Home > Federal > Dr. Flanagan, I Paid Attention in POLS 101 – And Read The Textbook Co-Authored By You (Updated)

Dr. Flanagan, I Paid Attention in POLS 101 – And Read The Textbook Co-Authored By You (Updated)

January 9, 2009

In Thomas Flanagan’s op-ed against the coalition, he snerks:

“Obviously, the apologists didn’t pay attention in Political Science 101.”

Ah, but I did!

Guess who co-authored my POLS 101 textbook* too? That’s right, Dr. Flanagan.

Let’s see what it says on the matter.

“Three election outcomes are possible…” [One is majority government, the second is minority government.] “Finally, two or more parties may join forces to form a coalition government, dividing ministerial appointment between them. The leader of the larger partner in the coalition normally becomes prime minister (Page 334).”

So that covers the coalition between the NDP and Liberals, but what about the agreement from the Bloc to support the coalition in confidence votes? I think this passage, discussing the “interesting” Ontario Liberal-NDP accord of 1985, shall clear that issue up:

“It was not a coalition, because no ministerial positions were allocated to the NDP. Rather, the two parties signed an “accord,” an written agreement that for two years the Liberals would not call an election and the NDP would not defeat the government on a non-confidence motion. There is a long history in Canada of informal understanding being reached for the purpose of supporting a minority government, but this was the first formal, written agreement (page 331).”

So you see, our problem isn’t that we coalition “apologists” didn’t pay attention in POLS 101, but that the guy writing the textbook keeps changing the rules.

*Textbook quotes are from from An Introduction to Government & Politics: A Conceptual Approach, 6th edition, by Mark O. Dickerson and Thomas Flanagan, © 2002, Nelson Thomson Learning.

Update 01/11/2009, 4:49pm PST.

It seems that the Globe and Mail got a key phase incorrect in Flanagan’s op-ed.  From the Professor himself (italics and bolding mine):

Hi NBCDipper (whoever you are),

You’re quite right to pick up on that phrase in my most recent Globe column, but I didn’t actually write those words. The Globe’s editor changed them withut consulting me, and thereby altered the meaning. What I wrote was that the apologists for the coalition accuse others of not having paid attention in Political Science 101, which is actually quite different from what was printed. TEF

I would say that changes the tone of the article completely. Whereas before, I perceived the article to be, in part, arguing that the selection process of the head of government has changed, now I understand that the article is an argument based purely on political culture (an argument that I disagree with, but one that is fully valid).

Flanagan did not contradict himself in the article based on the 2002 textbook.

Therefore, I apologize for my mistake on this matter.

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Categories: Federal
  1. January 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    There have been a posts on Tommy Flanagan’s op-ed from today’s G&M. All that I have read have been very good. This is the best since you were able to hoist him on his own petard.

  2. A reader
    January 9, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Nice catch, NBCD!

  3. A reader
    January 9, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Actually, you’ve got me thinking now because *my* Poli Sci textbook, back in 1980, was Van Loon & Whittington. It’s in storage, but after Van Loon’s OpEd the other day, it would be interesting to fish it out and look up what he wrote on the subject himself, back then.

  4. janfromthebruce
    January 9, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    This is an excellent find. B.C. Dipper did you post that in the comment section of the globe article. Or better still, did you write a letter to the editor? That I suggest you best do, as it is sure to be printed. Go ahead, don’t be shy.

  5. January 9, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Very nice catch indeed. I’m envious!

    And ditto re a letter to the Globe.

  6. MrvnMouse
    January 9, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    I third the idea of writing a long letter or, if possible, a full commentary to them on this.

  7. Navvy
    January 9, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    +1 to put this in a letter to the Globe.

  8. January 9, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Well done, NBCD. *applause*

  9. January 10, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Obviously you didn’t play terribly close attention in very many of your other social science classes.

    If you had, you’d be able to recognize the difference between his Globe and Mail article — which is a normative statement — and his textbook excerpt, which is a positive statement.

