Ubc poli 101 Canadian Politics



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UBC POLI 101 Canadian Politics

  • What is Politics? What is Political Science?
  • http://www.politics.ubc.ca/fcutler/teaching/POLI101

Outline of this Lecture

  • What is Politics? Why Study it?
  • What does ‘Politics’ cover?
  • What is Government?
  • Social Science
  • Social Scientific Terms & Concepts
  • Political Science
  • Canadian Political Science
  • Approaches to Political Science – Non-Critical
  • Approaches to Political Science –Critical
  • Big Questions for Political Science

What is Politics? Why Study it?

  • Politics, Government, and Law are amazing:
    • Millions of people, huge distances; differences of values, religions, experiences, economic situations
    • Making decisions collectively that bind each other to laws
    • Fundamentally, law reduces uncertainty: about economic transactions, security, and now for health, income, etc.
    • The power to make these decisions and enforce them is immense
    • So… Who gets that power?
    • By force, or by agreement (law)
    • Holding and turning over that power without violence is a considerable accomplishment in such large, diverse societies
    • Doing it democratically means all citizens decide, and the most preferred group (party) takes power
    • What would happen if all governments in Canada just got up and quit, and citizens believed that the Constitution had no authority?
    • Yikes!

What does ‘Politics’ cover?

  • Simply put: Everything
      • Governments regulate food, water, transportation, environment, economy, marriage/divorce/child custody, education, communication…
      • And they enforce all this by a monopoly on the legitimate use of force
      • Around 40% of the economy
    • “Politics is about who gets what, when, and how” (Laswell)
    • Politics is conflict (peaceful or violent) over the leadership, structure, and policies of government
      • Or, in some places, over the most powerful force (military)
  • But… Not quite everything
    • We have a liberal democracy, which implies that there is a private sphere which politics (the State) can’t intrude on
    • But what is private? Educating one’s children? Abortion? Marriage? Economic Dealings?
    • The limits of politics are themselves political questions!

What is Government?

  • Government is the term used to describe the institutions and procedures through which a territory and its people are ruled. We’ll study Canadian government.
    • Different forms of government are defined by who governs, and how much government control is permitted.
    • Forms of government defined by “who governs” include autocracy/monarchy (rule of all by one), oligarchy (rule of the few or elite), and democracy (rule of all by all).
    • Forms of government defined by the degree of government control include constitutional, authoritarian, and totalitarian governments.
    • Canada has a liberal-democratic constitutional monarchy
  • How do we understand government and politics?
    • A: We use social scientific techniques

Logistics / Announcements

  • Tutorials are on. You should be going. Next week, they will be focussed on the reading and lectures from THIS week.
  • The course now has a coursepack of 8 required readings. You should by it at the bookstore(±$17)
    • there may still be a few web readings in addition
  • More information on papers is now on the website.
    • let’s have a look
  • Tuesday, Jan. 11 from noon-1pm in the Meekinson Arts Space (Buch D140)… Vancouver Councillor Peter Ladner speaking on “What’s Happening in Vancouver Civic Politics”
  • Education in the Middle East

Social Science

  • Social science is an attempt to understand human behaviour by describing regularities in that behaviour, so that behaviour can be predicted. And all of that behaviour takes place in society - interpersonally.
    • economics, political science, sociology, parts of psychology, human anthropology
  • Standards and goals differ from those of the natural sciences and of the humanities

Social Scientific Terms & Concepts

  • Theory is the key element of the social scientific enterprise: “a theory is a statement linking specific instances to broader principles.” A story without proper names.
  • Empirical statements – address the way things are; descriptive. These are necessary before theory.
  • Normative statements – address the way things should be, judgmental. (relating to “norms” or expectations)
  • Theories provide explanation and prediction
    • but they need to be tested if we’re going to trust them to predict behaviour

Political Science

  • Political science: study of the political world, its institutions and behavior, in a systematic way
    • description, explanation, analysis, sometimes prediction. Particular emphasis on the state and individual interaction with the state.
  • Political science is also analysis and argument about the values, principles, and identities that form the basis for much of political behaviour and the policies of governments (e.g. national identity & unity)
  • At this point, Political Science doesn’t have overarching theories that have great success at prediction, as in the natural sciences. But understanding of behaviour and institutions has grown.
    • e.g: cooperation increases when likelihood of future interaction increases

Canadian Political Science

  • Like other ‘domestic’ political science
  • Goal is to understand, explain, and predict, and sometimes criticize how Canadian politics and government work.
  • Preoccupation with unity: Quebec and national identity, regional grievances, political parties as ‘brokers’ keeping the country together, the Charter of Rights as a unifying symbol, multiculturalism, etc.
  • But also study of citizen behaviour, party organization, elections, media, policy formation, policy effectiveness, political economy, foreign policy, equality and inequality, etc.


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