Political Scandal and the evolution of political culture

Precisely what a nation finds scandalous says a great deal about the shared values of the population, and should indicate something about the nature of political culture within that community. The Profumo Affair in Britain, and the sex scandals of a variety of American politicians – from Jefferson’s slave mistress through Anthony Weiner’s most recent “sexting” scandal – suggest a certain fascination with the private lives of politicians and a predilection to moralize about them. Canadian politicians, on the other hand, seem to have largely avoided sex scandal and, some would argue, the Canadian political environment as a whole remains devoid of particularly scintillating scandal.

A closer examination of the revelations that have exercised the Canadian public reveals that this characterization of the nation as “boring” and lacking in scandal is far from the truth. This current project rejects the conventional wisdom and examines the history of political scandal in Canada. It has three main goals: 1) to first provide a taxonomy of scandal in Canada from the mid-19th century to the present; 2) to contextualize scandals and use them to understand the evolving political culture in Canada; and 3) to identify the salient features of scandal in Canada and create a “scandal scale” that will serve to measure public outrage regarding contemporary political circumstances.

This project is rooted in other research my team is conducting on the centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office in the years since the 1960s. The PMO has recently become the focus of extraordinary legal and civic attention as revelations of the power and influence exerted by staffers have come to light; this has pointed to both the centrality and the obscurity of scandal in our contemporary political reading. It has also highlighted how little we know about the history of political scandal in Canada. The taxonomy and context will extend our knowledge; the scale will allow that information to play a role in current political and public policy decisions.

Understanding the contours of scandal in Canada, and the changing definition of scandalous over time, is the goal of this new project.

Intern: 
Maribel Garcia
Faculty Supervisor: 
Penny Bryden
Province: 
British Columbia
Partner University: 
Discipline: