Being a politician takes its toll on families and marriages, according to recent data showing divorce rates among MPs are twice the national average. According to Parliamentary Library research from this year, 85 per cent of MPs are divorced, well above the 70 per cent that were prior to the last election in 2011.
The data was commissioned by a cabinet minister’s office, says Jeff Watson, a Conservative MP from Ontario who has six children and has managed to keep a healthy marriage by having his family nearby. He wouldn’t say who asked for the research.
While many of the divorced politicians split up before they got elected, MPs work long hours away from home, are often separated from families four days a week and spend a lot of time socializing and at functions. There are also a lot of young staffers on the Hill, a problem for some marriages. “Every potential stress point in a marriage is alive and well in political life,” says Jim Armour, a lobbyist and former Stephen Harper staffer.
One cabinet minister who divorced after becoming an MP, and didn’t want to be named, said although there were already cracks in the marriage, the distance made it hard. “Perhaps being away during the week made it easier to not deal with problems. Before you know it the marriage seemed unsavable.”
While divorce is not unique to any one party, several high-profile examples have involved cabinet ministers and Conservative MPs. Eve Adams, a Tory, remarried Dimitri Soudas, Harper’s former director of communications, after being elected. Former public safety minister Vic Toews went through a messy divorce, ending his 30-year marriage, while in office following an affair with a much younger woman with whom he had a child. Detailed allegations from his ex-wife were posted on the Internet by a Liberal staff member under the Twitter account Vikileaks. When he resigned, Toews said: “It is not an easy life for family.”
Some legislatures have looked at how to make political life family friendly. In 2008, Ontario MPP Lisa MacLeod led an initiative to eliminate night sittings so politicians could go home. Perhaps someone should counsel MPs to do the same.