What Do Parliamentarians Do?

A colleague and I were discussing this anecdotal perception that there has been a shift from relying on lawyers to craft policy and laws in Canada towards reliance on businessmen. This post ponders how our elected representatives self-identify themselves and what effect their prior occupation might have on their policy making perspective.
This tree chart shows the composition of the current House of Commons by occupational classification:

In fact, businessmen do represent the greatest number of seats in Parliament. However, they just barely hold this title and are trailed very closely by those identifying themselves as administrators, or having experience solely in the public sector. This I think may be a more telling phenomenon. I read this bluntly as the inmates taking over the asylum – that’s probably a little pejorative but I hope the point in made. A large proportion of members of parliament are individuals who have little or no experience in the private sector, but are skilled in managing public enterprises. I have always believed that the structure of our government was to have policy made by a chamber representative of society as a whole and then have those policies and laws carried out by people trained to execute those policies. What these numbers say to me is strangely, we now have policy determined by those civil servants that we have in the past employed simply to carry out the policies.
What is the impact of this? Does it mean that policies are geared towards being those that can be efficiently or effectively accomplished by the existing bureaucracy and thus contribute to a perpetuation of the status quo? Maybe.
This is not to say that the businessperson makes for a better policy maker. In fact, maybe the businessperson more pragmatically looks to the bottom line of the exercise, which is ultimately to be re-elected and thus operates under a policy horizon of four to five years maximally. He or she ensures that monies and public reminders of success are carefully managed for public perception at a time when this ensure electoral impact rather than the long term benefit of the country. Maybe this pragmatism is good.
We have historically (and still do as numerically the third most significant group) looked to lawyers as good lawmakers. This is now a position shared with those identifying themselves with educators.
Historically, those identifying themselves as lawyers were also quite savvy businessmen and their role in government was often to enrich themselves and their immediate circle. We have probably come a long way towards eliminating that which we directly identify as systemic corruption. This is not clearly to say that we have eliminated personal aggrandizement entirely and if you examine the data between 1997 and 2007 there is an exodus of long time members of the house, many of which have been associated with some rather less than savory behaviour.

Obviously from a compositional standpoint, parliament is about as far from being representative of the general population as one might imagine. But the simple use of self-identified occupations might also be rather deceptive. If one serves in the house for an extended period of time, how closely is one’s decision-making process unreflective of previous occupation versus increasing experience in how Canadian federal government actually operates. That is, how long does it take a teacher to become a professional politician? It’s a natural process.

Another emergent observation asks how the occupational breakdown of a particular caucus might influence its policy when it is the party in power.

The ruling Conservative party is dominated by businessmen:


When the Liberals were in power, their ranks were more administrators and lawyers and a greater diversity of occupations:


These are some initial musings. I will post some more later along with a complete breakdown of parties between the last four sessions of Parliament.

I used the tree chart tool from Many Eyes to create these visualisations.

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