Code Politics
320 pages, 6 x 9
6 text figures
Release Date:01 Jan 2012
Release Date:07 Mar 2011
Release Date:01 Apr 2011

Code Politics

Campaigns and Cultures on the Canadian Prairies

UBC Press

Politics on the Canadian Prairies are puzzling. The provinces share a common landscape and history, but they have nurtured three distinct political cultures – Alberta is Canada’s bastion of conservatism, Saskatchewan its cradle of social democracy, and Manitoba its progressive centre. The roots of these cultures run deep and have sparked comment and debate, yet their persistence over a century of change has yet to be explained.

In Code Politics, Jared Wesley draws on over eight hundred pieces of campaign literature to reveal that the region’s dominant political parties have used one key device – rhetoric – to foster and carry forward their province’s cultural values or political code. Social Credit and Progressive Conservative leaders in Alberta emphasized freedom over security, whereas New Democrats in Saskatchewan turned that message on its head. Successful politicians in Manitoba, by contrast, steered a middle course, underscoring the importance of moderation in their campaign platforms. From William Aberhart to Tommy Douglas to Gary Doer, party leaders have employed distinct codes in their campaign discourse to shape their province’s political landscapes.

By treating election campaigns as rituals that allow political leaders to renew their community’s core values, this groundbreaking study provides the key to solving the so-called Prairie paradox.

This book will appeal to students, teachers, scholars, and enthusiasts of Canadian politics, provincial politics, political parties, and the history of Prairie Canada.


  • 2012, Shortlisted - Donald Smiley Prize, Canadian Political Science Association
  • , Commended - The Hill Times List of Top 100 Best Books for 2012
This is a well written book, extensively researched, well thought out and combining an interesting mix of theory and historical-empirical evidence. It speaks intelligently about questions to do with the theory of political culture, socialization, the role of ideas in politics and the nature of qualitative content analysis. Allen MIlls, University of Winnipeg, Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol 45 No 3
Much has been written about politics on the prairies and of the different political cultures of the three provinces. Yet, until now, no one has successfully explained the persistence of difference – and particularly the same difference – among the three over decades. The strength of this book lies in the quality of its research. If ever the question were asked, ‘What is the advantage of primary over secondary sources?’ the answer is to be found in Code Politics, an original and impressive work. David E. Smith, author of The People's House of Commons: Theories of Democracy in Contention
Code Politics provides extremely important data and insights on why, or why not, governments pursue particular political and policy trajectories. The study of political culture is not easy. And it is often not easy to teach and to interject into research. Yet, it is extremely important if one wishes to know what a political community is ‘thinking’ and hence, why a polity follows a particular path over another. Wesley’s meticulous documentation of political party campaign materials is worth its weight in gold, both for research and for teaching. Joan Grace, co-editor of Canadian Politics: Democracy and Dissent
Jared J. Wesley is an associate director of intergovernmental and international affairs for the Government of Alberta.

Foreword by Nelson Wiseman

Introduction: Cultures, Campaigns, and Codes

1 The Prairie Paradox: Explaining Cultural Difference

2 Politics over Time: Explaining Cultural Persistence

3 Campaigns in Alberta: A Code of Freedom

4 Campaigns in Saskatchewan: A Code of Security

5 Campaigns in Manitoba: A Code of Moderation

Conclusion: Decoding Prairie Cultures





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