Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Kelly Gordon (McGill University)
Voting for the Good Side: Political Discretion in Infrastructure Spending in Canada: Benjamin Ferland (Université d'Ottawa), Olivier Jacques (McGill University) Abstract: Pork barrelling has been extensively studied in the United States. In particular, scholars have shown that elected representatives are often able to influence the allocation of government spending in order to favour their own local district. Few studies, however, have considered whether a similar process is at work in Canada. While Canadian legislators don’t have an explicit discretion on public spending, strong executives could still dictate the location of public investment and give rise to geographically targeted spending. Using a dataset covering all projects funded by Infrastructure Canada from 2005 to 2017, we test whether governments use new infrastructure projects to reward core supporters or if they target swing ridings to increase their chance of re-election. Infrastructures are the pork barreling tool par excellence because of their visible and discretionary nature. Our dataset allows to divide infrastructure spending into two categories: visible or invisible. This allows us to test whether visible infrastructures are more likely to be targeted at certain ridings for political purposes. Finally, we hypothesize that influent ministers are better able to attract public investment to their constituencies than backbench MPs.
The Discursive Politics of Crisis: Crafting the Opioid Crisis and Selecting Subjects: Megan Aiken (University of Alberta) Abstract: A 2018 report by Canada’s chief public health officer predicts that the average life expectancy of Canadians is likely to decline as a result of opioid-related deaths, with the death toll in 2017 reaching almost 4000. Reports from government, news, and in popular culture in Canada and the United States tend to call this an opioid crisis. Etymologically, “crisis” means a decisive point, yet federal government action rarely extends beyond lump funds to provinces. Transformative crisis-solving decisions do not appear to be made at the federal level. In this paper I seek to explore the discursive political power of this word, crisis: why is the word crisis chosen over epidemic, what subjects are being spoken/written about within the crisis, who is outside of the crisis, and how is crisis reflected in government action and inaction? In this paper I apply discursive institutionalism, while reflecting upon the settler-colonial context that Canadian politics operates within, to argue that the opioid crisis is a narrow piece of a larger issue surrounding opioid-related deaths, yet the discourse of crisis builds a fence around what government and society ought to pay attention to. The opioid crisis does not reflect the increasing number of Indigenous people within the carceral system who are addicted to (and dying from) opioids. This crisis does not care about fentanyl being cut into already illicit street drugs, claiming the lives of Canada’s vulnerable. The opioid crisis is about layers of Band-Aids on working-class Canada, and upholding the supremacy of business interests.
Bases of Support and Electoral Consequences of the Legalization of Marijuana in Canada: Alexis Bibeau-Gagnon (Université Laval), Yannick Dufresne (Université Laval), Catherine Ouellet (University of Toronto), Justin Savoie (University of Toronto) Abstract: The recent legalization of marijuana in Canada offers the opportunity to study the political effects of such policy. Did Trudeau’s Liberals influence public views on marijuana? Or is it partisanship and fundamental values that determined these attitudes? This paper makes use of two large datasets collected during the 2011 and 2015 Canadian federal elections that include a question on attitudes toward marijuana. These data allow for a fine-grained description of the attitudes toward marijuana in various sub-groups such as age groups, ridings, and immigrants from different country of origins. We then move to study the effect of the Liberals’ promise to legalize marijuana on both their partisan bases and attitudes toward marijuana. The comparison of the 2011 and 2015 data show that support for the Liberals has been affected by the issue of the decriminalization of marijuana. Further tests also show that attitudes on marijuana are also affected by partisanship in some specific subgroups of the electorate. These results substantially contribute to the issue voting literature and to the current public debate regarding public policies on drugs in Western democracies.
Comparative Civic Literacy in Canada and the United States: Democratic Resilience and Effective Citizen Engagement: Douglas West (Lakehead University Orillia), Mary Pettenger (Western Oregon University) Abstract: Civic literacy and civic engagement are useful measures of a society’s capacity for democratic resilience (Milner, 2010) Has the advent of “media confusion” meant the decline of engagement or the increase in the challenge to politicians? Or both? In this paper, we will focus our attention on pragmatic definitions of civic literacy in Canada and the United States which are underscored by the challenges of diverse populations living and engaging within seemingly tight institutional frameworks. In 1999, the Commonwealth Foundation argued that, “The new democracy is about the participation of citizens. It is a journey where diversity is celebrated, the public good is negotiated, and intense deliberation and dialogue are conducted. It is about being involved. It is clear that the democratic state needs to regain legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens.” (Commonwealth Foundation, 1999. 75-76) Eighteen years later we are still trying to legitimize democratic institutions by “reaching out” from the safety of bureaucratic and political enclaves and engaging “with” and not “on behalf of” publics. Civic literacy depends on this reaching and negotiation, not on passive-aggressive voices of confusion. Civic engagement is the essential definition of political action in our time; it is a necessary part of the political process in what we could call “expanded” democracies. By this, we mean to say that as publics become more sophisticated in their understanding of policy choices and rights through expanded and deeper educational and social media opportunities, the management and expression of civic engagement and civic literacy remain the norm, not the exception.