Conversely, contrary to minority advocates, these parliaments do not offer any significant improvements in the role of private members or legislative deliberation. However, the minority advocates were correct in that the minority situation did furnish the parliament with a much greater ability to hold the government to account through the Standing Committees.
In terms of the Senate, it was theoretically difficult to isolate the impact of the minority situation since in one of the two recent minorities the Senate was controlled by the governing party while in the other it was controlled by the official opposition. In practice though there was little change in the legislative behaviour of the Senate, with the one exception that more government bills went unpassed (i.e. were left to die on the order paper) when the Senate was controlled by the opposition.
On Friday, June 1, I presented a paper entitled “A glimpse of the future? What the minority governments of the 38th and 39th Parliaments can teach about proposals for electoral reform.” The session was well attended, and many people seemed willing to forgive me for not being “the real” Paul Thomas.
Unfortunately, the general consensus of the audience and the discussant was that current minority governments cannot be used to predict how parliament would function after electoral reform since the parties would face drastically different incentives. However, a number of those present did enjoy my research into the functioning of the most recent minority parliaments and suggested that I try to get it published. At the very least, I received several compliments on my slides, showing once again that if you can’t have substance, you should at least have style.
For those of you who could not make it, or would like more information on the paper I presented, please check out the links below.