Parachuted into Parliament: Candidate Nomination, Appointed
Candidates, and Legislative Roles in Canada
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Forthcoming in Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties
Abstract: Does a candidate’s pathway to parliament affect subsequent legislative roles
and behavior? Party candidate nomination processes in Canada are very decentralized,
with responsibility for candidate selection allocated to the local constituency associations.
However, candidates may also secure a nomination by being ‘parachuted’ into a
constituency: appointed by the party leader as the candidate who will stand for the party
in the general election. This practice is most common in the Liberal Party of Canada, and
as such we study this party’s candidates in the six most recent elections (between 1993
and 2008) in order to explore both (a) the characteristics of parachuted and locally
nominated MPs; and (b) the legislative consequences of parachuting candidates into
constituencies. We find that party leaders are using the power of appointment to recruit
both star candidates and women into the House of Commons, but that appointed
candidates from each of these groups serve very different roles in Parliament. We find a
strong link between nomination method and subsequent legislative roles and activities:
parachuted candidates are much more likely to serve in high-profile legislative positions
while locally nominated candidates are more likely to engage in low-profile legislative
activities. The process by which candidates come to stand for election, we argue, directly
affects the nature of representation by Members of Parliament in the legislature, and has
implications for the study of candidate nomination and legislative roles in parties in other
Keywords: Candidate Nomination; Candidates; Party Leaders; Legislators; Canada
The methods used to nominate candidates are important indicators of the distribution of
power within political parties. As Schattschneider (1942: 101) argues, ‘...the nominating
process has become the crucial process of the party. He who can make the nominations is
the owner of the party.’ From a comparative perspective, the candidate nomination
processes of Canadian parties are very decentralized, with party constituency associations
allowing local members to select prospective candidates (Rahat, 2007: 163). While the
local nomination race is normal practice, there is an alternate path to Parliament for MPs:
appointment to the party nomination by the leader. ‘Parachuting’ candidates into
constituencies means that those candidates can bypass local nomination races and
therefore run under the party banner without winning the consent or support of local party
The prevalence of parachuted candidates has increased in the last two decades, but
the consequences of appointments have not yet been examined (but see Mishler 1978). In
this paper, we explore the characteristics of appointed candidates and the legislative
consequences of parachuting candidates into party nominations. We first construct
profiles of locally nominated and parachuted candidates. Second, following studies of the
legislative priorities of representatives elected under mixed-member electoral systems
(e.g. Mcleay & Vowles, 2007), we compare the legislative activities of parachuted MPs
to those that won local nomination contests in the traditional manner. Specifically, we
explore the extent to which locally nominated and parachuted candidates differ in their
legislative roles and activities in parliament. We find that there are significant differences
in both the characteristics and legislative behaviors of parachuted and locally nominated
candidates. The legislative activities of these MPs fall into two distinctive legislative
domains: high profile for parachuted candidates and low profile for nominated
This article contributes to two key debates in the study of political parties. First, it
touches on a prominent theme in the literature that points to the centralization of power in
the hands of leaders of both parties and governments (e.g. Michels, 1915; Savoie, 1999).
We demonstrate that appointments enhance the power of party leaders not only to select
candidates, but also to shape the legislative organization and thus the public face of the
party. Second, this paper fits squarely into an important and growing literature that
addresses the extent to which parties are open to and representative of women and other
traditionally marginalized groups (e.g. Caul, 2001). We demonstrate that successive
Liberal party leaders have used their appointment powers to enhance the representation of
these groups in the party caucus, but that appointments have not necessarily translated
into high-profile legislative positions.
We first review the relevant literature on the parliamentary organizations of
political parties and how electoral institutions and candidate selection methods influence
legislative behavior. Second, we describe the nomination and appointment processes in
Canada’s Liberal Party. We then turn to addressing our research questions, and conclude
by discussing the democratic implications of party leaders’ decisions to parachute
candidates into ridings, and the comparative implications of our analysis.
The Impact of Institutions on Legislative Behavior
Party elites and particularly leaders face a range of incentives in determining who fills
high-profile positions in the parties’ legislative organizations. Many studies of the U.S.
Congress work from a ‘gains from trade’ perspective in which the incentives facing
individual members are taken into account in determining the party’s legislative
organizations (for example, see Shepsle, 1978). However, party leaders are concerned
primarily with the success of the party as a whole, so legislative organization is likely to
reflect the collective interests of the party (Cox & McCubbins, 1993). In Canada, the
composition of parties’ parliamentary organizations—which are determined by the party
leader—are of utmost importance since the lack of any extra-parliamentary party
organization ensures that those MPs awarded high-profile legislative positions,
particularly in the cabinet and shadow cabinet, constitute the national public face of the
party (Sayers, 1999: 216, 219).
Party leaders must therefore place competent MPs in high-profile legislative
positions while also ensuring that the public face presented by the party is electorally
advantageous. To ensure stability and durability, prime ministers tend to appoint former
leadership contenders and MPs with previous ministerial experience (Kerby, 2009: 607-
08). However, a range of representative concerns also informs the composition of the
federal cabinet. As White (2001: 19) argues, ‘In Canada,…what has been termed the
‘representational imperative’ has been elevated to the status of political dogma. All
important…regions, ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups must have their representatives
at the cabinet table.’ The classic (and outdated) formulation of this imperative is ‘The
Three R-s’: race, religion, and region (Rogers, 1933: 1). To these can be added newer
equity concerns, so the prime minister must also consider sex and ethnicity in making
high-profile legislative appointments (for an example from the Canadian provinces, see
Studlar & Moncrief, 1997). Making such appointments to high-profile legislative
positions in order to ensure an attractive public face for the party is all the more difficult
given the low proportion of female MPs in the Canadian House of Commons (Trimble &
Individual MPs engage in legislative activities in response to a range of incentives.
Research across institutional contexts suggests that the manner in which legislators are
selected and/or elected affects both their priorities and the types of activities they engage
in once in office. Three types of institutional incentives emerge from past research. First,
candidates tend to focus on representing those who they feel have a role to play in
deciding their political futures. Second, candidates engage in institution-appropriate
campaign activities. Third, certain types of political systems lead to higher levels of
internal party cohesion than others, thus influencing the nature of legislative debate and
Mcleay and Vowles (2007) find that constituency and list MPs under New
Zealand’s mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system focus on different aspects
of the job while in office. MPs that are elected in constituencies tend to be slightly more
focused on local activities and spend more time in contact with constituents. In contrast,
MPs elected on party lists tend to be more involved with the representation of
descriptively defined minority groups. Research in Scotland, Wales, and Germany also
suggests that list representatives seek out non-geographic constituencies such as interest
groups or other minorities to represent because they lack a clear geographic constituency
to represent in the legislature (Lundberg, 2006). And Judge and Ilonszki (1995) find that
Hungarian list MPs tend to identify primarily with the party and nation, while
constituency MPs tend to focus on and identify primarily with local interests.
Lundberg (2006) notes that list MPs are better able to shirk the local vote, while
constituency MPs tend to focus more of their attention on constituency service in order to
increase their likelihood of re-election. He also finds that constituency MPs are more
likely to engage in pork-barrel politics, as are constituency representatives in Germany,
since these legislators spend more time than list MPs seeking out funding initiatives to
benefit local projects (also see Lancaster & Patterson, 1990). Crisp et al. (2004)
demonstrate that pork-barreling is more common in systems with single member districts
because candidates hope to demonstrate that they are strong advocates of their districts in
the legislature, particularly when working on a bill’s passage either in the House or
behind the scenes. They find that legislators often introduce bills that are aimed at
targeting their constituencies in hopes of re-election. Representatives can positively
influence their chances of re-election by adapting their legislative activities to the
incentives embedded in the electoral system.
Comparatively high turnover rates in Canadian elections suggest that MPs can do
little in parliament to assist in future re-election campaigns (Matland & Studlar, 2004: 90-
91). Nevertheless, Canadian backbench MPs do engage in institution-appropriate
behaviors designed to benefit them, including (1) introducing private members bills
(PMBs) in order to develop the image of an effective legislator (Blidook, 2010) and (2)
asking questions in Question Period that reflect the interests of their constituencies in
order to cultivate a reputation for policy responsiveness (Soroka et al., 2009). However,
facing institutional barriers to legislative initiatives including comparatively strong party
discipline (Malloy, 2003: 117-20), MPs also place considerable emphasis on constituency
service in the hope of constructing a local ‘personal vote’ (Docherty 1997). Docherty
reports that MPs engage in these service behaviors despite their uncertainty that doing so
returns electoral dividends in re-election campaigns (1997: 173). The electoral system
constitutes an institutional context shaping these legislative behaviors of representatives,
with MPs adapting their legislative activities in response to institutional incentives.
The incentives set up by elected members’ institutional environments influence not
only legislative activity, but have an important impact on campaign activity as well.
Mitchell (2000: 345) suggests that electoral systems in which representatives are elected
based on their positions on party lists lead politicians to spend their time currying favor
with party elites rather than raising money from a wider base of supporters. Strom (1997)
similarly suggests that party-focused systems encourage candidates to act in ways that
satisfy party requirements—and especially party elites—whereas locally controlled
selection processes create an incentive structure in which pleasing the local constituency
is a priority. Similarly, Hazan (1999) finds that the adoption of primaries into the Israeli
PR system has weakened the link between candidates and parties in Israel, as candidates
can no longer depend on the party organization for their nominations. The cohesiveness
and influence of parties has as a result diminished, and conflict between the legislative
and executive branches has increased.
Hix (2004: 196) furthers the notion that the selectorate matters, with his suggestion
that without the need to appeal to a specific constituency, members have little incentive
to break ranks with the party in parliament and will be more likely to toe the party line
and reinforce party platforms and positions. The extent to which electoral institutions
influence the allegiances of legislators may also have an important impact on the nature
of legislative debate and activities. Environments in which electoral success is based on
individuals’ positions within the party may leave legislators less likely to engage in
‘individualistic’ activities (such as introducing PMBs) and instead more likely to engage
in ‘group’ activities (such as committee membership). The opposite may be true in
institutional environments that encourage legislators to stand out and stand up for their
Candidate Nominations in Canada
Canadian parties have always been characterized by very decentralized candidate
selection methods. In order to run under the party banner, candidates must first win the
approval of the local constituency association, which organizes and oversees nomination
races. These local nomination campaigns culminate in a vote of the entire local party
membership. Carty (2002) argues that this local right to select personnel to staff public
office is enumerated in a ‘franchise bargain’ between the party in central office and the
parties in the ridings. In return for the right to select candidates, constituency associations
provide leaders with the freedom to formulate party policy in their capacity as elite
Decentralized candidate nomination processes do not, however, preclude
interference on the part of the party’s national office. Prior to the 1972 national election,
the Canada Elections Act was amended to require the party leader’s approval of each
candidate. The result is that party leaders may simply refuse to sign the nomination
papers of prospective candidates. Since this is a blunt measure, party officials may also
discourage undesirable candidates in advance by suggesting that the leader will not sign
their nomination papers even if they win the local contest (Cross, 2004: 55).
Candidates may also have to cope with interference on the part of their local
constituency association executives, which are tasked with organizing nomination races.
While executives are expected to organize contests in an impartial manner, there is
significant potential for interference, particularly on the part of executive presidents
(Koop, 2010: 897-98). Executives may even punish nominated candidates after they are
successful by, for example, withholding local resources (Carty and Eagles, 2005: 50-1).
