Christopher Kam

Associate Professor

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
Separatist parties in central parliaments (2015)

This dissertation examines separatist political parties who compete in central elections and sit in central legislatures, focusing on the Scottish National Party, the 19th-century Irish Parliamentary Party and the Bloc Québécois. These cases represent an intriguing paradox: politicians who engage with the very institutions they wish to leave, using the existing political system to make a case for exit. Contrary to previous scholarly work on anti-system parties, my findings suggest that separatists do not always attack the political system. Indeed, they sometimes participate actively in institutions, despite being fundamentally opposed to the current constitutional set-up. These parties vary their electoral and legislative behaviour over time, in response to the potential for self-government and the structure of electoral competition. When self-government is taken off the immediate political agenda (for example after a failed referendum) I find that parties get more involved in parliamentary activities at the statewide level, beginning to use the legislature as a platform for their region's grievances. When self-government is imminent, separatists only participate in parliament if they are pivotal and therefore able to bargain over the terms of self-government. In election campaigns, separatists do not always focus on their region's grievances and their desire for independence. Grieving occurred most frequently when the separatist party was competing with the government party, as it was in its electoral interest to paint a negative picture of the region's fortunes, blaming this on the electoral rival. However, when competing with the official opposition party, separatists campaigned as the region's champion in the central legislature, claiming credit for services that their region has received. In doing so, they tacitly supported the constitutional status quo, arguing that their region can prosper in the existing system.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Rationalizing legislative rule change : three cases of rule change in the Canadian House of Commons (2018)

What stops governments from unilaterally changing the rules of parliament? I argue that governing parties fail to unilaterally restrict the rights of the legislative minority due to the expectation that their actions will be perceived negatively by the electorate. Through reference to three episodes of legislative rule change in Canadian history, I show with formal modelling that expectations of audience costs can reduce the likelihood of a government implementing rule changes unilaterally. Using newspaper coverage of the debates over rule change as a measure of audience costs, I show that the government ignores the opposition when audience costs are low and tries to compromise when audience costs are high.

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Connected by purse strings : fiscal decentralization and the nationalization of provincial party systems in Canada (2017)

While some provincial party systems in Canada diverge significantly from the national level, others are relatively congruent with the federal party system. Congruence is one aspect of provincial party system nationalization. Why does provincial party competition mirror federal party competition in certain provinces but not in others? Some scholars theorize that strong national governments encourage the same parties to be competitive on both levels, while the decentralization of power to regional governments encourages electoral patterns to diverge between arenas. However, this relationship has been underexplored and warrants further examination. This thesis tests whether two aspects of fiscal decentralization, provincial spending power and fiscal dependence on the federal government, encourage provincial party system nationalization and congruence. No concrete evidence of this relationship is found, suggesting that fiscal decentralization does not encourage divergence between federal and provincial party systems or increase support for non-statewide parties on the provincial level.

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The double majority rule : estimating the impact of a supermajoritarian rule in pre-Confederation Canada (2017)

This thesis uses a counterfactual simulation to estimate the impact that applying the double majority rule would have had on legislative productivity in the Province of Canada, 1840-1867. The double majority rule was supermajoritarian in nature, and if applied would have required two sectional majorities from the administrative regions within the province to pass legislation. The thesis compares a constructed dataset where votes could only pass with a double majority to the observed data, arguing that applying the double majority rule would have reduced legislative productivity. There is weak statistical evidence found supporting gridlock interval size as the causal explanation for the decreased productivity, but this is argued to be due to abnormal status quo points and the potential for voting patterns to collapse from two ideological dimensions to one. Finally, the introduction of responsible government is found to not influence whether votes were passed with a double majority. This is explained through the partisan capacity hypothesis, which argues that supermajoritarian rules are ignored when they would prevent a government from implementing its legislative agenda. These conclusions argue that the historical literature was correct that applying the double majority rule would have reduced productivity, but wrong about the impact of responsible government on passing votes with double majorities.

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The determinants of voluntary retirement from the Senate of Canada (2014)

Legislative turnover is one of the important determinants of the quality of a democracy because the rate of turnover affects representatives’ performance. A moderate rate of legislative turnover allows representatives to develop expertise in public policy and legislative administration. Higher legislative turnover, combined with apathy and unresponsiveness, deters representatives from accumulating expertise in public policy affairs. The Canadian House of Commons suffers from high legislative turnover whereas the Senate of Canada benefits from stability due to guaranteed tenure. Guaranteed tenure enables senators to their tenure in the Senate as long as they desire to do so. Thus, it can be safely assumed that senators remain in the office so long as benefits of holding the office exceed the costs. Consequently, this thesis takes advantage of guaranteed tenure of senators to estimate the effect of salaries on legislators’ tenure in office.

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Influential, efficient, or both : does committee review of legislation matter in Westminster parliaments? (2013)

This paper examines the legislative impact of committee review in Canadian provinces. Traditionally, legislation in Westminster systems has been scrutinized by a Committee of the Whole House. Today, four of Canada's ten provinces have moved this committee stage into the separate committee system. The British House of Commons and Canada's Federal Parliament have also made similar reforms. These reforms consistently received cross-party support, as reformers believed that the changes would both increase efficiency and also create more legislative influence for committees. I test for these effects by measuring both the ability of committees to amend legislation and the efficiency of the legislative process in Canada's provinces from 1983 to 2013. Results show that while legislation is amended more frequently when reviewed in the committee system, there are no measurable gains in efficiency. This finding has important implications for questions about legislative-executive balance and the effects of institutional reform in Westminster-style parliaments.

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The implications of elections on actions of senators and members of parliament in Canada (2010)

Elections are traditionally characterized as mechanisms capable of aligning the interests ofrepresentatives with those of voters. The absence of elections for the Canadian Senate has drawncriticism precisely because there is no mechanism to ensure the accountability of senators to theelectorate. That said, the constant requirement incumbent on MPs to respond to one’sconstituents has positive and negative implications, as does senators’ freedom from theconstraints of re-election. In this paper, I show how MPs and senators operate under differentconventions of party discipline and have a propensity to advance different types of privatemembers’ bills. In the Commons, the drive for re-election and the demands of party disciplinemotivate MPs to advance locally or regionally focused policy. In contrast, the absence ofelections and greater independence from party allows senators to view policy through a morepan-Canadian lens than MPs. Thus, my data casts the absence of elections in a more optimisticlight, showing that freedom from the constraints of re-election actually allows senators to serveas valuable complements to MPs. The necessities of modem democracy dictates that the peoplemust have a hand in choosing who represents them, yet shifting to an elected Senate may notaccord with the collective needs of the country.

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