One job you don't need a degree for -

One job you don’t need a degree for

You need a degree to teach, but 32 per cent of MPs don’t have one


To many Canadians, Parliament often seems like a Wild West saloon, lacking both the comparative civility of British parliamentary discourse and the sober professionalism of the U.S. Congress. It turns out that crude public perception is underwritten by some cold facts: according to new data crunched by the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum, 32 per cent of Canadian MPs do not have a university degree. In the U.S., only four per cent of members of the House of Representatives do not have a university degree, and in the U.K. that figure is 28 per cent. The breakdown along party lines in Canada is even more striking. While only 15 per cent of Liberals are without a chunk of sheepskin on their office wall, 41 per cent of Conservatives and 37 per cent of NDP members do not have degrees.

Does this matter? John Godfrey, a now-retired Liberal MP for Don Valley West with three postgraduate degrees (not to mention a bunch of honorary doctorates), said that while he found the statistic “interesting,” the study “didn’t alarm [him] in any way.” He doesn’t think educational background should determine whether someone is fit for Parliament. Perhaps not. But given that you need a university degree to teach Grade 1 math or to be a social worker, it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that the people hired to make and examine our laws might benefit from a few years of higher learning.

At the very least, the relative paucity of degrees among MPs suggests that being a parliamentarian is not seen as a long-term career to which one might dedicate years of careful study. Indeed, the same study found the average tenure among members of our Commons is only seven years, compared with 11 in the U.S. and 10 in the U.K. All of which helps explain why question period often seems like amateur hour. It’s because it is.

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One job you don’t need a degree for

  1. Are parliamentarians with degrees more civil and more knowledgeable than those without degrees?

  2. Many conclusions might be drawn from your statistics, Andrew, and I must say I’m surprised at the conclusions you settled on. When you referenced the U.S. stats, for example, I immediately supplied my own answer. U.S. Government is for and by the privileged. And the results speak for themselves.

    You’re as entitled to your tongue-in-cheek shots as anyone, but if you really want to stand behind and elaborate on this theme I think you’ll find you’re making some very uncomfortable claims here. Elected government isn’t about running the machinery of day-to-day bureaucracy. I’m sure you know that. It’s about making broad decisions about the direction our society will take, and trying to somehow bring together our divergent opinions on that subject. Is it helpful to have a post-secondary education in that role? Perhaps. But there are many people in Canada who do not have that education. You seem to think the majority of Canadians need someone else to tell them what a good society should look and feel like. I prefer to believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion on that subject, and to act as a representative in that capacity.

  3. I think it just puts the parties with a larger group of well-educated MP’s in a position to offer the best government. Only 30 to 40 of our MPs will become cabinet ministers and, yes, I do believe that the more educated ones will do a better job.

    Take for example someone like Marcel Massé. From his bio: Mr. Massé studied at the University of Montreal, McGill University, the University of Warsaw and Oxford University. He was called to the Quebec Bar in 1963 and in 1985 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. After four years with the World Bank, Mr. Massé held a number of positions with the provincial and federal governments between 1971 and 1979, including Deputy Minister of Finance for the Government of New Brunswick, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet for Federal-Provincial Relations and Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Operations). Following his term as Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Massé served as President of the Canadian International Development Agency, Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, Canadian Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund and Secretary to the Cabinet for Federal-Provincial Relations.

    That was before he was elected as a Liberal in 1993. Because of his education and experience, Mr. Massé was, in my opinion a great asset to Canada as a member of the government.

    Today, we have a party in power that has consistently underestimated its spending. The Liberals were accused of underestimating their surplusses – which are driven by external events – but to consistently underestimate spending is proof to me that the people who now govern us are ill-prepared to do so.

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  6. Andrew! Surely you don’t believe that a university degree guarantees civility. A university degree does not guarantee anything.

    Tommy Douglas – arguably our best politician – had a masters degree and worked on a thesis entitled The Problems of the Subnormal Family which was about eugenics. Do you think that is what made him a great politician? Do you believe someone with a BA in Art History is going to make a better grade 1 math teacher?

    I am angry that you would draw these conclusions. This is affective prejudice toward people that are not of your class. A subtle form of discrimination. I would like to know the actual statistics behind your conclusion that university educated people make better members of parliament. I would make a bet that the worse offenders are university graduates. How about John Baird? I hope you don’t consider him a shining example of sterling behaviour.

  7. The term democracy comes from the Greek language and means “rule by the (simple) people”.

    The majority of Canadian’s don’t have a degree! Therefore this seems like a more realistic representation of the Canadian public, unlike the Oligarchies of the US and UK where only the priveliged can rule.

    I’m a political science student and I must admit some of the stupidest most out of touch people I know, have degrees. Show up, pay your tuition and four years later you can have a degree too!