I’m delighted to report that as of September, I’ll be starting two new roles at Carleton University. In the fall semester I am teaching a seminar on Canadian Institutions and Governance (POLM5001) for the Clayton H. Riddelll Graduate Program in Political Management. The program is unique in Canada, offering a professional Masters degree for those wishing to work directly in politics as parliamentary assistants, ministerial staff, party organizers, or lobbyists. You can see the syllabus here and follow us on Twitter @CU_POLM5001.
This week’s Hill Times includes a detailed article on my research into All-Party Groups (APGs) at the Canadian Parliament. APGs are informal groups that MPs and Senators establish in order to take collective action on a given policy issue or to promote relations with another country. The number of groups in operation has grown sharply both in Canada and in other Westminster democracies, such as the United Kingdom, and my dissertation seeks to uncover why.
I’m thankful to Mark Burgess for taking an interest in my research, and am quite happy to see the positive reaction from the others quoted in the piece.
I was part of an insightful panel on Parliamentary studies that included Gary Levy, former Editor of the Canadian Parliament Review, and Bill Blaikie, former MP and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons.
My presentation focused on my research into the growth of “all party groups” at the Canadian Parliament. These informal groups are formed by parliamentarians who wish to cooperate on a given issue and typically receive support from external lobbyists or stakeholders. Drawing on a dataset I constructed tracking group creation as well as extensive interviews with MPs, Senators, journalists, and lobbyists, I demonstrate that the recent growth in the number of APGs results from a convergence of interests between MPs and lobbyists. For MPs all-party groups provide a way to connect with constituents, seek policy change, and develop a sense of personal relevance. For lobbyists, the groups offer a cost-effective means to distribute information to legislators, shape policy discussions, and ultimately influence government policy.
The first paper was based on my dissertation research, and examined the extent to which the recent growth of All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) at the British Parliament has been driven by a rise in support from external actors. APPGs are informal bodies that MPs and Peers establish to take collective action on different issues. They are often supported by external stakeholders, and are required to declare any contributions received from outside parties. Using webscraping software, I assembled a dataset that captured all of the donations received by APPGs in 2001 and in 2014. My key findings were that the total value of the financing provided more than doubled from £825K to £1.9 million, while the number of organizations giving some form of support (either financial or in-kind) also rose from 569 to 798. All told, there are clear signs that external actors are helping to fuel APPG growth in the UK. You can download the paper or view the presentation.
Why are more Canadian MPs cooperating across party lines? (Yes, you read that correctly)
On February 12, 2015, I presented at the Bell Chair Graduate Conference at Carleton University on my dissertation research into the growth of informal “All-Party Groups” (APGs) at the Canadian Parliament. Some of these groups, such as the Canada-India Parliamentary Association, focus on relations between Canada and other countries. Others, such as the All-Party Aerospace Caucus, deal with specific policy issues. Both types often receive support from outside stakeholders, such as foreign embassies, business associations, or charities.
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.
On Monday, July 21, I led the students in my seminar on Canadian Legislatures across University Ave. to visit the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. As luck would have it, the Legislature was in the midst of a rare summer session, and so we were not only able to have a tour of the building, but to have a question and answer session with the Honourable David Levac, the Speaker of Legislature.
I would like to thank Speaker Levac for taking the time to see us, and the Assembly’s Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations team for fitting the tour around our normal class hours.