Does politics stop at the water's edge in Canada? Party and partisanship in Canadian foreign policy by ProQuest


Like most of the textbooks, John Kirton's Canadian Foreign Policy in a Changing World gives only cursory attention to the question of parties (i.e., about one page). 5 But unlike most, Kirton advances some fairly clear-cut arguments about the importance of parties: they "have come to matter more" over time, he says, and we have had enough variation in party governance over the last 60 years to be able to identify "distinctive party-based traditions in foreign policy." The pattern Kirton observes is that the Conservatives6 are more inclined than the Liberals to put human rights ahead of trade, put Japan ahead of China, put NATO ahead of the USSR, put Israel ahead of the Arabs and Palestinians, put money into defence, and put women into "major international affairs portfolios."7 Each of these is consistent with the prevailing folk wisdom about party differences. We might also add that many people think incorrectly that the Conservatives tend to spend less on foreign aid and to have rockier relations with the foreign and defence bureaucracies.8Like the United States, Canada has a single member plurality voting system, more commonly called "first past the post" (FPP). In an FPP system, a party only gets a legislative seat when it wins a plurality in a given constituency, so all parties are under pressure to put forward platforms and candidates that will capture substantial numbers of votes in as many electoral districts as possible. Maurice Duverger argued long ago that the pressures of FPP competition would tend to thin out the field until there were only two viable parties, which would eschew ideological consistency and compete aggressively with one another to capture the broadest possible electoral coalition.11 " Duverger 's law" has generally held true across modern democracies, with partial exceptions in countries with federal systems and/or substantial, often (though not exclusively) geographically concentrated interests. When the political landscape is fragmented

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									Brian Bow & David Black

Does politics stop at
the water’s edge in
Party and partisanship in Canadian foreign policy

Do political parties matter when it comes to Canadian foreign policy?
Conventional wisdom says they do. We often hear the argument that some
past decision would not have been made if only another party had been in
power, or that some current policy is likely to be overturned as soon as
another party comes into power. The parties themselves have worked hard to
encourage this way of thinking, playing up the coherence and continuity of
foreign policy priorities within parties and the supposedly stark differences
between them. Yet there are some enduring patterns in Canadian foreign
policy that seem to over-ride party differences. Governing parties sometimes
pursue policies that seem starkly at odds with what they have told us about
their purposes and priorities. And while Canadians seem to have strong
feelings about parties’ foreign policy choices, opinion polls suggest that
foreign policy issues usually have little to do with most Canadians’ voting
decisions. In fact there are a number of reasons why we might expect political
parties to matter very little in Canada, perhaps even less than in other

Brian Bow is assistant professor of political science and faculty fellow at the Centre for
Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. David Black is professor of political science
and director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University.

                                            | International Journal | Winter 2008-09 | 7 |
| Brian Bow & David Black |

comparable countries. How do we reconcile these apparent discrepancies?
When and how does party make a difference?
     Much has been written about the question of parties and foreign policy
in Canada, but most of it takes the form of a passing reference here or there,
never really explained or supported. We still do not yet have any sustained
efforts to think about the question theoretically, or to try to answer the
question systematically (as opposed to anecdotally). This is particularly
striking in the textbooks on Canadian foreign policy. Most of them have paid
at least some attention to the role of parliament—or, in most accounts, the
non-role of parliament—in foreign policymaking. But their concern is with
the relationship between the prime minister and parliament as an institution,
or between the cabinet and parliament in general terms, and they refer to
parties and partisanship only incidentally.1 Kim Richard Nossal’s landmark
The Politics of Canadian Forei
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