Between Harmony and Discord: Parties, Elections and Canadian Federalism in the 21st century

BRIAN TANGUAY

Between Harmony and Discord: Parties, Elections and Canadian Federalism in the 21st century

Entre l’harmonie et la discorde : Les partis, les élections et le fédéralisme canadien au 21e siècle

Since 1993’s electoral earthquake, Canada’s national parties have played a very limited integrative role in the federal system. Their task of nation-building has been further constrained by the operation of the single-member simple plurality (SMP) electoral system which, as Alan Cairns pointed out in 1968, « foster[s] a particular kind of political style » that rewards regionalized party campaign strategies and even party programs. This presentation seeks to provide tentative answers to 3 overarching questions: (1) Do we need to alter Cairns’ somewhat pessimistic assessment of the integrative role played by Canada’s national party and electoral systems in light of successive majority governments, first Conservative then Liberal, elected in 2011 and 2015? (2) Specifically, can the Liberal Party of Canada under Justin Trudeau recapture its erstwhile role as the big tent, brokerage party par excellence? (3) If not (and there are myriad reasons to be skeptical of such a claim), what realistic institutional reforms — a new electoral system, changes to the party finance regime, some means of reining in the new technologies of political communication — might promote the integrative role of Canada’s national parties?

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