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Canadian Politics

A17(b) - Canadian Legislatures

Date: Jun 6 | Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm | Location: SWING 106

Chair/Président/Présidente : Quinn Albaugh (Princeton University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Jean-François Godbout (Université de Montréal)

Rationalizing Legislative Rule Change: Three Cases of Rule Change in the Canadian House of Commons: Mitchell Bosley (University of Michigan)
Abstract: What stops governments from unilaterally changing the rules of parliament? I argue that governing parties fail to unilaterally restrict the rights of the legislative minority due to the expectation that their actions will be perceived negatively by the electorate. Through reference to three episodes of legislative rule change in Canadian history, I show with a simple model that expectations of audience costs can reduce the likelihood of a government implementing rule changes unilaterally. Using newspaper coverage of the debates over rule change as a measure of audience costs, I show that the government ignores opposition obstruction when audience costs are low and tries to compromise when audience costs are high.

Language, Ideology, and Meaning: Word Embeddings in Theory and Practice: Chris Greenaway (University of Toronto), Christopher Cochrane (University of Toronto), Ludovic Rheault (University of Toronto)
Abstract: This paper develops a word-use theory of meaning to provide a theoretical foundation for emerging methods in the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) applied to the study of parliamentary data. Scholars increasingly use word embeddings – distributed vector representations of words – to recover meaning in political corpora, including the written record of debates in the Parliament of Canada (http://www.lipad.ca/). These models rely on word co-occurrences observed in a corpus to estimate the position of each term in a vector space. Mathematical operations on these vectors generate surprisingly accurate semantic insights, such as conceptual maps and analogies across domains. Despite the success and growing use of word embeddings, less attention has so far been given to how the words and phrases under study convey in the first place the meaning that these models then capture. In other words, the models work in practice, but do they work in theory? We investigate this question by exploring the assumption that the meaning of words is determined by context and usage – not abstract generalizations. We explore this idea with applications to word embeddings trained on digitized records of floor debates in the Canadian House of Commons. We argue that this assumption and these models are well suited not only to language, but also to mapping patterns of ideological disagreement between parliamentarians.

The Attitudes of Aspiring Legislators to Partisanship and Party Discipline: Gerald Baier (University of British Columbia), Maxwell Cameron (University of British Columbia)
Abstract: What attitudes do people aspiring to be elected law-makers have toward the utility and pitfalls of partisanship? Do aspirants see parties as a necessary evil to electoral success, or do they see parties as the valuable aggregators of public opinion and gatekeepers to political office they can be? To answer these questions we surveyed participants in a legislative 'boot camp' designed to give them a taste of the challenges and compromises of elected office. Over 50 participants were assigned to one of three parties, then obliged to take assigned party positions on issues through a multi day legislative simulation. The participants were surveyed at the outset about their personal approaches to partisanship, including their degree of self-identification with existing political parties and their attitudes to party constraints, particularly party discipline in legislatures. As they inhabited more partisan roles in the structured simulations of the boot camp, we conducted focus-group style interviews to gauge their evolving attitudes to partisanship. Participants also kept auto-ethnography diaries throughout the 'boot camp' that they turned in to us. Our initial findings are that inhabiting more partisan roles has an impact on participants' attitudes to partisanship. The reflective exercise of thinking about the compromises and constraints of partisanship and tensions with party leadership made the participants more thoughtful partisans and more likely to seek compromise with their fellow party members and across the aisle. However, the geography and routines of parliamentary government introduced a more combative dynamic that even the most careful had challenges overcoming.