    In other words, the latter is describing what can happen. The former is describing what should happen. Or in this case, what should not.

  10. January 10, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    A normative statement based on non-existent positive assumptions that would get Flanagan a failing mark if he submitted it to a political science professor.

    I mean:

    Canada changed from a constitutional monarchy to a constitutional democracy as the franchise was extended to all adults and political parties became national in scope.

    huh?

  11. January 10, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Great catch and nicely skewered, sir.

  12. January 10, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Sigh.

    Who, precisely is it that you think governs Canada:

    Parliament or the Queen?

    Think carefully.

  13. January 10, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Parliament governs. The Queen is our head of state. Your point?

  14. January 10, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    In a constitutional monarchy Parliament sits at the pleasure of the Monarch. Traditionally, under true Constitutional Monarchies the monarch governs everything exempting taxation.

    Yet in Canada, the monarch — in this case, the Queen — has no decision-making authority. The democratically-elected Parliament has decision-making authority — this is written right into the consitution.

    The Queen, in terms of being our head of state, is purely ceremonial.

    A ceremonial monarch is not enough to make a country a Constitutional Monarchy. Not when the monarch has no real power.

  15. January 10, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Sigh,

    Here we go, redefining well-established terms.

    A constitutional monarchy is simply a form of government, operated with a constitution, where the monarch is the head of state and bound by a constitution.

    That would include Canada, Japan, the UK, Norway, Fascist Spain, Fascist Italy, Military Dictatorship Thailand.

    A constitutional democracy is a democracy with a constitution, in which the operation of the government is set out and individual rights are protected., i.e., USA, Canada, France, etc.

    Now, however, most constitutional monarchies in the present time are democratic and operated by a parliamentary system.

    In a parliamentary system, the head of government (well, technically the cabinet in our constitution) is the person that is supposed by the majority of parliamentary members. In Canada, right now, that is Harper, proven when the majority of parliamentary members voted in favour of the Throne Speech.

    What Flanagan seems to be arguing in his op-ed, in part, is that the passage of the Charter in 1982 has altered the selection process of the head of government, whereas in reality (and admitted in the textbook from 2002), no such thing has happened.

  16. Holly Stick
    January 10, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Funny, when you google “canada” + “constitutional” + “monarchy” you get a bunch of websites which consider Canada to be a constitutional monarchy, including the Senate, wiki, and the Conservative Party.

    http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q=canada+constitutional+monarchy&btnG=Google+Search&meta=

  17. January 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    A constitutional monarchy is simply a form of government, operated with a constitution, where the monarch is the head of state and bound by a constitution.

    Which is a strawman argument at best.

    In a constitutional monarchy the monarch may be constrained by a constitution, but retains the power to govern — that’s the point of government by a monarch.

    In Canada, the monarch has no power to govern. At best, the monarch’s representative has the ability to impede Parliament.

    So here is the crux of the issue — and precisely where your argument doesn’t stand up:

    Canada’s government operates as a constitutional democracy, albeit a constitutional democracy with a purely ceremonial figurehead (one, by the way, that overwhelmingly tends to act according to the Prime Minister’s advice)..

    So the important question that has to be answered is this: if Canada’s government operates like a Constitutional Democracy — which in every practical way, it does — then what is really the difference here?

    As I’ve already told others, if your monarch doesn’t govern, then your government isn’t really a monarchy. You’ve already admitted that Parliament governs Canada, not the Queen.

    You don’t have to like it, but based on the way our government actually operates — even if not necessarily according to its formal structure — Tom Flanagan’s argument is sound. But because most of Flanagan’s argument is normative, you really don’t have to agree with him.

  18. Holly Stick
    January 10, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Wow, I enjoyed the comments at the Goat and Snail, the majority pointing out that Flanagan is full of crap. I especially liked the reference someone posted to an article in the McGill Reporter Nov 1999:

    “…Flanagan suggests that the West is not likely to embrace national parties like the Liberals or the Progressive Conservatives for any length of time, and says that a coalition government — certainly a novelty here in Canada — might enjoy more success.

