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Political Behaviour/Sociology

F01(b) - Workshop: Democratic Accountability in Comparative Perspective: Representation in Westminster Style Systems

Date: Jun 4 | Time: 08:45am to 10:15am | Location: SWING 407

Sponsor / Commanditaire : Groupe de recherche sur le fonctionnement de la démocratie - (FoDEM - Laval)

Chair/Président/Présidente : Dietlind Stolle (McGill University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Richard Johnston (University of British Columbia)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Jack Vowles (University of Wellington)

This panel takes both a top-down and bottom up approach to understanding political representation and political accountability. How do citizens see the role of representatives—should they follow their conscience or majority opinion? How do Ministers answer queries from opposition members in the Canadian House of Commons? How does the change of parliamentary rules shape parliamentary speech? Why and when do MP’s quit their parliamentary careers?

Session Abstract: Democratic accountability is one of the pillars of representative democracy. Despite its proven record over the last century, there is a clear feeling of dissatisfaction among the citizenry regarding the capacity of elected officials and parties to maintain trust toward the political process. This dissatisfaction is expressed through different phenomena such as the interpretation of what representation means, the expression of negative feelings toward groups and institutions, or various forms of delegative democracy. It is important to study this question using various levels of analyses, and different methods.

An Election Too Far: Why do MPs Leave Politics Before an Election? A Comparative Analysis of Three Westminster Systems: Marc-André Bodet (Université Laval), Anthony Weber (Université Laval), François Gélineau (Université Laval)
Abstract: Why are members of parliament retiring in Westminster systems? In parliamentary systems, a substantial number of MPs decide, before every election, not to run again. Though the decision to leave politics is deeply personal, a broader look at a large sample of MPs can reveal the existence of dysfunctional democratic institutions, an uneven playing field, or other sources of discrimination that could explain why certain individuals stay while others leave. A survey of the current literature suggests that the empirical work on this topic is mostly focused on the US Congress. There is thus a need to conduct more research in other contexts to generate a broader explanation on what pushes MPs toward the exit. The current literature suggests that the decision to leave could be explained by a combination of variables that are both contextual (risk of electoral defeat, electoral cycle), institutional (uncertainty, new opportunities), and personal (age, sex, seniority, resources). The purpose of this article is to better assess the importance of each of these factors as an explanation for MP retirement. We are making use of hie rarchical analyses that nest MPs in the three levels identified above. This is a comparative project that brings together three Commonwealth countries: Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We collect for, each parliament, individual data on all MPs since 1945.

The Quality of Ministerial Accountability in the Canadian House of Commons: Tanya Whyte (University of Toronto)
Abstract: A core tenet of responsible government is that people authorized to act are accountable for how they use that authority. Each civil servant has a boss, who has a boss, and so on. Authority runs top-down from ministers to deputies to assistant deputies and downward to further subordinates. Accountability runs bottom-up from subordinates to bosses and finally to ministers. Ministers have final authority because they are ultimately accountable, individually and collectively, to elected representatives in the House of Commons. Authority begins where accountability ends. In theory. What is the quality of accountability in the House of Commons? How can it be measured? How does it vary over time and across governments? How is it affected by ministerial experience, government popularity, or time to election? Our paper draws on key conceptualizations of accountability, new tools in Natural Language Processing, and the newly digitized corpus of Parliamentary Debates (www.lipad.ca) to examine systematically the properties and quality of ministerial answers to opposition questions in the Canadian House of Commons. The results have implications for the theory of responsible government, discursive institutionalism, and computational political science.


Patterns of Legislative Speeches in the Parliament of Canada: Jean-François Godbout (Université de Montréal), Florence Vallée-Dubois (Université de Montréal), Christopher Cochrane (University of Toronto)
Abstract: This paper analyses the effect of parliamentary rule change on the dynamics of parliamentary speeches in the Canadian House of Commons between 1901 and 2015. During this period, several new rules—such as a time limit on speeches or closure—were introduced to reduce the opportunities for private members to speak during legislative debates, so that the government could get its business done in parliament within an acceptable amount of time. Our analysis looks at the impact of these rule changes on the content, the orientation, and the duration of Member speeches. These individual speeches are taken from the Hansard records and were collected in each parliament through the lipad.ca website. Our results show that parliamentary rule changes had an important effect on the content and the duration of legislative speeches. These findings confirm that institutional rules have limited democratic representation in the Canadian Parliament over time.


Citizens' Views of Representation: Semra Sevi (Université de Montréal), Jean-François Daoust (McGill University), André Blais (Université de Montréal)
Abstract: There are different views of what good representation is. Some consider it important that MPs follow their conscience and defend their own opinion on an issue, others want MPs to act as an agent and to defend the constituents’ majority view, and still others care strongly about election promise-keeping. In some instances, MPs can do each of those things simultaneously, but sometimes the three conceptions of representation clash. What should a good representative do if that happens? To determine which of the three conceptions of representation citizens prioritize, we conducted a survey experiment with 2,001 Canadians. We asked respondents to indicate whether the intake of immigration should be reduced by 10% in Canada, and how their representative should vote on such a proposal. We randomized information on the MP’s own position on this issue, the position of the majority of constituents and election promises made by the MP. Our results suggest that citizens give most weight to following the majority opinion while the MP’s personal opinion is the least important consideration.