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Seizing power from within : an analysis of intra-party transitions in Canada Brooks, Michael Sheldon


The peaceful handing over of the reins of government is an important symbol of democracy and is arguably the distinctive feature of representative government. Often taken for granted in democratic jurisdictions, peaceful transition is one of the most important elements in the ongoing evolution of modern politics. Throughout history there have been varying types and various levels of success of transitions of power, depending on the circumstance and political environment applicable to each case. In Canada, one type of transition has remained largely unstudied - that in which a new leader takes over government by succeeding someone from his/her own political party - generally referred to as an intra-party transition. This is because intra-party transitions have traditionally been seen as less dramatic and therefore less noteworthy than transitions that include a change from one party to another. Furthermore, intra-party transitions typically occur near the end of a political cycle and are therefore closely followed by a general election. If the new intra-party leader loses the subsequent election, that leader's transition is seen as less noteworthy. In fact, in recent Canadian history, at both the provincial and federal level, there have been only two significant occasions in which intra-party leaders have come from behind to successfully defend their party's right to govern in the next general election: Ralph Klein in Alberta in 1993 and Glen Clark in British Columbia in 1996. This study analyzes all provincial intra-party transitions from 1960 to the present. From this analysis, a continuum has been formed from which these transitions will be assessed as to their relative degree of success or failure. It is argued here that the Clark and Klein intra-party transitions represent a specific "pod" or "cluster" within this continuum and as a result, deserve specific analysis. O f both, the principal question asked is: why, in the face of significant obstacles and contrary to historical precedent, did these transitions succeed? Further questions include; how can this success be defined and measured, what factors led to this success, were these cases equally successful and if not, why? Ultimately these two successful transitions are compared to one of the most unsuccessful intra-party transitions in modern Canadian history, that being the succession of Frank Miller from Bill Davis in Ontario in 1984. The final section of this study involves a test of key exogenous and endogenous variables that may or may not impact the success or failure of these three intra-party transition case studies. Particular attention will be paid to the ability of these new leaders to effectively distance themselves from their predecessors and how quickly and effectively they were able to put their own 'stamp' or 'footprint' on their respective new governments. In the end, it is hoped that these three case studies will provide important lessons and prescriptive insights not only for students of parliamentary politics and public administration but for practitioners and future leaders as well.

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