Party leaders’ power to parachute candidates represents a qualitative step beyond
such interference. Following several divisive nomination battles during the 1980s and the
selection of Jean Chrétien as party leader in 1990, the party constitution was amended to
give the leader control over local nominations (Koehn, 1998). The result was that
Chrétien and subsequent leaders were able to pre-empt local nomination contests and
appoint candidates with little or even no input from local members. This power has been
used sparingly. But when party leaders have appointed candidates, we suggest that it has
been for three reasons: (1) to increase the representation of women and other groups, (2)
to appoint star candidates, and (3) to protect incumbents from local challenges.
One argument in favor of central control of nominations is that the leader is in a
good position to appoint women and members of other traditionally marginalized groups
(Matland & Studlar, 1996). The nomination race appears to be the crucial obstacle to the
election of women to the House of Commons (Erickson, 1998); indeed, Cheng and Tavits
(2009) argue that male-dominated constituency associations may be an even greater
barrier to the nomination of women than previously thought (also see Tremblay &
Pelletier, 2001). The result is that central appointment may be essential to increasing the
diversity of the candidates fielded by the party. We accordingly refer to candidates that
are appointed for this reason as diversity candidates.
Leaders have also appointed star candidates in order to spare these candidates from
having to contest local nomination races (Cross, 2004: 60). From the perspective of the
party leader, stars benefit the party as a whole to the extent that they deserve to skip local
nomination contests (see Sayers, 1999: 83). Paul Martin (Liberal party leader from 2003-
2006), for example, appointed David Emerson as candidate in a Vancouver constituency
given Emerson’s prior professional experience and public profile.
Leaders may also appoint incumbent MPs as candidates. This occurs if the leader
values a particular MP who is unable to withstand a local nomination challenge. Prior to
the 1993 campaign, for example, Chrétien foiled the ambitions of nomination challengers
by re-appointing two incumbent MPs who could not hope to win their respective
nomination contests (Koehn, 1998: 68). In an interview with an MP who benefitted from
the leader’s power in a similar context, the MP noted the hopelessness of his situation and
argued that nomination challenges make it impossible for MPs to be effective legislators
while in Ottawa. By protecting this incumbent MP from a renomination challenge, the
party leader allowed him to refocus on his legislative and representational roles rather
than on the renomination challenge in his riding. Accordingly, we refer to these
appointed candidates as protected candidates.
The result of leaders’ use of the appointment power is that there are now two
potential paths to Parliament in the Liberal Party. First, the majority of candidates must
win a locally organized nomination race in order to run under the party banner in the
ensuing election. Second, a relatively small number of candidates are parachuted into a
constituency as the party candidate. We examine the impact of the nomination process in
the Liberal Party specifically because it is the party that has made use of this power most
often. In our initial assessment of the nomination processes in the three major Canadian
parties over this time period (the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, and the
Liberal Party), a very small number of candidates were appointed by the other two
parties, providing little additional data to work with. The result is that our analysis is
confined to one of Canada’s major political parties. Our selection of the Liberal Party in
recent elections also allows us to observe what types of candidates are appointed and the
legislative roles of appointed candidates when the party is in both government and
Figure 1 summarizes the proportion of the Liberal caucus that was made up of
appointed candidates following each of the six most recent national elections (between
1993 and 2008). These proportions are presented in two ways. First, Figure 1 presents the
proportion of caucus members that were appointed in each election. Second, the figure
also shows the proportion of caucus members who were appointed at some point in the
past, typically in their first run for elected office.
[Figure 1 About Here]
The number of successful appointed candidates in each election is relatively small.
Only eight appointed candidates were elected to parliament in the 1993 election (five
were unsuccessful). By 2008, that number had fallen to three. The smaller overall size of
the Liberal caucus following the 2008 election meant that the proportion of successful
appointed candidates was similar to 1993. While the most recent election saw a
significant drop in newly parachuted candidates, the cumulative effect of three separate
party leaders appointing candidates over the fifteen year period is that the proportion of
MPs who were originally appointed as candidates has steadily grown. In 1993, only five
percent of the Liberal caucus consisted of appointed candidates. By 2008, that proportion
had grown to nineteen percent—roughly one in five Liberal MPs elected in 2008 had
commenced their careers or been helped by the leader at some point by parachuting into a
local constituency and bypassing the traditional nomination process. Most of these MPs
had in fact been appointed by Chrétien or Martin (the first two leaders in this time period)
but had since been re-elected, in some cases several times.
The result is that the Liberal caucus can be understood as consisting of two groups.
The first includes the approximately 80% of MPs who have won local nomination
contests in the traditional manner, in order to make their ways to parliament. The second,
a smaller, more elite group, consists of MPs who were given the right to contest elected
office as a Liberal candidate by the party leader rather than by their local constituency
associations. The question is whether the different experiences of these two types of MPs
are related to their legislative activities.
Data and Analysis
In order to assess the impact of the dual paths to parliament on the legislative roles and
activities of MPs, we collected data on each Liberal MP elected from 1993 to 2008, as
well as collecting data on each Liberal candidate from 1997-2008. Finding information
about candidates who lost the election prior to 1997 was very difficult, given the
drastically lower web presence of candidates at that time. We collected demographic data
(including the candidates’ sex, immigrant and visible minority status, and previous
experience at municipal and provincial levels of government), and information about the
election contest itself (vote share and margin of victory in the riding). We also coded
candidates for ‘star’ status in each previous election campaign. To do so, we searched the
Lexus-Nexus database for each candidate’s name in twenty-two major Canadians
newspaper six months prior to each national election. Candidates were coded as stars if
they were referred to as such (or as ‘star candidates’) in at least one of these newspaper
We also recorded high-profile legislative roles and low-profile legislative activities.
The former consists of appointments to cabinet, shadow cabinet, and ministries of state.
The latter includes parliamentary committee activities (including committee memberships
and the holding of committee or sub-committee chairs and vice-chairs), and the
introduction of Private Members’ Business (PMB), motions, and statements made in the
House of Commons.
