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Canadian Politics

A01(a) - Canadian Political Executive

Date: Jun 4 | Time: 08:45am to 10:15am | Location: SWING 205

Chair/Président/Présidente : Nicole McMahon (Western University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Vincent Raynauld (Emerson College)

The Chaos Cabinets: How the Governments of John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson Created the Conditions for Modern Canadian Cabinet Government, 1957-1968: J.P. Lewis (University of New Brunswick)
Abstract: Peter Aucoin’s 1986 Canadian Journal of Political Science article “Organizational Change in the Machinery of Canadian Government” is one of the few studies that compares two successive prime ministers’ ministries and how cabinet government functioned. Aucoin examined the change in cabinet leadership approaches from Pierre Trudeau to Brian Mulroney. The examination of the distinct executives helps to understand both the institutional evolution of cabinet and the influence of prime ministerial style. Adopting a similar case study approach, I argue in my paper that the John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson ministries represent an era in Canadian cabinet government which was marked by challenges to the theory of collective cabinet, provides new models of individual ministerial responsibility and showcased first ministers who faced serious challenges to their governments from within. Due to the chaotic political conditions of this period, which predominantly featured minority parliaments, an idealized modern cabinet of command, control and confidence was sought by future prime ministers. To compare the Diefenbaker and Pearson cases I draw on archived transcripts of interviews completed with more than half of the cabinet members.


Policy Punctuations and Issue Diversity in Canadian Politics: The Policy Agenda of the Prime Minister’s Speeches, 1945-2017: Dominic Duval (University of California, Davis)
Abstract: This paper analyzes policy punctuations and issue diversity in Canadian politics over a long period of time. It investigates how policy topics rise and fall from the legislative agenda, when policy-making punctuations occur, and the intensity of those punctuations. Given the absence of Comparative Agenda Project data in Canada, we opted for an approach that relies on automated content analysis. The data analyzed in this paper consist of every allocution made by the different Prime Ministers or on their behalf during the legislative debates. A total of 35499 allocutions are analyzed for the period of 1945 to 2017. The results we find are consistent with the international literature on the topic. More precisely, the analysis reveals that there are considerable policy punctuations in Canadian politics, that the policy agenda is increasingly fragmented over time and that the instabilities in the agenda appear to be caused by factors related to party-level dynamics as well as exogenous shocks.


Cabinet Committees as Strategies of Prime Ministerial Leadership in Canada, 2003-2018: Kenny Ie (Simon Fraser University)
Abstract: Cabinet committees, small subgroups of cabinet ministers arranged around coordinating or subject-matter responsibilities (Koerner 1989, 10), are key elements in the machinery of executive decision-making in Canada. Yet, they have received relatively little treatment from scholars of Canadian government and rarely attract public notice or controversy. The goal of this article is to examine recent uses of cabinet committees in the federal executive, particularly as instruments of their chief architects, prime ministers. Conventionally, the ability to create, rearrange and oversee committee structure and process is a prerogative of prime ministers in Westminster systems. Thus, I frame cabinet committees as strategic mechanisms of prime ministerial leadership. Within this frame, they have three main purposes: signaling, coherence, and placation. That is, cabinet committees are used to: 1) signal priorities and commitments of prime ministers and their governments, 2) strengthen centralized control and coordination of the policy process from formulation to implementation, and 3) provide cabinet ministers with focused and controlled, but meaningful, opportunities for decision-making input and influence. I focus on cabinet committees under Prime Ministers Martin, Harper, and J. Trudeau, from 2003 to 2018, and assess the relative importance of these mechanisms for each prime minister and over time. While the focus of analysis is on recent committee structure in Canada, comparisons will be made to contemporaneous British and Australian experiences.


La communication politique à Ottawa: ressources et structures au centre du gouvernement/ Political communication in Ottawa: Resources and Structures at the Center of Government: Anne-Marie Gingras (Université du Québec à Montréal), Quentin Janel (Université du Québec à Montréal)
Abstract: Si aujourd’hui les préoccupations de nature communicationnelle sont bien présentes dans la fabrication des politiques publiques, il n’en a pas toujours ainsi. Les communications constituaient un « service après vente » de ces politiques dans les années 1960, alors qu’aujourd’hui l’exécutif en tient compte à des étapes très préliminaires de la constitution de l’agenda politique. Si l’on en croit Thomas (2013, p.55)*, les communications seraient même une source sous-estimée de pouvoir pour le premier ministre. Notre communication vise à identifier l’évolution des ressources et des structures de communication au Cabinet du PM et au Secrétariat du Conseil privé des années 1990 à aujourd’hui, soit une période pour laquelle des données sont présentement disponibles. Que nous indiquent les modifications de structures de communication au secrétariat du Conseil privé, l’ajout de ressources en personnel spécialisé, le niveau de gestion des responsables de ce domaine? Des données sur la professionnalisation seront également fournies, la création de nouveaux postes illustrant l’intérêt du premier ministre et de son entourage pour de nouveaux outils de communication et le besoin de s’ajuster face aux nouvelles technologies et aux habitudes de navigation numérique de la presse et du public. Cette recherche s’inscrit dans le cadre d’un projet plus vaste sur l’évolution des communications externes de ces deux organismes des années soixante à aujourd’hui. (Cette communication sera faite en anglais. *Thomas, P.G. 2013. “Communications and Prime Ministerial Power” in J. Bickerton et B. G. Peters (dir.). Governing. Essays in honor of Donald Savoie, Montreal, McGill-Queens University Press, p.53-84.