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Patterns of Democracy and Democratic Reform in Western Canadian Cities

Date & Time:
January 23, 2019 | 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Senate Room, Hotel Alma
Dr. Jack Lucas is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary as well as an Assistant Editor for the Canadian Journal of Political Science. He was recently appointed Director of the Urban Policy Program, housed at the School of Public Policy in the University of Calgary.
Photos from the archives of election counts in Vancouver

Who governs in Canada? Who should govern? Rarely have these questions been debated more passionately than in twentieth century Western Canadian cities. Between the turn of the century and the mid-1970s, political leaders and activists in cities like Calgary, Vancouver, and Winnipeg led North America in their willingness to make profound changes to local democratic institutions – changes that included women’s enfranchisement, proportional representation systems, and urban political parties. This period remains one of the most fascinating – and remarkably understudied – moments of democratic experimentation in Canadian political history, reflecting deep debates among urban political actors about who should govern. Today, amidst widespread discussion of democratic reform – ranging from electoral reform at the federal level to voting rights for non-resident citizens in cities – these debates remain important and timely for Canadian scholars.

At the Calgary Institute for the Humanities Dr. Jack Lucas focused his research on two particular reforms relevant to discussions of Canadian democratic politics today. 

The first is electoral reform. Between 1916 and 1925, each of Western Canada’s largest cities – Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Winnipeg – introduced proportional representation voting systems; in fact, the city of Calgary continues to hold the record for the longest-lasting proportional voting system at any level in North American history. These systems are nearly forgotten today.

The second is development of the franchise in Western Canadian cities – that is, the rules concerning who was and was not allowed to vote. The history of enfranchisement and disenfranchisement at the urban scale in Canada – a history that remains almost completely unexplored – varies considerably across Western Canada. Why were Chinese, Japanese, and Indian Canadians barred from voting until the mid-twentieth century in Vancouver, but not in other Western Canadian cities? When and how did women obtain the franchise – and the right to seek office – at the urban scale? How do these changes reflect changing ideas about the nature of urban democracy and local citizenship? This topic is also timely, as a number of Canadian cities continue to debate further extensions of the franchise to younger Canadians and to resident non-citizens.

Join Dr. Lucas and the CIH to find out more about his research on January 23 at 7 p.m. at the University of Calgary (Location TBD).Given ongoing debates about electoral reform in Canada, this talk is certain to be insightful and topical. 


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