These are all important legislative activities, and understanding
who does this work is key to understanding the effects of the nomination and
In combination, these data provide us with the opportunity to address our two
research questions. First, who are leaders parachuting into ridings? Is the leader’s
appointment power being used to balance existing gaps in representation, contributing to
a more diverse and representative House of Commons? If so, we should expect to see
higher numbers of women, immigrants, and visible minorities amongst those who have
been parachuted into ridings. Or is the power of appointment being used for other
purposes, such as the recruitment of star candidates? We also explore the extent to which
appointments were made in order to recruit candidates with prior experience in political
office at the provincial or municipal levels. While such experience typically designates
candidate as `quality candidates’ in the American literature (e.g. Berkman & Eisenstein,
1999), studies of career paths in Canada demonstrate that national MPs tend not to be
recruited from provincial legislatures, leading in part to our understanding of Canadian
MPs as legislative ‘amateurs’ (Studlar et al., 2000: 95-98). Nevertheless, Barrie and
Gibbins (1989) suggest that those MPs with sub-national experience have an advantage in
terms of appointments to high-profile legislative roles. We test for the possibility the
leaders are using their appointment power to recruit such candidates for high-profile
Second, we sought to determine whether the manner in which MPs attain the right
to run for their parties—either through leader appointment or by winning a local
nomination—influences the types of legislative roles they play once in office. Are
parachuted and nominated candidates the same once in the House of Commons, or do
they play distinctive legislative roles?
We expect that parachuted candidates are more likely to be appointed by party
leaders to high-profile legislative roles. This is because the qualities that lead party
leaders to appoint candidates in the first place are also qualities that might convince the
prime minister to include appointed members in high profile legislative roles. Candidates
that are parachuted into a riding as a result of their ‘star’ attributes are likely to be
appointed to these roles because of their talents. In addition, some parachuted candidates
run for office only with the party leader’s promise that they will subsequently be
appointed to high-profile positions (Docherty 1997: 106). Further, intuitively it makes
sense that candidates appointed in order to enhance the diversity of the House of
Commons are also more likely to make it into cabinet since the prime minister must also
consider balance and diversity when crafting a cabinet or shadow cabinet. Thus if
diversity candidates are parachuted into ridings, we should expect to see them in high-
profile legislative roles as well.
In contrast to the high profile roles we expect to be played by parachuted MPs, we
hypothesize that locally nominated MPs (those who win their candidacy in the traditional
manner) are more likely to play low-profile legislative roles. Intuitively, committee work
might seem more attractive to MPs contesting local nominations and entering politics on
their own than it would to stars recruited by the prime minister. Moreover, the high-
profile legislative work of many parachuted candidates means that they will be able to
point to a record of accomplishment to their constituents; in contrast, nominated MPs turn
to committee work and introducing PMBs, motions, and statements in order to
demonstrate some degree of legislative accomplishment to voters in their ridings.
Profile of Parachuted and Nominated Candidates
Understanding who it is that party leaders are choosing to parachute into
constituencies is important because this information can provide us with greater insight
into why they may have been selected. Figure 2 provides some sense of the background
and characteristics of candidates from both nomination paths. The graph compares
demographic and background characteristics of candidates running in federal campaigns
from 1997 to the 2008, distinguishing between parachuted and locally nominated
[Figure 2 about here]
What is immediately clear is that those candidates who were appointed look
different from those who were not. Nearly half of all appointed candidates are women,
compared to one quarter (25%) of non-appointed candidates. Among appointed
candidates, 15% are visible minorities, compared to 11% of traditional nomination
winners. Nearly one quarter of parachuted candidates are immigrants (24%), compared to
only 14% of nomination winners. There is little difference in whether appointed and
locally nominated candidates are aboriginal, as only 2% of appointed candidates are
Aboriginal, compared to 4% for all others. A much higher percentage of star candidates
are appointed by party leaders: 50% of parachuted candidates are considered stars by
major national media, while only 2% of locally nominated candidates are considered
There is also a small contingent of protected candidates, as 7% of parachuted
candidates were incumbents when they were appointed. These are the incumbent MPs
who are protected from renomination challenges in their ridings. The major story for
incumbents is not, however, one of protection: 42% of traditional nomination winners are
incumbents, suggesting that for the most part, they do not have difficulty retaining their
seats. This number goes up even further if we look at candidates who win the election:
76% of traditional nomination winners who win a seat in the House of Commons are
incumbents. The data confirm the importance of incumbency in Canadian elections.
The appointment of quality candidates—those with prior experience at the
provincial or municipal levels—appears to be less of a concern for party leaders. Prior
municipal and provincial experience is about the same regardless of whether a candidate
is parachuted into a riding or nominated in the traditional way. This suggests that party
leaders are not generally using their appointment powers to bring ‘quality’ candidates
into the party caucus. This is not particularly surprising, since candidates with previous
experience in provincial and municipal politics are typically well suited to win traditional
Taken as a whole, 50% of parachuted candidates between 1997 and 2008 are star
candidates, while 53% of parachuted candidates are diversity candidates—that is, they
are women, immigrants, of visible minority groups, or Aboriginal peoples. Party leaders
have clearly used the appointment power to recruit both star and diversity candidates into
the party caucus. These patterns suggest that the party leadership is indeed attempting to
shape the nature of representation in the House of Commons, and is doing so by shielding
some candidates from the traditional local nomination races that might otherwise be an
impediment to their success. While the results presented in Figure 2 reflect simple
bivariate analyses, these patterns are also confirmed by more sophisticated multivariate
statistics. Table 1 displays the results.
[Table 1 about here]
We ran a logistical regression model with parachuted status as the dependent
variable, and both sex and “star” status had a significant impact on whether or not an
individual was parachuted into a riding. Women were more likely than men to be
appointed by the party leader (coefficient of 0.974), as were star candidates (coefficient
of 4.558). The other “diversity” categories did not have a significant impact on
appointment status, nor did prior experience. Incumbents were less likely to be appointed
by the leader (coefficient of -2.402). The data suggest, broadly, that leaders are opting to
use the power of appointment primarily to recruit and protect star candidates, although
ensuring a greater presence of women in the legislature is also a factor.
