Big Tent Politics
176 pages, 6 x 9
1 map, 18 graphs, 4 tables
Release Date:15 Dec 2015
Release Date:01 Sep 2015
Release Date:01 Sep 2015

Big Tent Politics

The Liberal Party’s Long Mastery of Canada’s Public Life

UBC Press

The Liberal Party of Canada is one of the most successful parties in the democratic world. It dominated Canadian politics for a century, practising an inclusive style of “big tent” politics that allowed it to fend off opponents on both the left and right. How did it do this? What kind of party organization did it build over the decades to manage its remarkable string of election victories?

This book traces the record of the party over the twentieth century, revealing the cyclical character of its success and charting its capacity to respond to change. It also unwraps Liberal practices and organization to reveal the party’s distinctive “brokerage” approach to politics as well as a franchise-style structure that tied local grassroots supporters to the national leadership. These were key elements of the winning formula that drew Canadians of all political stripes to the Liberal Party.

Ken Carty provides a carefully considered analysis of how one party came to lead the nation’s public life. In a country riven by difference, the Liberals’ enduring political success was an extraordinary feat. But as Carty reflects, given the party’s not-so-distant travails, even with an election win, will it be able to reinvent itself for the twenty-first century?

This book will have a broad appeal for those concerned with the nation’s public life, including readers interested in national politics and the politicians who serve them, as well as Canadian political journalists.

Carty … is a leading authority on Canada’s political parties. He traces the history of the party, paying attention to its cycles against important changes in Canada’s demography (e.g., when increased immigration changed regional and national dynamics) and when parties entered the system. G.A. McBeath, Choice
I thought I knew everything about the party I once had the honour of leading. But while reading this book, every page taught me something. To read about the history of the Liberal Party is to learn about the history of political life in Canada since Confederation. It is to also understand why, of all democratic countries, Canada is the one that has been most often led by a party from the centre. These are among the many insights in this thought-provoking book by one of Canada’s top political scholars. Stéphane Dion, MP for Saint-Laurent–Cartierville and former leader of the Liberal Party 2006–08
The Liberal Party of Canada was once so successful it was known as the government party. How things have changed. Now, for more than a decade, it has become the non-government party. Ken Carty’s succinct and insightful analysis delves into the secrets of the Liberal Party’s success while it ponders the reasons for its more recent decline. Tom Axworthy, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau
In Big Tent Politics Ken Carty looks at the how and why of the Liberal Party’s remarkable twentieth-century success, focusing on its masterful practice of brokerage politics. Taking note of today’s rapidly changing electoral terrain, Carty also raises serious doubts about whether the ‘big tent’ that the Liberals so carefully erected can withstand the strong winds generated by ideology, regionalism, and a disengaged electorate. John English, Director of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History, Trinity College at the University of Toronto
Comprehensively researched, engagingly argued, and smoothly written, Ken Carty’s masterly mix of narrative and analysis provides a ‘big tent’ kind of analysis worthy of its mammoth subject. Carty wears his learning lightly, presenting us with an authoritative, concise, and fascinating set of insights into what was one of the main driving forces of Canadian politics for more than a century. Stephen Clarkson, author of The Big Red Machine: How the Liberal Party Dominates Canadian Politics
R. Kenneth Carty is a professor emeritus of political science at the University of British Columbia. One of the country’s foremost experts on Canadian party politics, he was honoured with the Mildred A. Schwartz Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Political Science Association in 2013. He is also a past president (2002) of the Canadian Political Science Association. Carty has served as a consultant to both national and provincial royal commissions on issues of electoral organization and was a member of the Federal Electoral Boundary Commission for British Columbia for the 2004 national redistribution. During 2003-04, he was the director of tesearch for the British Columbia Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform.

1 An Unnatural Party

2 The Natural Governing Party

3 Four Eras, Four Liberal Parties

4 A Different Kind of Party

5 The Life of the Party

6 The Chief Broker

7 Brokerage, the Liberal Party, and Canadian Politics

Appendix: Liberal Party Leaders, 1887 to the Present


Further Reading on the Liberal Party of Canada


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