After their stunning electoral breakthrough, the New Democrats now have four years to prove to Canadians they are a legitimate government-in-waiting. But an analysis of the governmental experience of the NDP caucus shows they lag well behind their two main rivals in the House of Commons.
With more than five years in government, it should come as no surprise the Conservative Party has the most experienced bench in Parliament. In all, its caucus has a combined total of almost 124 years experience in federal cabinet. Not all of that was under Stephen Harper's watch, as both Bernard Valcourt and Rob Nicholson held cabinet portfolios under Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell.
The New Democrats, by comparison, have no experience in a federal cabinet. The Liberals, meanwhile, still have almost 59 years total experience under their belt, dating back to the days of Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien.
The New Democrats do have some governmental experience at the provincial level. David Christopherson and Irene Mathyssen have cabinet experience from the NDP's government in Ontario, while Thomas Mulcair was a minister under Jean Charest in Quebec for almost three years. In all, that gives the NDP a little more than six years of governmental experience.
The Liberals have slightly more experience at the provincial level, thanks to Joyce Murray, Bob Rae and Judy Foote. They have about 17 years experience in total.
But the Conservatives also have much more experience at the provincial level, with a combined total of 51 years spent at the cabinet table. John Baird, Tony Clement, and Jim Flaherty all have extensive experience from the days of the Progressive Conservative government in Ontario, while Leona Aglukkaq in Nunavut, Gail Shea in PEI, and Vic Toews in Manitoba, among others, bring their fair share of know-how to cabinet.
And if we include the experience of being mayor of cities with populations of 10,000 people or more, the amount of time spent in government among Tories is increased by 32 years.
Put together, that gives the Conservative caucus a grand total of 207 years experience in government, compared to only 75.3 years for the Liberals and 6.2 years for the NDP. If the New Democrats are the next government-in-waiting, they will be a government of neophytes.
It would not be the first time a government is elected with little to no experience at the helm. But just the trio of Ontario Progressive Conservatives (Mr. Baird, Mr. Clement and Mr. Flaherty) brought more than twice the experience to Mr. Harper's first cabinet table in 2006 than the entirety of the current NDP caucus.
Pound for pound, however, the Liberals are the most experienced party in the House of Commons. They average 2.2 years of government experience per MP, compared to 1.3 years of experience for the average Conservative MP and only 0.1 years of experience for the average New Democrat.
But experience in government is not everything. Long years spent as a legislator, on committees and in the midst of debates, certainly counts for something. And on that score the New Democrats do not lag so far behind the two other major parties in the House of Commons.
In terms of total time spent as a sitting MP, the Conservatives still have the most seniority. Their caucus has a combined total of 867.4 years of parliamentary experience, well ahead of the Liberals at 344.6 years and the New Democrats at 211.6 years.
Though the NDP still ranks as having the least experience, they can count on the veteran guidance of people like Brian Masse, Joe Comartin, Yvon Godin, Libby Davies, Pat Martin, and Peter Stoffer. All of them have spent more than nine years in Parliament.
By the time voters next head to the polls in 2015, the NDP caucus will have more cumulative years of experience than the Liberals, who can only rack up so much combined experienced between their 34 MPs.
But the Liberals will maintain the highest average level of parliamentary experience per MP. While a New Democratic MP has an average of 2.1 years of experience in the House of Commons today, and a Conservative has 5.2 years of experience, the Liberals average 10.1 years in the House. In fact, eight of their 34 MPs have spent 15 years or more in Parliament.
The longest serving member, however, is Bloc MP Louis Plamondon, who clocks in at almost 27 years. When he first sat in the House of Commons as a member of the Progressive Conservative caucus in 1984, about a dozen of the New Democrats' current MPs had yet to be born.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article neglected to include Judy Foote's provincial experience in the Liberal totals. This version has been corrected.