Experience on a town council, in a legislature or at the cabinet table can certainly come in handy when entrusted with the governance of the country. It is also useful when trying to convince Canadians to hand you and your party the keys to 24 Sussex Drive. But there is something to be said about experience in the private sector, outside of the bubble of municipal, provincial and federal politics. That real-life experience can mean the kind of outside-the-box thinking that may escape a career politician.
The members that make up the House of Commons vary greatly in their experience as private citizens and as public officials. Many were elected just two months ago and are starting their new political careers after spending most of their lives in the private sector. Others left their parents' home only a few years ago and are just starting their first real jobs. Still others have been in politics for decades and have known little else.
Of the three main parties in the House of Commons, the Liberals have had their MPs spend the highest proportion of their adult lives as elected officials. The average Liberal MP has held public office for about 33 per cent of his or her adult life, compared to 22 per cent for the Conservatives and only 10 per cent for the New Democrats.
In other words, the average MP has spent the vast majority of their adult lives outside of the political bubble, especially in the case of the NDP whose average MP has spent 90 per cent of their adult lives as private citizens. This contrasts with the 78 per cent for the average Conservative MP and 67 per cent for the Liberals.
There is little variation, however, in the average amount of years spent outside of politics. The average Liberal MP has spent about 24 years as a private citizen, whereas the average NDP MP has spent a little less than 25 years outside of public office and a Conservative a little more than 26 years.
But as the New Democratic caucus is younger than their two rivals, they have spent much less time as public officials. On average, an NDP MP has held elected office for less than four years, compared to more than seven years for a Conservative MP and 12 years for the average Liberal. In terms of the total amount of time each caucus has spent on a municipal council, in a provincial legislature, or in the House of Commons, the Liberals and New Democrats have a comparable degree of political experience (a little more than 400 years for the Liberals, a little less than 400 years for the NDP), but they lag well behind the Conservatives who have spent a total of 1,200 years in public office.
Many of those individual Tory MPs, however, have racked up years upon years of public service, commendable as that may be. But if a "career politician" can be defined as someone who has spent a majority of their adult lives in politics, the Conservatives also outstrip their rivals.
Both the Liberals and New Democrats have roughly the same number of "career politicians" within their caucuses, but of course for the Liberals this gives them a much higher proportion. About one in seven Liberal MPs can be called a career politician under this definition, whereas only about one in 25 New Democrats can hold the title.
The Conservatives, on the other hand, have about three times as many "career politicians" as either the New Democrats or the Liberals, though this makes up a smaller proportion than that of the Liberal caucus. In all, about one in 12 Conservative MPs has spent the majority of his or her life as an elected politician.
New Democrats also have a lower proportion of their MPs who come from political backgrounds. More than four out of every five New Democratic MPs were elected to federal office after a life spent outside of politics. Only about 17 per cent of NDP MPs put their names on lawn signs after spending some time as an elected politician at the municipal or provincial levels.
About 79 per cent of Liberal MPs threw their hats in the federal ring after a career outside of politics, while approximately 73 per cent of Conservative MPs brought their life experience to the House of Commons directly.
Experience in government and politics is certainly an important part of being a good legislator and leader in Canada. But experience in business, in the education system, as farmers, in the military and, in one case, in space, can also play an important role in good decision-making in Ottawa.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.