Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Canada 1911: The Decisive Election That Shaped the Country

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Canada 1911: The Decisive Election That Shaped the Country

Article excerpt

Patrice Dutil and David MacKenzie, Canada 1911: The Decisive Election That Shaped the Country (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2011), 378 pp. Paper. $29.99. ISBN 978-1-55488-947-1.

The practice of writing a book dedicated to the analysis of a particular general election was pioneered by British psephologists in the mid-twentieth century and was picked up in Canada following the seminal analysis of the 1957 general election by John Meisel. The studies by political scientists have all been undertaken on a current basis, within a short period after the fact and drawing on contemporary resources including polling data. This book, published on the centenary of the 1911 election, is necessarily an historical treatment but with a coauthor who teaches political studies and drawing on some of the techniques used in contemporary political studies.

The result is well worth reading, particularly for the careful reconstruction of the events leading up to Laurier's decision to 'roll the dice' and go to the people a year earlier than one might have expected. An account of a contemporary election would doubtless analyse the polling data in the months before the poll and assess the weight placed on them by the prime minister in deciding to drop the writ. Laurier did not have the luxury (or the burden) of polling data and it is interesting to speculate that he might have decided otherwise if he had. The book also reminds us that elections are often won or lost by the actions of a small number of 'swing' voters who, in the 'first-past-the-post' electoral system have disproportionate weight. Thus, while the 1911 election is viewed as a watershed political event, it reflected changes in turnout and party choice by less than 5 per cent of the electorate (the 'swing' was about 3 per cent). …

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