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Party cohesion in the early post-Confederation period Eggleston, Stephen David


This paper critically re-examines the long held belief that parties in the first decade after Confederation were rather loose coalitions of provincial and ethnic factions, and that they were, on the whole, rather undisciplined. Taking as the focus for criticism Escott Reid's work during the 1930's on the development of national parties in Canada, this paper first presents his arguments (and of those who accept his thesis); following this perusal, the paper turns to the creation and examination of an "alternative thesis", one which argues that parties in the early post-Confederation period were, in fact, fairly cohesive. Unlike most other work done in this area, this paper is based largely upon an analysis of empirical evidence. The core of this paper lies in a comprehensive examination of the individual and collective voting behaviour of all M.P.'s on all divisions recorded during each of the first three parliaments (1867-1872; 1872-1874; 1874-1878). By undertaking such an examination it is possible to discern precisely the degree to which parties were, or were not, fairly cohesive voting blocs. In addition to examining the overall loyalty of M.P.'s to their party leader, a number of highly salient and critical issues have been singled out for further examination. The findings of this paper prove quite interesting. Contrary to orthodox opinion, we find that the two parties were, in fact, fairly cohesive voting blocs even as early as 1867. The main core of Reid's thesis having been critically reexamined (and somewhat disproved) the writer turns to a critique of several of Reid's other arguments. While the arguments presented by the writer are largely of a speculative nature, their intended purpose is merely to present alternatives to those presented by Reid, and to show that there may be other explanations for the supposed tightening up of party lines after 1878.

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