Stephen Skowronek’s idea of political time is tested by applying it to Canada. Skowronek identified a recurring cycle in US presidential politics, in which a coalition was forged around a distinctive set of ideas, dominated the political scene, and then crumbled, making way for a new coalition; a president’s ability to act as an agent of change depended on his place in this cycle. The concept of political time offers insights for the study of Westminster democracies, but Skowronek’s typology cannot be transplanted from the US to the Canadian context. A political orthodoxy cannot be easily identified in Canada, and prime ministers cannot be clearly labeled as affiliated with or opposed to the ideas of a given era. Some seem determined to play a corrective role, accepting much of the orthodoxy but reconstructing some elements of it. This problem of classification is amplified by the very short term of some prime ministers, by the very long term of others, and by a multiparty system, which has meant that Canadians often end up with prime ministers who are out of synch with the dominant ideas of their age. When applying Skowronek’s ideas to Canada, they emerge as overly structural and not sensitive enough to the possibility that leaders can fail to perform according to type.

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Keywords Canadian politics, historical institutionalism, leadership, political history, Political time, prime ministers
Persistent URL
Journal American Review of Canadian Studies
Azzi, S.C. (2017). Political Time in a Westminster Democracy: The Canadian Case. American Review of Canadian Studies, 47(1), 19–34. doi:10.1080/02722011.2017.1299772