    “For more than 75 years, large numbers of western voters have shown themselves unwilling to remain with the two old-line parties. In my opinion, the formula that is most likely to ‘unite the right’ in Canada for any length of time would be one that has not yet been tried, that is, an electoral coalition of two or more regionally based parties that would retain their separate identities, refrain from running candidates against each other, co-operate in parliament to advance shared positions, and form a coalition government if the voters ever saw fit to endow them with enough seats.”

    Similar political formulas have worked in Australia and Germany, says Flanagan. ..”

    http://reporter-archive.mcgill.ca/Rep/r3205/flanagan.html

  19. January 10, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Which is all intriguing stuff.

    But if you’d paid close attention to this article, Flanagan was talking about the old “electoral coalition” proposal that Preston Manning and the Reform party once advocated between the Reform party and the Progressive Conservatives.

    I’ll remind you what the argument originally was:

    That if the Reform party and PCs refused to run candidates against one another, ridings where the Reform party and PCs came in close seconds to Liberal candidates — on account of vote-splitting amongst the two conservative parties — allowing each party to potentially win those ridings.

    The agreement would have had the two parties governing together after an election.

    As such, this would have been an arrangement negotiated before an election — not after, as the current coalition proposal was — and would have been part of each party’s platform during the election.

    Not like the case with the Liberal-NDP coalition, where one of the parties insisted it would not form a coalition, then abruptly changed its policy after losing the election.

    This is an apples-and-oranges comparison. It’s like comparing Britain and Canada and concluding that both are Constitutional Monarchies because they both have the Queen as a ceremonial head of state, while overlooking the fact that Canada has a written constitution and Britain does not.

  20. January 10, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I do, however, want to thank you for digging up that article. I assure you I’ll put it to good use.

  21. January 10, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Okay, if you want to change the commonly accepted definition of “constitutional monarchy”, then that’s fine with me, even though it really weakens your argument. I’m sticking to the commonly accepted definition.

    This is Flanagan’s weakness in his argument; which is that since the inception of the Charter in 1982, the method of selection for the head of government has changed from support of the majority of the members of Parliament to the leader of the political party that has received the plurality of the vote from an election. Such a change has not been made; and the textbook quotes from 2002 (after 1982) shows that Flanagan has knowledge of this.

    There are many valid arguments to be against a coalition. An argument based on a non-existent change in the selection of head of government is not one of them.

  22. January 10, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    I’m afraid it doesn’t weaken my argument one little bit. I’m arguing this from a structural-functional perspective.

    Furthermore, Flanagan didn’t argue that a simple plurality of voters chooses the government. I doubt that Flanagan would try to argue against the point that the government is designated by the number of seats that a party wins (normally, the party that wins the most seats governs).

    But here’s the bigger issue: if no absolute majority of members of Parliament is willing to support a particular party, we couldn’t have had a minority government at nearly any stage of Canadian history, let alone during the past two years.

    In other words, the government is decided not necessarily by a majority of MPs, but rather by at least a plurality of them. Each individual MP, meanwhile is decided by at least a plurality of voters in their riding.

    Usually, the party that emerges with at least a plurality of MPs elected via at least a plurality of voters in their ridings also possesses at least a plurality of the electorate as a whole.

    In some cases — such as the Liberal party’s three successive majorities between 1993 and 2004 — a majority government can be elected by a mere plurality of the electorate as a whole.

    The larger point here is that the will of a plurality of voters is important. Without it, no government — be it a majority or minority — can come to power.

    Flanagan isn’t disputing that the government is designated by at least a plurality of MPs (not a majority, as you insist). He’s reminding people who sent those MPs to Ottawa in the first place, and reminding people that voters are, indeed, important.

    Once again, a normative argument.

