CBC News Federal Election

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Analysis & Commentary

Professions of the politicians

By Laura Carlin
Where do they come from? All those keen, eager, willing public servants – those 1,634 Canadians who have committed to run for a place in the House of Commons.

We're not wondering about their family origins, but their professional ones. Except for those coming straight out of school, most of the candidates had some other job before they decided to run. There are certain lines of work that seem to churn out politicians like an assembly line.

Take the law, for example. More than 20 per cent of Canadian MPs since 1867 have been lawyers.

On the other end of the spectrum, in the history of Canadian politics, fewer than one half of one per cent of MPs have come from the dentistry profession. Conservative candidate for Kitchener-Conestoga and former dentist Harold Albrecht says it may be too complicated for dentists to run. "A mitigating factor … is the logistical needs of a practice, and transferring your patients within a short period of time," he says.

Albrecht left the profession a while back to become a pastor. That field, he says, "exposes you to the broader range of human need that exists within our country."

As a pastor, Albrecht has a bit more company among political hopefuls. By our count, at least eleven clergy members, including one monk, are running in this election. That doesn't even include the two current MPs who are clergy members: United Church minister Bill Blaikie, and Maurice Vellacott, a former pastor. (They are also running, but their current jobs are, of course, political.)

The numbers are a bit hard to quantify, and not all candidates have provided their professions. Also, we counted those who were elected prior to 2000, as politicians, rather than as the professions that they had before they were elected.

Of the 1,046 candidates whose professions we noted, about 107 of them said they were lawyers or involved in the law profession. That's about ten per cent. Although law has been the most common profession for Canada's MPs, business is starting to overtake it.

The Parliament of Canada website provides an interesting chart on the occupations of MPs past and present.

You can use that to discover that seven out of Canada's 3,949 MPs since 1867 listed their occupations as "soldier". Another 17 say they've been involved in the military, although without specifying in what capacity.

Here's a look at a few of those professions:

The law

"Our whole society is based on the rule of law, and good laws and good governance come from having a strong legal system that is respected," says John Hoyles, executive director of the Canadian Bar Association. Hoyles says that's one reason that so many politicians have been drawn from the legal profession.

The legal profession has spawned more federal politicians than any other, over time. But the business community is beginning to overtake it. The current prime minister is both a lawyer and a businessman. Hoyles says there are a number of reasons for the shift. He says maintaining a practice has become even more demanding, making it difficult to take time off to campaign.

Also, he says politics has changed. "Politics is much more a fishbowl than it has been in the past," he says. "In the old days your private life was your private life, and your public life was your public life."

Hoyles says that is a disincentive not only to lawyers, but to others who may want to run. Hoyles also points out that some lawyers are earning larger incomes than they used to. He says an MPs salary could be a difficult trade to make.

Well-known lawyer/politicians: Too many to mention, including almost every prime minister. (The exceptions are Mackenzie Bowell, Alexander Mackenzie, Lester Pearson and Joe Clark.)

Business

Although not the top occupation yet, our numbers suggest business is fast moving up the charts. People who listed their profession as businessperson, or manager, or entrepreneur far outnumber any other job category, including law.

Éric Paradis, the Liberal candidate in Lotbinière-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, says business people like to win. He says his personality drives him to get results.

Peter Graham, the Green party candidate for Lac St. Louis, says entrepreneurs are used to problem solving. "To be successful in business, you have to have your ear to the ground, to know what's happening, who's unhappy, and where's the next fire that you're going to have to put out."

He also says people in business are moving to politics to change the way things are done. "I suspect that … there are changes that need to be made. I think a lot of business people would welcome regulation that would make it okay to do what is right for society."

MP and Conservative candidate Diane Finley, of Haldimand-Norfolk, says having a background in business has helped her in the House. "It obviously gives me insight. Real world experience really does help. You can anticipate problems before [legislation is] enacted."

She points out that most industries are affected by government in some way. "Whether it's heavy regulations, whether it's export-dependent, or whether the government is a customer, business people are having to get much more involved with government, and they probably see ways they feel they can improve it."

Well-known business/politicians: Prime Minister Paul Martin (who is also a lawyer), former NDP Leader Audrey McLaughlin, Conservative foreign affairs critic and former leader of the opposition Stockwell Day.

Teaching

Alain Charette, Bloc candidate for Hull-Aylmer, says teachers are curious by nature. He says teachers are looking for the truth. "We are looking for something. For justice, and I've been looking for that for years. I don't like injustice, I like when it's fair for everybody," he says. But, he adds, a House made up entirely of teachers wouldn't necessarily be a good thing. "You need people from everywhere, just like in society."

Well-known teacher/politicians: Canada's first female MP Agnes MacPhail (she was also a farmer), Conservative Loyola Hearn, former Prime Minister R. B. Bennett.

Farming

Although their numbers have dropped somewhat, farming is still second on the all-time list of MP professions at the Parliament of Canada website. In our count, farmers registered at about six per cent of those running.

Farmer and Brandon-Souris Liberal candidate Murray Downing says farmers make good politicians.

"The farmer's view is the backbone of the country, meaning that everything comes off the land in some form, so if there is a problem coming up, we'll be the first ones to see it," he says. "Farmers are viewed as honest people, hard workers, and if they are given a task to do, they do their best ability to accomplish that task they're set out to do," he says.

Well-known farmer/politicians: Canada's first female MP Agnes MacPhail (she was also a teacher), former solicitor general Wayne Easter.

Medicine

Physician is one of the top-ten jobs for members of the House of Commons, at about one per cent of all MPs. There were four in the last parliament. But the numbers have gone down somewhat over the years.

Bob Mullan, a doctor and Conservative candidate in Kings-Hants, would like to see more health care professionals turn to politics. "It seems to me essential that we have health care professionals … representing and advocating for the needs of Canadians," he says. "I don't think that that's going to happen with the same sort of quality, with the same sort of intensity, if we don't see doctors and other health care professionals in politics."

Mullan says being a doctor and being a politician are similar in many ways. He says people in both professions need to learn to put other people's interests ahead of their own. He says for doctors, "that's just what we assume are the guidelines in terms of the way we conduct our business."

Well-known doctor/politicians: Former Prime Minister Charles Tupper, former leader of the Opposition Grant Hill.

Journalist

This profession leads to politics more than one might think. About three and a half per cent of MPs have listed their profession as journalist. When parliament dissolved, there were nine people who listed their profession as journalist, all of whom are running again. We counted at least another 14 who are also running.

Peter Kent is a former journalist and news anchor running for the Conservatives in the St. Paul's riding. He says being a journalist gave him a good view of how public policy is shaped. "I think a journalist is better prepared to be a politician than almost any other craft trade or profession," he says. He describes it as politics from the "cheap seats".

"In my case I did a lot of commentating and criticizing, so I wanted to see if it really is as hard as some politicians make it look to deliver good government to people."

Well-known journalist/politicians: Former Prime Minister Joe Clark, former deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps, one of the fathers of Confederation Thomas D'Arcy McGee.




# # [an error occurred while processing this directive]
ELECTION RESULTSDetails>
1241035129
Total Elected and Leading
CON124036.27%
LIB103030.23%
BQ51010.48%
NDP29017.48%
IND10.52%
OTH005.02%

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