In fact, this protection appears to be working. In an effort to determine the impact
of being appointed on electoral success, we regressed candidates’ vote share on
appointment status as well as other demographic characteristics of candidates. As Table 2
indicates, having been parachuted in the past into a riding leads to nearly an 18
percentage point increase in a candidate’s vote share. This is increase is about the same
that which comes from incumbency status and, given the importance of incumbency in
Canadian elections (Eagles 2004), this is a substantial boost. Star candidates also tend
fare better than others, with an increase in vote share of approximately 6 percentage
points. Provincial experience is also a boon for candidates, leading to a 2.5 percentage
point increase in vote share.
[Table 2 about here]
The success of parachuted candidates in subsequent elections is not insubstantial,
and accounts for much of the growth in the number of individuals who have been
parachuted “ever” as a proportion of members of the House of Commons that was seen in
Figure 1. Of those who were parachuted in 1993, three quarters were re-elected in 1997,
63% were re-elected in 2000, 50% were re-elected in 2004, 25% were re-elected in 2006,
and 13% were re-elected in the most recent 2008 election
. This demonstrates the
potential longevity of candidates, as does the pattern of parachutee success from 1997
onward: 100% were re-elected in 2000, 70% were re-elected in 2004, 60% were re-
elected in 2006, and 40% were re-elected in 2008. Generally speaking, most MPs (54%)
who were parachuted in at some point in the past are still sitting in the House of
The decline over time reflects the fact that some candidates opted not to run in
subsequent elections, as well as the Liberal party’s move from government to opposition
status in 2006 and 2008. Of parachutees who are no longer in the legislature, 30% retired,
while 17% were defeated in a subsequent election. The corresponding numbers for MPs
who won their nominations in the traditional manner are somewhat different: 29%
retired, while 39% were defeated in a subsequent election. The other major difference in
career exit paths of the two types of candidates is that traditionally nominated candidates
experience other exits in addition to defeat or retirement: two were removed from caucus,
just under 3% lost a subsequent nomination race, and a few left caucus, passed away,
defected to another party, or were appointed to the senate. Previously parachuted MPs are
either sitting in the House, or else have since retired or were defeated in a subsequent
election. The other exit strategies have not (to date) applied to them.
Legislative Roles and Activities
Once elected to the House of Commons, are all MPs the same, regardless of how
they became the party’s candidate in their riding? Or does the nomination process have
an impact on their legislative roles and activities? We expect there to be a difference in
the activities of legislators depending on the process by which they became candidates.
Appointees are expected to be parachuted into higher offices in much the same way they
were parachuted into their ridings, whereas locally nominated candidates are expected to
participate in low-profile legislative activities.
For the most part, our expectations are borne out. Table 3 provides the results of a
series of logistical regression analyses where various high-profile legislative activities
were regressed on appointment status and other demographic and explanatory variables.
All dependent variables are binary, and coded as ‘1’ if a Member of Parliament
performed the activity and ‘0’ if she/he did not (regardless of how many times she/he
may have done so). The table reports coefficients and robust standard errors. The lower
half of the table (shaded in grey) reflects the linear combination of appointment status
with the interacted variables, rather than simply listing the interaction coefficients, in
order to facilitate interpretation of the interaction of parachuted status with other
variables of interest.
As Table 3 indicates, there is a clear and strong relationship between having been
parachuted into a riding and being placed in cabinet. Appointed candidates are
substantially more likely to sit in cabinet than those candidates that were locally
nominated (coefficient of 3.071). This variable has a larger impact on propensity to be
appointed to cabinet than all other variables examined, including incumbency status or
‘star’ status. Incumbent MPs who had been appointed in the past were also more likely to
be given a cabinet post (coefficient of 1.703).
[Table 3 About Here]
The relationships between visible minority status, candidate appointments, and
high-profile legislative positions are also very suggestive. Members of visible minority
groups who are locally nominated are more likely than non-visible minority MPs to be
given Minister of State positions (coefficient of 1.557). However, visible minority status
does not lead to cabinet or shadow cabinet positions, and parachuted MPs of visible
minority status are not more likely to take on high profile positions. Women who had
been parachuted in the past were more likely to be given shadow cabinet positions,
indicating that opposition status has led the Liberal party to “promote” more women than
it did when the party was in government. These data suggest that while members of
visible minority groups and women are more likely to be among parachuted candidates
than locally selected nominees (as shown in Figure 2), they are still less likely to be
appointed to cabinet.
Table 4 extends the analysis further, and examines the extent to which locally
nominated candidates are more likely to engage in low-profile activities. For ease of
interpretation, we flipped the independent variables related to appointment status in order
to isolate the impact of not being appointed (but rather, winning a traditional nomination
race prior to election). Thus we recoded the variable so that 1 reflected MPs who won a
nomination while 0 reflected MPs who were appointed. We also interacted this `new’
variable with other demographic variables in the model. As Table 4 illustrates, non-
appointed MPs are much more likely to engage in low-profile legislative activities.
Locally selected nominees are much more likely to make statements in the House
of Commons (coefficient of 2.307), than are parachuted candidates. There does appear to
be a time lag of sorts, however, as those who won the nomination in the most recent
election were less likely to introduce private members’ business (coefficient of -1.433),
while past nomination winners are more active: star candidates in this category are more
likely to introduce private members’ business (coefficient of 15.75).