    But as I recall this wasn’t an argument that the pro-coalition crowd felt a need to dispute before polls revealed that most Canadians were opposed to the coalition. It’s only now that most Canadians oppose the coalition that voters seemingly don’t matter anymore.

  23. January 10, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Unless… let me go out on a bit of a limb here. Are you basing the assertion that Flanagan suggested that “the method of selection for the head of government has changed from support of the majority of the members of Parliament to the leader of the political party that has received the plurality of the vote from an election” from the headline, by any chance?

    I’ll fill you on a fun fact. Column writers don’t get to write the headlines — their editors do. Sometimes, the editors don’t do a very good job of summarizing what the article itself is about.

  24. January 11, 2009 at 12:43 am

    In other words, the government is decided not necessarily by a majority of MPs, but rather by at least a plurality of them. Each individual MP, meanwhile is decided by at least a plurality of voters in their riding.

    No, I’m afraid it has to be a majority of MPs that have to support a government. Every once in a while, there are checks of support of a government called “motions of confidence.” If a majority does not support one of these motions, the government falls. Harper is Prime Minister right now because the majority of MP supported the first motion on confidence, his throne speech.

    Unless… let me go out on a bit of a limb here. Are you basing the assertion that Flanagan suggested that “the method of selection for the head of government has changed from support of the majority of the members of Parliament to the leader of the political party that has received the plurality of the vote from an election” from the headline, by any chance?

    Uh huh. I’m going to understand his argument by reading the title.

    This is what I’m getting as Flanagan’s basic argument.

    A) Canada inherited it’s selection of the head of government from the 1800’s United Kingdom.

    B) Things have changed since the 1800’s There has been an evolution of Canada to a “constitutional monarchy” to a “constitutional democracy” (without defining the terms), recognized by Sections 1 and 3. The 1998 Supreme Court decision affirms “democracy” as one of the principles behind the constitution.

    Therefore:

    C) Canada’s method of selection of the head of government inherited from the 1800’s UK is moot as the constitution of Canada has evolved into a “democracy”.

    But the problem is that the selection method of the head of government has not changed by the things that Flanagan has mentioned.

  25. January 11, 2009 at 1:00 am

    But as I recall this wasn’t an argument that the pro-coalition crowd felt a need to dispute before polls revealed that most Canadians were opposed to the coalition. It’s only now that most Canadians oppose the coalition that voters seemingly don’t matter anymore.

    Not according to the only poll that counts, in which 62% of Canadians voted for the political parties that would consist of the coalition (Lib + NDP) and the accord (Bloc) which would create the government. This 62% of Canadians gave these parties 52.91% of the MPs in the House of Common.

    Come on, you’re not suggesting that the government should run off of political polls?

    But that’s how the system works; Canadians only technically elect the individual that represents their geographical riding, not a political party or the head of government.

    To be honest I’m not sure if I particularly like the system we operate under.

    But, yeah, that’s beside the point.

  26. January 11, 2009 at 1:08 am

    Well, you be right about that, except

    Stephane Dion just spent two years telling anyone who would listen that he had no confidence in the Conservative government. The Liberal party, the NDP and the Bloc constantly structured their side of the political discourse to insist that they had no confidence in the government.

    But what was it that the Liberals did whenver a confidence motion came up…?

    …Oh yeah, that’s right. They abstained.

    What particular part of abstainance from a confidence vote indicates support for a party? Voting in favour of a condience motion would do that. Interestingly, it would seem that a mere plurality of MPs can even see a government through a confidence vote… at least if enough opposition MPs decline to vote.

    On the second point, I’m starting to see where you’re coming from. But here’s the problem:

    Even if the method of choosing a head of government itself has not changed, expectations regarding how the head of government will be chosen have changed.

    When Canadians go to the polls and vote, they expect that the Prime Minister will be chosen according to the party that wins at least a plurality of seats in the House of Commons.

