Canadian Politics

A09(a) - Parliament I

Date: Jun 13 | Time: 08:30am to 10:00am | Location:

Cabinet By Numbers: Understanding Canadian Federal Cabinet Governance Trends using an Original Data Set: J.P. Lewis (University of New Brunswick)
Abstract: Using an original data set (1867-2023) this paper examines trends in Canadian federal cabinet governance with a focus on representation, portfolio tenure and cabinet membership. The central research question for the paper is how do appointment and tenure trends in Canadian federal cabinet reflect our understanding of Canadian federal cabinet process and structure? The widely read modern literature on Canadian federal cabinet (Bakvis 1991, Savoie 1999, White 2005) focuses on qualitative, anecdotal and interview data without much attention to longitudinal data. The last examination of Canadian federal cabinet with a strong focus on longitudinal data was Bill Matheson’s 1976 book The Prime Minister and Cabinet which considered multiple cabinet governance trends with appointment and tenure data. The findings will contribute to our understanding of such cabinet governance dynamics as substantive representation, collegial cabinet and marginalization of ministers. While the cabinet hiring and firing prerogatives of prime ministers have been discussed in the past a deep analysis with historical data can build on work on interpretations of individual ministerial responsibility, collective cabinet responsibility and meaningful cabinet membership.

The Conventional Canadian Confidence Relationship: Flexibility, Contested Interpretations, and Executive Dominance: Elsa Piersig (Carleton University)
Abstract: The confidence relationship is at the core of parliamentary democracy and links cabinets to parliaments throughout the parliamentary term, from government formation to termination and dissolution. Yet, despite its central role, comparative and case-specific literature on accountability in parliamentary democracies tends to study each link (investiture, confidence, and non-confidence votes, and dissolution rules) separately rather than conceptualize them as a set of rules structuring executive-legislative relations. My dissertation brings together the entire confidence relationship in a comparative study covering 28 established European and Anglosphere parliamentary democracies. In this paper, I explore the Canadian confidence relationship and why its rules were adopted, what was expected of them, its current incarnation, and Canada’s experience with it since its adoption. Compared to most of the other 28 cases, the Canadian confidence relationship is one of the few remaining traditional confidence relationships and relies heavily on convention and provides significant scope for ambiguity, all of which lead to contesting interpretations that challenge the original expectations. This paper demonstrates how it contributes to the executive's dominance over parliament while still providing the House of Commons with greater parliamentary selectoral power within the confidence relationship than some other parliamentary systems.

Legislative Influence of House of Commons Committees: Jocelyn McGrandle (Columbia College)
Abstract: In 1978, Paul G. Thomas wrote an article studying the influence of Standing Committees on government legislation. He found that “while the legislative process is variable, the influence of committees upon government legislation has remained limited to the details of policy rather than its substance…” (Thomas 1978: 683). Since then, very little work has been done to further the study of House of Commons committees in Canada (Stilborn 2014; Brodie 2018). Indeed, parliamentary committees are rarely discussed as effective arbiters in the parliamentary process. Despite this, anecdotal evidence, particularly media attention on committee procedures during potential political scandals such as the recent SNC- Lavalin and We Charity examples, indicates that committees are important sources of influence in the Canadian political system. This paper seeks to revisit Thomas’ question in the contemporary era by examining House of Commons standing and legislative committee amendments to government bills from 2004–2019. Amendments are coded in three degrees of substantiveness: typographical, clarificatory, and substantive. This study concludes that committees are, in fact, a source of systematic, substantive influence on government legislation (albeit more so in minority government situations than majority). Committees thus deserve more attention in studies of the Canadian parliamentary system.