[Table 4 about here]
Patterns of committee work also demonstrate that locally nominated MPs are more
likely than parachuted MPs to engage in low-profile legislative activities. We distinguish
between MPs who chair House of Commons standing committees and sub-committees,
which are generally smaller and have a more specialized focus. Local nominees are more
likely than appointed candidates to chair sub-committees (coefficient of 15.573), and are
more likely to sit on committees as members (coefficient of 1.655). While there is no
significant difference between appointed and locally nominated candidates in terms of
chairing parliamentary committees, the findings about sub-committee chairmanships and
committee memberships demonstrate that local nominees are more likely to embrace
low-profile parliamentary activities. Tellingly, “star candidates” are less likely to engage
in low profile activities, either in the form of private members’ business or as sub-
Other types of factors, including sex, visible minority status, and incumbency, have
very little impact on low-profile activities. Visible minorities are less likely to chair
committees, but demographics appear to have little impact on other legislative activities,
whether high or low profile. Interestingly, those candidates who had higher vote share in
the previous election were more likely to chair committees, perhaps reflecting the
perceived importance of this legislative activity.
When we examine the impact of interactions between appointment status and other
variables of interest, a few interesting patterns emerge. The lower half of Table 4 presents
the linear combination of appointment status with the interaction variables. As for high
profile activities, we wanted to explore the possibility that parachute status has a different
impact for different types of groups: parachuted women versus men; and parachuted stars
versus non-stars, for example, might be involved in different types of legislative
activities. The linear combinations of coefficients indicate that there are some important
differences across groups of parachuted candidates. Nominated women are more likely
than nominated men to sit as sub-committee chairs, as are visible minority nomination
winners. Star candidates who won their nomination in the traditional manner (i.e. they
were not parachuted in by the leader) were also very active in low-profile pursuits,
including private members’ business and chairing sub-committees.
We control for cabinet and shadow cabinet status, and as the table indicates, cabinet
members, “high profile” government MPs, are less likely to engage in “low profile”
activities, although shadow cabinet status has no effect. These data suggest that, broadly
speaking, pathways to candidacy do have an influence on the legislative activities of
MPs: parachuted MPs tend to be rewarded with high profile positions, while traditionally
nomination winners tend to be involved more heavily in low profile activities, especially
Discussion and Conclusion
In this paper we have examined the legislative roles and activities of Canadian
Liberal MPs on the basis of the manner in which they received party nominations. In
particular, we asked whether appointed and nominated MPs differ in their legislative
activities. We uncover a clear relationship between nomination method and legislative
roles and activities. There is a significant difference in the legislative activities of
parachuted and nominated MPs. Parachuted MPs are more likely than traditionally-
nominated MPs to occupy high-profile parliamentary positions—indeed, they are
substantially more likely to sit in cabinet. In contrast, MPs nominated in the traditional
manner are more likely to engage in low-profile parliamentary activities such as
introducing motions, making statements, and engaging in committee work.
These findings have a number of implications. For some time in Canada and
elsewhere, there has been an accumulation of power in party leaders’ offices (Savoie,
1999). Candidate appointments have further empowered party leaders by allowing them
to bypass local nominations and install preferred individuals as their party candidates. In
many ridings, then, the power to nominate candidates has been centralized in the office of
the party leader. Furthermore, there is a clear and strong relationship between the manner
in which MPs obtain nominations and the subsequent legislative roles they play.
We argue that the ability to appoint candidates has augmented the power of party
leaders in a much more substantial manner than has been previously asserted. In the past,
party leaders (whether governing or in opposition) have been constrained in the
parliamentary organizations they can construct by the parties’ decentralized nomination
processes. Once in the House of Commons, leaders were forced to work with the
representatives they had been given: the MPs that had managed to secure a local
nomination and subsequently win election. In other words, party leaders did not have the
exclusive right to fill high-profile legislative roles and in so doing shape the public face
of the party. To the contrary, leaders shared this power with the constituency
associations, which pre-select the pool that the leader draws on to fill high-profile
legislative positions. The propensity of leaders to place appointed candidates in high
profile parliamentary positions, however, means that the power of the leader to shape the
party’s parliamentary organization as well as its public face is substantially augmented by
their ability to appoint candidates. It should also be noted that the total number of
appointed candidates does not have to be particularly high in order for the party leader’s
power to shape the parliamentary organization—and thus the public face of the party—to
be substantially increased.
The second class of MPs is non-appointed. These MPs now face the task of
competing with appointed MPs for a scarce number of high-profile legislative positions.
We argue that since these MPs are less likely to receive high-profile positions, they are
instead focusing their energies on low-profile legislative activities. Just as representatives
in other democratic states tailor their legislative activities to their institutional settings, so
too have non-appointed MPs adapted to the new realities of the Liberal Party’s parallel
nomination system by engaging in low-profile legislative activities that they can marshal
to demonstrate a record of legislative accomplishment to their constituents.
Finally, this centralization of power in the hands of the party leader cannot be
justified simply on the basis of including women and visible minorities in the governing
process. Appointed candidates are more likely to be women or visible minorities, so it is
reasonable to conclude that party leaders are using the appointment power to create a
more diverse, representative House of Commons. However, appointments have not
resulted in a higher likelihood that members of these groups will enter high-profile
legislative positions, particularly the cabinet. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly,
it is a special sub-group of parachuted candidates that is most likely to be placed in high-
profile legislative roles and least likely to engage in low-profile activity: white male
parachutees are most likely to be invited to sit in cabinet, especially if they are
incumbents. Parachuted women and parachuted visible minority candidates are not more
likely to be rewarded with high-profile positions.
As Studlar and Moncrief (1997) point out, high-profile parliamentary positions
(particularly in the cabinet), not simply membership in the legislature, are the sources of
real power in executive-centered party-disciplined parliamentary systems such as Canada.
While it appears that women are more likely to be shielded from nomination battles in the
constituencies, party efforts to increase the diversity of the House of Commons stop
there. Incumbents, stars, and other parachuted candidates (namely white men) are more
likely to be promoted to high profile positions. It appears that inequities continue to exist
in the Canadian Parliament and, while parties are making efforts to redress traditional
imbalances, parachuting candidates is a solution that only goes so far.
