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A Polity on the Edge

A Polity on the Edge: Canada and the Politics of Fragmentation

Harold D. Clarke
Allan Kornberg
Peter Wearing
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 335
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  • Book Info
    A Polity on the Edge
    Book Description:

    "Powerful! Using national surveys as well as surveys of the Quebec electorate,A Polity on the Edgeis a brilliant assessment of Canada's viability as a nation." - Richard Price, University of Windsor

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0285-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. 7-9)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. 10-12)
  5. Preface
    (pp. 13-16)
    Harold Clarke, Allan Kornberg and Peter Wearing
  6. ONE A Mature Democracy at Risk
    (pp. 17-40)

    On October 30, 1995, one of the world’s oldest democracies came within the proverbial “eyelash” of disintegration. When the ballots in the Quebec provincial sovereignty referendum were counted, barely a percentage point (50.6 vs. 49.4—only 52,000 votes) was all that prevented the beginning of a process that might have ended Canada in its current form. The Parti Québécois (PQ) provincial government had asked Quebecers “Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new Economic and Political Partnership, within the scope of the Bill respecting the Future of Quebec and...

  7. TWO The Dynamics of Political Support
    (pp. 41-66)

    The heavy investments in Canada's economy made during World War II paid handsome dividends in the quarter century that followed. As the 1970s began, Canadians enjoyed a standard of living and a range of social services that were among the best in the world. This is not to say that all provinces were equally prosperous. Some were “more equal” than others. Perpetuating a well established pattern, central Canada, especially Ontario, was the clear winner in manufacturing, and the discovery of abundant oil reserves made Alberta a principal player in the energy field. Such economic differences were consequential; unemployment levels and...

  8. THREE Taking the Blame
    (pp. 67-90)

    Certain political leaders, Winston Churchill is alleged to have said, have a veritable genius for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The rapid and precipitous decline in the fortunes of Prime Minister Mulroney and his Progressive Conservative government after their victory in the November 1988 federal election lends force to this famous dictum. Indeed, by the end of 1990, media pundits were joking that the prime interest rate soon would exceed the government’s popularity. Soundings of the public mood conducted at the time indicate that their cynical humour was not far off the mark. Our 1988 post-election survey showed...

  9. FOUR Last Chance?
    (pp. 91-120)

    Referendums, as Butler and Ranney (1978) observe, are almost as old as democracy itself. In the past two decades, the use of national referendums in democracies—new and old alike—has increased. In several countries, governments have employed them to enable citizens to decide important issues concerning constitutional change and political sovereignty. Canada is a case in point. In 1980, and again in 1995, the very future of the country was at stake in Quebec’s two sovereignty-association referendums. Constitutional change also was at issue in the 1992 national referendum on the Charlottetown Accord. The latter was not Canada’s first national...

  10. FIVE Doing Politics Differently
    (pp. 121-152)

    The 1993 federal election was dramatic and consequential. The near-destruction of two members of Canada’s long-lived “two-party- plus” national party system (Epstein, 1964; see also Carty, 1992) in that election and the resounding successes enjoyed by two new ones radically transformed the political choices confronting Canadians. In this chapter, we will consider factors that prompted millions of voters to abandon the Progressive Conservative and New Democratic parties, and enabled one new party, the Bloc Quebecois, to elect a majority of Quebec MPS and become the official opposition party in Parliament. We also will investigate how another new party, Reform, was...

  11. SIX To the Brink
    (pp. 153-186)

    The future of Canada was “on the line” on the evening of October 30, 1995. When the ballots in the Quebec sovereignty referendum were counted, the electorate had “chosen Canada”—but just barely. As we observed at the beginning of this book, for the second time in less than two decades Quebecers had rejected a separatist Parti Québécois government’s sovereignty-association proposal. But, unlike 1980 when such a proposal had been defeated by a solid three-to-two count, in 1995 the “nons” exceeded the “ouis” by only 52,000 votes (50.6 per cent vs. 49.4 per cent). More than any other event in...

  12. SEVEN Tried and Found Wanting
    (pp. 187-218)

    New political parties do not “just happen.” Perhaps most basically they can be thought of as organizational vehicles responding to groups of people by aggregating and articulating issues and concerns that those groups do not believe are being addressed adequately or even expressed by an existing party system or the larger political system (see, e.g., Aldrich, 1995). In the Canadian case, new parties historically have arisen in times of serious economic and social distress. Thus, as was previously noted, the prolonged hardships of the Depression-ridden 1930s gave birth to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) (later the New Democratic Party) and...

  13. EIGHT No Winners
    (pp. 219-244)

    The flexibility of Canadians’ partisan attachments makes elections risky business for all political parties. In the 1990s the risks parties run when they go to the people increased as party identifications became weaker and less stable. We contend that these properties of partisanship have important consequences. At the individual level, they enable short-term forces associated with feelings about party leaders and attitudes towards currently salient issues to exert strong effects on electoral choice. At the aggregate level, the widespread absence of durable partisan allegiances, coupled with persistent dissatisfaction with parliamentary representation and party performance, facilitate rapid, large-scale changes in support...

  14. NINE Opportunities
    (pp. 245-290)

    As observed in Chapter One, federalism has proved to be a profoundly ironic aspect of democratic government. Designed to overcome the centrifugal pressures of regionally correlated social cleavages, federal systems provide separatist movements with the institutional bases and statutory authority needed to achieve their aims. Since the Parti Québécois first contested a provincial election in 1970, Canada has provided a particularly illuminating example of this phenomenon. After becoming the government of Quebec in November 1976, the party worked for nearly four years to convince voters that independence was an attractive and viable option. The showdown between the PQ and its...

  15. TEN On the Edge
    (pp. 291-312)

    We have tried to explain why Canada is a polity “on the edge,” why the continued viability of one of the oldest members of the democratic club is problematic. Our focus has been on six pivotal events during a 10-year period that individually and collectively have contributed to the country’s current situation.

    The first of these events was the 1988 federal election, a contest dominated by debate concerning the advisability of Canada entering into a free trade agreement with the United States. In important respects, the election resembled the first (1980) Quebec sovereignty-association referendum. In both cases, one of the...

  16. APPENDIX Data Sources
    (pp. 313-314)
  17. References
    (pp. 315-322)
  18. Author Index
    (pp. 323-326)
  19. Subject Index
    (pp. 327-335)