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Provincial and Territorial Politics in Canada and Beyond

J12(a) - Referenda, Electoral Boundaries and Representation

Date: Jun 5 | Time: 02:00pm to 03:30pm | Location: SWING 409

Chair/Président/Présidente : Kelly Saunders (Brandon University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Kelly Saunders (Brandon University)

Referendum Blues: The Third Attempt at Electoral Reform in British Columbia: Lydia Miljan (University of Windsor)
Abstract: Currently, postal ballots are being distributed to BC voters on changing the electoral system. The approach taken by the provincial government is to have voters answer two questions: 1) whether they want to keep the current FPTP system or change to a PR system, and 2) which PR system they prefer. If the first question elicits more than 50% of the vote, it will be used to design the new electoral system. This paper will explore the process by which electoral change was initiated by the government including the way in which it structured the ballot question, as well as decisions regarding no threshold for turnout and no requirement for regional balance. It will also address the information campaign and to what extent the lack of detailed information on the specifics of the alternatives options helped or hindered the vote for changing the electoral system. The results won't be counted until November 30. Nonetheless, the working theory of this paper is the status quo bias. Previous research (Magleby, 1984; Barber, Gordon, Hill, and Price, 2017) would suggest that because there are so many unknowns both about the choices on the ballots and on major decisions such as boundaries and electoral formulae that undecided or uninformed voters will be more likely to vote no than risk changing to an unknown system. The alternate hypothesis is that if there is low voter turnout, it will pass because the "Yes" side was better able to get the vote out.


Legislative Influence: Examining the Institutional and Constituent-Level Factors Underlying Representation: Hannah Wilson (University of Notre Dame)
Abstract: How do state and province-level political institutions shape the behaviors and incentive structures of subnational legislators? What, exactly, makes a legislator influential? Is influence valuable in representation? This paper examines the competing pressures facing legislative elites and the ways in which institutional constraints such as term limits differentially mediate the representational capacity of politicians at the subnational level across a range of political contexts. To do this, I use an exponential random graph model (ERGM) on co-sponsorship networks of state and local legislators, showing that co-sponsorship decisions are structured to varying degrees by the institutional contexts in which they operate. In addition, I use an innovative methodology to infer influential nodes in these networks, showing that the legislators who serve as influential ties are again structured by disparate subnational contexts. Finally, I use data on public opinion to examine the importance of legislative influence in constituent representation. My results have implications for both American and Canadian politics, particularly at the state and province levels.

A Tale of Two Commissions: Historical Minorities, Protected Ridings and Electoral Redistribution in Nova Scotia: James Bickerton (St. Francis Xavier University), Glenn Graham (St. Francis Xavier University)
Abstract: The paper is situated within the scholarly literature on the representation of minorities and the electoral boundary adjustment process. It will proceed through an analysis of electoral boundary commissions in Nova Scotia and relevant electoral boundaries jurisprudence. The concept of ‘protected ridings’ for historical minorities in Nova Scotia – more specifically, Acadian and African Nova Scotians – was introduced by the provincial Electoral Boundaries Commission in 1992 and maintained for 20 years. This approach ran counter to the trend in electoral redistribution and apportionment exercises toward reducing the extent of population variance between electoral districts, and on this basis was rejected by the incumbent NDP government in the redistribution exercise of 2012, despite support for its continuation by the provincial Electoral Boundaries Commission. It was restored in 2018 following a successful court challenge by the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle Écosse (FANE). The paper will adopt a neo-institutionalist framework of analysis that assumes the important influence of established institutions, rules and procedures, and path dependency, on political actors, government decision-making and societal responses. The primary research question is whether a strategy of ‘affirmative gerrymandering’ can ensure the fair and adequate political representation of minorities. What are the arguments for adopting this approach? What have been the issues and challenges for the electoral redistribution process in Nova Scotia? When can this approach work? What are the factors and conditions that make it possible? What are the political and legal obstacles to its implementation? Can it be justified, constitutionally and politically, in consociational terms?