Our political class, or distinct lack thereof


Alison Loat pulls together various strands to consider turnover and experience in the House of Commons.

So is it a problem? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a good thing to have fresh minds and a comparatively open political system. Furthermore, it’s unclear how realistically we can change it even if we wanted to (although better HR management in politics would be a most welcome change). To paraphrase a wiser observer than myself, I guess the real question is whether our Parliament is too transient to properly do its job.


Our political class, or distinct lack thereof

  1. So is Potter's premise that Canada's heterogeneous political class is amateurish well-founded or not? I think it's more likely the case that the Conservatives have discovered real value in promoting their amateurs, since the opposition MP's are often quite stymied by them. I mean, what are you supposed to do with a Pierre Poilievre or a John Baird, except look on, in stunned silence, especially since you can't bend them over your knee and give them the spanking their daddies should have given them, long ago.

  2. "I guess the real question is whether our Parliament is too transient to properly do its job"

    Another way of looking at the question and reformulating it based on the author's own reference to the parliamentary website page on internal reform is: "Do MPs find they have the power and influence necessary to convince them to stick around?"

  3. I assume that Potter's "political class" refers to "professional politicians" which is of course a particularly nasty sort of insult in Canada. Still I think the numbers are a little low, it would be interesting to see who they count as a "PP". One challenge is that most politicians are loath to admit that their political career aspirations stretch back to their youth, which is rather sad given that committing to public service should be seen as a honourable profession.

  4. Exactly!

    The problem isn't with a too-rapid or too-slow turnover of the Parliamentary or political class but rather that so many of those involved have done absolutely nothing other than be involved in politics. They talk of standing up for "hard working people" etc. but far too many politicians have never been one of those people, let alone worked in a sector outside being a political staffer or party worker etc.

    It is really an almost closed shop.

    • We're in the midst of doing a comprehensive series of interviews with former MPs, and their motivations and activities/professions before entering is one of the areas we discuss. Although we're in the midst of analyzing the info right now, it is fair to say that a surprising number of them had little or no political involvement until a year or two before running (although many were volunteers as well, of course). It differs by region and party, for sure, but the system is a lot more open than I'd initially thought it would be, and MPs backgrounds are too.

      Here's one post that touches on this slightly: http://bit.ly/5FUIOd

      • Thanks for that information. I would be very interested in reading the results of your research.

        • Thank you for your interest. We'll continue to post bits and pieces at http://www.samaracanada.com/blog. When things are summarized we'll have it on the site, and if you subscribe to the newsletter you'll get notification when it's ready. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the discussion.

  5. Thanks Alison, I have gone through a few bios and it is consistent with your exit interviews. (Although looking at CAPS above one can see why a politician would want to be seen entering politics without experience.)

    However, looking at leadership figures in all the parties seems to paint a different story. Do we perhaps tend to have career politicians leading the amateurs?

    • I haven't gone through the professional histories of PMs and party leaders over time, but I would imagine that, much like in any large and complex organization, the leaders would tend to have significant amounts of previous experience in their "industry". For example, I think all the CEOs of Canadian banks have extensive experience in the banking sector and I can't imagine we'd want it any other way.

      As Andrew notes below, Ned Franks' observations do suggest that the executive is more experienced than the backbenchers. Again, that's probably realistic, and it's a matter of debate and personal opinion it's a problem.

  6. My claim that we have an "amateur" parliament is based on some old concerns raised by Ned Franks (two decades ago, now) about one of the principle drawbacks of our Commons is the transient nature of its membership, relative to the executive. He argued something to the effect that Canada has tended to have an entrenched and professional executive facing off against a transient and amateur Commons, which has made it all the more difficult to hold the executive to account.

    The longevity of MPs has waxed and waned — a few years ago, Jeff Simpson complained that incumbency rates had got too hight — but my sense (and it's only a sense, going in part on Alison's research) is that the turnover in the Commons remains quite high relative to other comparable legislatures (US/UK/Aus).

    Whether that is a problem or not is a question for the class. But either way, I'm extremely keen to see the results of Alison's work.

  7. Turnover in the Canadian Parliament isn't a problem, it's an advantage! Goodness–the Americans in many places are imposing term limits because their professional politicians are lodged in Congress and in their State Houses for endless years. While I don't agree with much about the Harper government, I think it's good that in recent elections the Conservatives, and prior to that, Reform, brought in a lot of new people. Remember what a Parliament is – it's not the Government. A few members of the Parliament are tapped for the Cabinet, and actually are given power. The majority of MPs are there basically there to let the Government know in caucus how its policies are playing to the country – and they also are potential Cabinet members, in case they show exceptional promise and members of the current Cabinet screw up. Most MPs function only as a sounding board and talent pool. If many of them are newcomers, that's a good thing – they're closer to the people they represent, and often new blood. To suggest that it's a problem that many of them are "amateurs" is to assume that we actually give all MPs power, and they have to be experienced and shrewd in the exercise of it. Wrong. They can be inexperienced and even not very smart, so long as they're fairly representative.