These findings invite application to political parties in other parliamentary
democracies, including parties that have retained a strong role for party leaders in
selecting candidates (Rahat, 2007: 160). This is particularly trueespecially to parties that,
like the Liberal Party of Canada, employ more than one method of nominating
Candidate nominations in the British Labour Party, for example, have
traditionally been a local responsibility; however, the use of constituency ‘twinning’ and
particularly all-women shortlists (AWS) in recent elections has limited this prerogative
and, in the latter case, provided leaders and the central party office with a means to
directly interfere in the selection process (Cutts et al. 2008). These practices raise some
important questions: what motivates party officials to construct the shortlists that they
do? And do the legislative roles and behaviors of AWS-nominated candidates differ from
those of locally selected candidates? Comparison across democracies would also have the
benefit of expanding the present analysis from a cadre or catch-all party to mass-style
parties such as UK Labour. Furthermore, the two ‘paths to parliament’ in the Canadian
Liberal Party provide extreme examples of centralized (leader appointment) and
decentralized (member-nominated) selection processes; an examination of representatives
nominated in different ways may yield new findings concerning what we expect is a more
nuanced relationship between nomination method and legislative roles. This paper
focuses on a single party, and therefore represents a first step toward a wider analysis of
candidate nomination and legislative roles in developed democracies.
Barrie, Doreen, and Roger Gibbins (1989) Parliamentary Careers in the Canadian Federal
State, Canadian Journal of Political Science, XXII(1): pp. 137–45.
Berkman, Michael, and James Eisenstein (1999) State Legislators as Congressional
Candidates: The Effects of Prior Experience on Legislative Recruitment and
Fundraising, Political Research Quarterly, 52(3): pp. 481–98.
Blidook, Kelly (2010) Exploring the Role of ’Legislators’ in Canada: Do Members of
Parliament Influence Policy?, The Journal of Legislative Studies 16(1): pp. 32–56.
Carty, R. K. (2002) The Politics of Tecumseh Corners: Canadian Political Parties as
Franchise Organizations, Canadian Journal of Political Science 35(4): pp. 723–45.
Carty, R. K., and Munroe Eagles (2005) Politics is Local: National Politics at the
Grassroots. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Caul, Miki (2001) Political Parties and the Adoption of Candidate Gender Quotas: A
Cross-National Analysis, Journal of Politics 63(4): pp. 1214-1229.
Cheng, Christine, and Margit Tavits (2010) Informal Influences in Selecting Female
Political Candidates, Political Research Quarterly 17.
Cox, Gary W., and Daniel McCubbins (1993) Legislative Leviathan: Party Government
in the House. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crisp, Brian F., Maria Escobar-Lemmon, Bradford S. Jones, Mark P. Jones, and Michelle
M. Taylor-Robinson (2002) Vote-seeking Incentives and Legislative Representation
in Six Presidential Democracies, The Journal of Politics 66(3): pp. 823-46.
Cross, William (2004) Political Parties. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004.
Cutts, David, Sarah Childs, and Edward Fieldhouse (2008) ‘This is what happens when
you don’t listen’: All-Women Shortlists at the 2005 General Election, Party Politics
De Winter, Lieven (1988) Belgium: Democracy or Oligarchy? in Michael Gallagher and
Michael Marsh (eds) Candidate Selection in Comparative Perspective: The Secret
Garden of Politics, pp. 20-46. London: Sage.
Docherty, David C. (1997) Mr. Smith Goes to Ottawa: Life in the House of Commons.
Vancouver: UBC Press.
Eagles, Munroe (2004) The Effectiveness of Local Campaign Spending in the 1993 and
1997 Federal Elections in Canada, Canadian Journal of Political Science 71(1): 117-
Erickson, Lynda (1998) Entry to the Commons: Parties, Recruitment, and the Election of
Women in 1993, in Manon Tremblay and Caroline Andrew (eds) Women and
Political Representation in Canada, pp. 219-56. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.
Gallagher, Michael (1988) Introduction, in Michael Gallagher (ed) Candidate Selection
in Comparative Perspective: The Secret Garden of Politics, pp. 1-19. London: Sage.
Hazan, Reuven Y., and Gideon Rahat (2006) Candidate Selection, in Richard Katz and
William Crotty (eds) Handbook of Party Politics, pp. 109-21. London: Sage.
Hazan, Reuven Y. (1999) Constituency interests without constituencies: the geographical
impact of candidate selection on party organization and legislative behavior in the
14th Israeli Knesset, 1996-1999, Political Geography 18(7): pp. 791–811.
Hix, Simon (2004) Electoral Institutions and Legislative Behavior: Explaining Voting
Defection in the European Parliament, World Politics 56(2): pp. 194–223.
Judge, David, and Gabriella Ilonszki (1995) Member-Constituency Linkages in the
Hungarian Parliament, Legislative Studies Quarterly 20(2): pp. 161–76.
Kerby, Matthew (2009) Worth the Wait: Determinants of Ministerial Appointment in
Canada, 1935-2008, Canadian Journal of Political Science 42(3): pp. 593–611.
Koehn, Miriam (1998) Targeted Representation? An Analysis of the Appointment of
Liberal Candidates in the 1993 and 1997 Federal Elections, Past Imperfect 7: pp. 55–
Koop, Royce (2010) Professionalism, Sociability, and the Liberal Party in the
Constituencies, Canadian Journal of Political Science 43(4): pp. 893–913.
Lancaster, Thomas, and W. David Patterson (1990) Comparative Pork Barrel Politics:
Perceptions from the West German Bundestag, Comparative Political Studies 22(4):
Lundberg, Thomas Carl (2006) Second-Class Representatives? Mixed-Member
Proportional Representation in Britain, Parliamentary Affairs 59(1): pp. 60–77.
Malloy, Jonathan (2003) High Discipline, Low Cohesion? The Uncertain Patterns of
Canadian Parliamentary Party Groups, The Journal of Legislative Studies 9(4): pp.
