Canadian Politics

A14(b) - Political Staff in Canada

Date: Jun 13 | Time: 03:30pm to 05:00pm | Location:

Who Wants to Work in Canadian Politics?: Lewis Krashinsky (Princeton University), Chris Achen (Princeton University), Blake Lee-Whiting (University of Toronto), William Roelofs (University of Toronto)
Abstract: Labelled 'the kids in short pants', or 'the barbarians at the gates', much of what Canadian scholarship does exist on political staffers is uniformly negative. Staffers are said to undermine the work of the civil service and contribute to politicization and policy centralization in Canadian democracy (Aucoin 2008; Craft 2016; Ivison 2012: Savoie 1999). Other work has pushed back on this picture, arguing that political staffers are often more talented than they are given credit for and can enhance the policymaking capacity of government (Brodie 2012; Wilson 2015). However, one crucial question that has not been posed is why do people want to work in these jobs in the first place? Knowing the base motivations for entering a job can speak volumes on how individuals approach that role, as well as the values and perspectives that they bring on a day-to-day basis. To answer this question, without relying on post-hoc justifications from those currently working in politics, we leverage data on a most likely group of future political staffers: university students in a political science class. Using a mixed-methods approach, we develop a typology for why or why not people have an interest in working as a political staffer in Canada. We conclude that the overwhelming majority of those who want to become staffers are motivated by a sense of serving the public good, while those who do not want to work in politics are motivated primarily by self-interest.

Who imposes party discipline? The case for party whips as human resource managers and political staff as enforcers: Alex Marland (Acadia University)
Abstract: The urgency of message discipline in party politics and the expansion of administrative office responsibilities has changed the conventional role of party whips. Political staff in the leader’s office have a growing role in dishing out rewards and punishments that encourage good behaviour and party cohesion, while party whips spend more time on the human resources management of dealing with diverse people, policies and legalities in a busy workplace that is increasingly under scrutiny. This study draws on a series of interviews with party whips and with political staff across Canada to make the case that whips are increasingly HR managers and staff increasingly play the role of enforcer. The study adds new interpretations of party discipline in a political environment where communications unity is paramount and where growing numbers of unelected staff hold sway over elected officials.

The Xs and Os of Local Digital Campaigning: Evidence From Party Staffers During the 2021 Canadian Federal Election: Andrew Mattan (Carleton University)
Abstract: Over the past quarter-century, evolving digital technologies have altered the ways in which political content is both disseminated and consumed (Small et al., 2014). Of these new technologies, social media—such as X (formerly, Twitter)—have been noted for changing the dynamics of campaigning (Vergeer et al. 2011). Since then, most parties and politicians have sought to establish a social media presence. Despite the ubiquity of these new digital tools, there is little research to date examining how social media are impacting the dynamics of local party campaigns in Canada or otherwise. Much of the current literature tends to explore the use of social media by parties and/or party leaders (Small, 2014; Larsson, 2016; Rahat & Zamir, 2018). This limits findings, as leaders and parties—although important—represent a small proportion of the hundreds of actors that participate in an election campaign. To fill this gap in the literature, this paper will examine the political use of social media at the local level of Canadian parties during the 2021 federal election. More specifically, it will conduct a series of interviews with national and local campaign staffers to address three questions: what strategy is behind local social media usage (e.g., who is emphasized: the leader, party, or the local candidate), how important is social media use to the overall campaign, and what impact does it have on party organisation? Indeed, this study aims to make a theoretical contribution in the areas of digital politics, personalism, and party organisation.

Constituency Service (Staff’s Version): Investigating the Role of MPs' Staff in Representation: Meagan Cloutier (University of Calgary), Melanee Thomas (University of Calgary)
Abstract: In Mr. Smith Goes to Ottawa, Docherty (1997) focuses on the representative nature of constituency work, finding that Members of Parliament (MPs) conduct constituency work because it is satisfying to help individual constituents and their communities. Today, MPs’ staff overwhelmingly provide this constituency service. How does this affect how we understand representation? Drawing from surveys of MPs and their staff, I document how staff play a crucial role in service delivery, providing an important and nuanced update to explanations of representation in Canadian politics (Docherty 1997; Koop, Bastedo, and Blidook 2018). While most MPs agree that helping constituents is an important part of their job, they also acknowledge their need for staff support, and that it is quicker for their staff to help constituents. Staff choose which interactions are important for the MP to know about, and MPs trust their staff’s discretion assessing when they should be informed, implying that staff, not MPs, are doing the substantive action of political representation. My study shows that constituency staff are primarily women and are often those dealing with the public, who can be frustrated. I explore the gendered dynamics of these interactions as crucial insights about who contributes to the representative process, arguing that equity must be considered in order to adequately assess the quality of representation in Canadian politics. I argue that when staff’s labour is omitted from these conversations about Canadian political institutions, it reproduces gendered assumptions about what counts as valued labour for representation (cf. Forestal and Philips 2020).