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Provincial and Territorial Politics in Canada and Beyond

J17(b) - Workshop: The Changing Face of Provincial Party Politics II: Red Retreat? Liberals in the Canadian Provinces

Date: Jun 6 | Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm | Location: SWING 408

Chair/Président/Présidente : Anna Esselment (University of Waterloo)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Anna Esselment (University of Waterloo)


Session Abstract: Recent elections across Canada have resulted in historically odd results. In most provincial elections, governing parties are elevated from the Official Opposition, yet recent results have seen third-place parties vault directly into government (Alberta, Quebec). Provincial elections are known for resulting in sizeable majorities for the victors, yet some recent election outcomes have been so close that minority governments have formed and fallen soon afterward (BC and New Brunswick). Provincial party systems are typically stable, yet long-serving governments have been toppled decisively in recent elections (Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec) and minor parties have risen to prominence (Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick). This workshop is designed to unpack these developments on a party-by-party basis, uncovering patterns, trends, and anomalies across Canada


Red Retreat? Liberals in the Canadian Provinces: Alex B. Rivard (University of British Columbia), Jocelyn McGrandle (Concordia University), Mebs Kanji (Concordia University)
Abstract: The dominance of the Liberal Party at the federal level in Canada has often been seen as a political anomaly. On the one hand, the dominance of a centrist party has been argued as being a function of brokerage politics (Carty and Cross 2010) or the combination of the electoral system and sociological realities (Carty 1968; Johnston 2017). On the other hand, centrist dominance has also been described as only being a possibility if the alternative parties are outside some “region of acceptability” (Rabinowitz and Macdonald 1989). Yet, while the party’s dominance at the federal level has allowed the LPC to lay claim as “Canada’s natural governing party”, little work has been done which looks at the performance of various Liberal parties at the provincial level. To that point, then, this paper seeks to address the following questions: Are provincial Liberal parties natural governing parties at the provincial level? Do Liberals win and govern more than other parties? Are there signs of increasing volatility and if so, why? This paper will employ the 2015 CPES and historical opinion polls to address these questions.


Flirting with the Centre – How the Ontario Liberals Gained and Lost Power in the Modern Era: Cheryl Collier (University of Windsor)
Abstract: Throughout its most recent political history, Ontario has remained a fairly robust three party system with the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP all forming governments and serving as official opposition between the mid 1980s to the present day. Arguably the recipe for success during this period has been to claim the ideological centre/centre right where the bulk of votes appear to have been aligned (Collier 2018; Noel 1997). Historically this has been the purview of the Progressive Conservatives but more recently, the Ontario Liberals have been more successful claiming this space leading to a recent run of approximately a decade in power. Yet in 2018, the party suffered a crushing electoral defeat not only ceding power, but also losing official party status. This paper will explore the reasons for the rise and dramatic fall of the Ontario Liberals, arguing that its ability to capture the centre but inability to hold onto it largely explains its electoral fortunes during this time frame.