Central Party Authority and Constituency Campaign Discipline in Canadian Federal Elections

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Robbins-Kanter, Jacob
Canadian Politics , Political parties , Local campaigns , Elections , Party discipline
Canadian political parties are known for their centralized power and strong party discipline (Godbout 2020; Marland 2020; Savoie 1999; 2019). However, there are conflicting expectations for how these tendencies are reflected during federal elections, which are composed of 338 distinct constituency campaigns under single-member-plurality (SMP) electoral rules. Central party headquarters demand cohesion and cooperation from constituency campaigns, which in turn face incentives to cater to regional and local imperatives, or even to disregard instructions and deviate from their parties in certain cases (Carty and Eagles 2005, 2; Kam 2009: 154; Koop 2011, 9-10; Sayers 1999, 146). In addition to the centralizing forces of party discipline, decentralizing pressures derived from SMP rules, a stratarchical franchise model of party organization (Carty 2002), and Canada’s substantial territorial and sociocultural diversity, may simultaneously drive constituency campaigns to act independently and divergently from the national party. This dissertation asks to what extent and why constituency campaigns behave in a disciplined manner during Canadian elections. Drawing from an original dataset of 96 interviews with local candidates and party strategists, campaign documents, and field observation of ten constituency campaigns, I examine the extent to which constituency campaigns adhere to central party preferences. I emphasize four main findings. First, undisciplined constituency campaign behaviour is greater than anticipated by existing research. Second, my analyses identify patterns of undisciplined behaviour by constituency campaigns, which I categorize using a novel typology, as instances of insubordination, innovation, and incompetence. Third, the central party has a limited ability to monitor or control constituency campaigns and must instead exert indirect influence. Fourth, constituency campaign self-discipline, rather than party authority or coercion, is the most compelling explanation for why constituency campaigns behave in a disciplined manner during federal elections. The mechanisms that underlie self-discipline are primarily rooted in behavioural logics of appropriateness. They help to explain the appearance of strict campaign discipline and to trace the origins of party caucus discipline. Nonetheless, these findings indicate the persistence of shared authority that is understood to characterize Carty’s franchise model, as well as the endurance of meaningful local campaign agency. As such, they offer potential avenues for enhanced local representation and democratic responsiveness.
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