    The political culture of 1800s Canada was far more conducive to allowing the Queen’s representative to choose the Prime Minister according to his or her opinion because most Canadians (outside of Quebec) regarded themselves as British subjects.

    This was the era of things such as the power of disallowance and the British Privy Council.

    However, over time Canada’s political system has evolved. The power of disallowance was abolished. The Supreme Court was established. Canada became independent of Britain and the provinces gained significant autonomy over Ottawa.

    Does the Governor General retain the official power to choose the Prime Minister according to his or her opinon? Technically, yes.

    But Canada’s political culture has evolved into a much more democratic form. And until there’s a significant shift away from the populist expectations of the Canadian people, it will remain politically unviable for the Governor General to annoint a Prime Minister that the Canadian people didn’t select through a plurality of votes.

    In case you never figured this out, that is why Canadians oppose the coalition. By extension, that is why you’re arguing that voters no longer matter.

    For the Governor General to ignore the democratically-expressed will of the people would lead to the end of the Governor General’s office, just as the King-Byng affair led to the end of political discretion by British and British-appointed officials.

    Once again, there’s a big difference between the theoretical (as you’re relying on) and the practical (as Flanagan is describing). When it comes down to the way that politics actually operates in this country, Flanagan is spot-on.

  27. January 11, 2009 at 2:31 am

    But what was it that the Liberals did whenver a confidence motion came up…?

    …Oh yeah, that’s right. They abstained.

    Yeah, okay, I’ll correct that. The government is selected by the majority of MPs that are willing to vote. But I would contend that the abstentions kind of show that the Liberals wanted the Harper government to survive (for practical reasons), despite their rhetoric.

    As for the second point, this discussion with you has clarified Flanagan’s argument for me a little more, though I disagree with it. I think my problem was his use of theoretical-sounding points in order to support his argument. It would have been more easier for him to say “coalitions are bad because they run counter to populist expectations”, rather then trying to justify it by quoting different sections of the Constitution.

    I do have to wonder though, what was the reaction of people to the Ontario Liberal-NDP accord of 1985, which is within the time period that Flanagan would say that such a maneuver shouldn’t be done because it is undemocratic.

  28. January 11, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    You could certainly argue that first point. I could never decisively argue otherwise.

    What I would say is “wanted the government to survive because they knew they couldn’t win an election”. I’d argue that’s not quite the same as outright support, but then again I’d have to agree that in practical terms, it’s close enough.

    Flanagan only quoted sections of the Constitution that refered to Canada as a democracy. The rest of this he founded on a discussion of political culture, which is almost always theoretical. Moreover, it’s more of a 200-level poli sci topic than a 100-level topic.

    As for the Liberal-NDP accord of 1985, what history does tell us is this: in the 1987 Ontario election David Petersen was returned to power with a majority government.

    The PCs had, however, changed leaders to the far-less-than-impressive Larry Grossman in the interim. However, I don’t know nearly enough about that particular election to say for certain whether or not Grossman’s leadership was a factor in the Tory defeat.

  29. Tom Flanagan
    January 11, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Hi NBCDipper (whoever you are),

    You’re quite right to pick up on that phrase in my most recent Globe column, but I didn’t actually write those words. The Globe’s editor changed them withut consulting me, and thereby altered the meaning. What I wrote was that the apologists for the coalition accuse others of not having paid attention in Political Science 101, which is actually quite different from what was printed. TEF

  30. January 11, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Hi Dr. Flanagan,

    That phase certainly changes the tone of the article, doesn’t it?

    I have therefore updated this post and written an apology.

    NBCD

  31. January 11, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    It wasn’t your fault. I’d personally say no apology is necessary, and I’d suspect that Dr Flanagan would feel the same.

  32. zoop
    January 25, 2009 at 9:50 am

    NBCD don’t let the last commenter get into your head … your apology and retraction was the right thing to do.

    Congratulations for rising above the inadequate standards set by the mainstream media.

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