Matland, Richard E., and Donley T. Studlar (2004) Determinants of Legislative
Turnover: A Cross-National Analysis, British Journal of Political Science 34(1): pp.
Matland, Richard E., and Donley Studlar (1996) The contagion of women candidates in
single member district and proportional representation electoral systems: Canada and
Norway, The Journal of Politics 58(3): pp. 707–33.
Mcleay, Elizabeth, and Jack Vowles (2007) Redefining Constituency Representation: the
Roles of New Zealand MPs under MMP, Regional and Federal Studies 17(1): pp.
Michels, Robert (1915) Political Parties. New York: Free Press.
Mishler, William (1978) Nominating Attractive Candidates for Parliament: Recruitment
to the Canadian House of Commons, Legislative Studies Quarterly 3(4): pp. 581–99.
Mitchell, Paul (2000) Voters and their representatives: Electoral institutions and
delegation in parliamentary democracies, European Journal of Political Research
37(3): pp. 335–51.
Rahat, Gideon (2007) Candidate Selection: The Choice Before the Choice, Journal of
Democracy 18 (1): pp. 157–70.
Rogers, Norman (1933) Federal Influences on the Canadian Cabinet, The Canadian Bar
Review 12: pp. 282-301.
Savoie, Donald J. (1999) Governing from the Centre: The Concentration of Power in
Canadian Politics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Sayers, Anthony M. (1999) Parties, Candidates, and Constituency Campaigns in
Canadian Elections. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Schattschneider, E.E. (1942) Party Government. New York: Rinehart.
Shepsle, Kenneth A. (1978) The Giant Jigsaw Puzzle: Democratic Committee
Assignments in the Modern House. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Soroka, Stuart, Erin Penner, and Kelly Blidook (2009) Constituency Influence in
Parliament, Canadian Journal of Political Science 42(3): pp. 563-91.
Strom, Kaare (1997) Rules, Reasons and Routines: Legislative Roles in Parliamentary
Democracies In Wolfgang C. Muller, and Thomas Saaldfeld (eds) Members of
Parliament in Western Europe: Roles and Behavior, pp. 255-74. London: Frank Cass
Studlar, Donley T., Dianne L. Alexander, Joanna E. Cohen, Mary Jane Ashley, Roberta
G. Ferrence, and John S. Pollard (2000) A Social and Political Profile of Canadian
Legislators, 1996, The Journal of Legislative Studies 6(2): pp. 93–103.
Studlar, Donley T., and Gary F. Moncrief (1997) The Recruitment of Women Cabinet
Ministers in the Canadian Provinces, Governance 10(1): pp. 67–81.
Tremblay, Manon, and Ŕejean Pelletier (2001) More Women Constituency Party
Presidents: A Strategy for Increasing the Number of Women Candidates in Canada?,
Party Politics 7(2): pp. 157–90.
Trimble, Linda, and Jane Arscott (2003) Still Counting: Women in Politics Across
Canada. Toronto: Broadview Press.
Wuhs, Steven T. (2006) Democratization and the Dynamics of Candidate Selection Rule
Change in Mexico, 1991-2003, Mexican Studies 22(1): pp. 33-55.
White, Graham (2001) Adapting the Westminster Model: Provincial and Territorial
Cabinets in Canada, Public Money and Management 21(2): pp. 17–24.
Zorn, Christopher (2005) A Solution to Separation in Binary Response Models, Political
Analysis 13(2): pp. 157–70.
‘Parachuting’ candidates is a somewhat derogatory colloquialism used in Canada to
refer to party leaders appointing candidates.
The terms ‘constituency’ and ‘riding’ are used interchangeably in Canada.
For the 38th Parliament following the 2008 national election, legislative roles and
activities were included only for the first session.
Data not shown.
Independent variables include whether or not the MP was initially parachuted into a
riding (‘appointed ever’), whether the MP was parachuted in the most recent election,
sex, visible minority status, vote share (coded in terciles—bottom third, middle third, and
top third of all races across all elections), incumbency, and ‘star candidate’ status. With
the exception of vote share, all independent variables are binary. In addition, a series of
interactions were performed between ‘appointed ever’ and other variables of interest: sex,
visible minority, incumbent, and star candidate, in order to determine whether there were
differences across ‘types’ of parachuted candidates. Finally, each logit model controls for
fixed effects by including dummy variables for each election year.
For the three ‘high profile’ models, Penalized Likelihood Logistical Estimations (PLE)
were used, because while no single variable ‘perfectly’ predicted success or failure of the
model, a linear combination of variables did, and in a basic logistical model, observations
were automatically dropped from the analysis. Zorn suggests that the appropriate solution
to this problem is the use of PLE, which forces the statistical program to keep those
previously dropped independent variables in the model, thus allowing us to determine the
impact of each of the variables. He argues that this approach ‘prevents researchers from
being forced either to omit manifestly important covariates from their models or to
engage in post-hoc data manipulation in order to obtain parameter estimates for those
covariates’ (Zorn, 2005: 166). We therefore used the ‘firthlogit’ package adapted for
STATA by Joseph Coveney, available for download at
Recall, the models presented in Tables 3 and 4 controls for fixed effects by including
dummy variables for each election year. In 2006 and 2008, the Liberal party was in
opposition rather than government, thus the models also control for opposition and
government status. As is expected, government versus opposition status has an obvious
impact on propensity to be placed in cabinet or shadow cabinet: members are only
appointed to cabinet if the Liberal party is in government. The impact of
government/opposition status is less important for low-profile activities, although Liberal
members tend to sit and chair committees slightly more often when in opposition.
!There are numerous examples of parties that use more than a single method of
selecting candidates or that involve both elites and members in the process. In some
Belgian parties, for example, party lists for multi-member districts are prepared by elite
party agencies and are subsequently voted on by party members (De Winter, 1988). And
while party members in Mexico are increasingly selecting district candidates, list
candidacies continue to be rewarded by party elites (Wuhs, 2006). !