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The Emergence of Parties in the Canadian House of Commons (1867–1908)

  • Jean-François Godbout (a1) and Bjørn Høyland (a2)


Abstract. This study analyses legislative voting in the first ten Canadian Parliaments (1867–1908). The results demonstrate that party unity in the House of Commons dramatically increased over time. From the comparative literature on legislative organization, we identify three factors to explain this trend: partisan sorting, electoral incentives and negative agenda control. Our empirical analysis shows that intraparty conflict is primarily explained by the opposition between Anglo-Celtic/Protestants and French/Catholic members of Parliament. Once lawmakers sort into parties according to their religious affiliations, we observe a sharp increase in voting unity within the Liberal and Conservative caucuses. Ultimately, our results highlight the importance of territorial and socio-cultural conflicts, as well as agenda control, in explaining the emergence of parties as cohesive voting groups in the House of Commons.

Résumé. Cette étude analyse le vote législatif dans les dix premiers parlements canadiens (1867–1908). Les résultats démontrent que l'unité partisane à la Chambre des communes a augmenté dramatiquement durant cette période. En nous basant sur les principales théories liées à l'organisation des législatures, nous identifions trois facteurs pour expliquer cette tendance : la classification partisane; les pressions électorales; et le contrôle de l'agenda législatif. Nos analyses empiriques confirment que les conflits intra-partisans au Parlement s'expliquent principalement par l'opposition entre les députés Anglos-Celtiques/Protestants et Francos/Catholiques. À partir du moment où les députés commencent à rejoindre les principaux partis selon leur groupe religieux, nous observons un accroissement important de l'unité législative au sein des caucus libéral et conservateur. Les résultats de cette recherche soulignent l'importance des conflits territoriaux et socioculturels, mais aussi de l'agenda législatif, pour expliquer l'émergence des partis politiques comme groupes cohésifs à la Chambre des communes.


Corresponding author

Jean-François Godbout, Département de science politique, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, succursale Centre-ville, Montréal QC H3C 3J7. Email:
Bjørn Høyland, Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, PO Box 1097, Blindern NO-0317 Oslo. Email:


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Supplementary materials

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Appendix B

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Appendix C

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Appendix D

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Appendix E

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