Parliamentary Privilege? Kinship in Canada's Parliament.

AuthorGodwin, Matthew

In the Canadian parliamentary context, there are numerous contemporary and historical examples of dynastic politicians, but there has been curiously little academic study of this phenomenon. Many questions pertaining to kinship in parliaments remain unanswered. What is the rate of kinship in the Canadian parliament? What has been the rate of change in political kinship over time and can this change be explained? What advantages may dynastic politicians possess and what constraints do they face? This article measures the prevalence of kinship within the lower house in Canada's federal parliament and presents data on kinship since Canada's first parliament. After looking at economic and electoral data, it argues that change to make the electoral system more open and socially inclusive offers an explanation for the observable drop in rates of kinship over time. Finally, the paper will conclude with suggested courses for future research.

Rates of Kinship since Canada's First Parliament

The below analysis begins in 1867, when Canada was granted Dominion status from Great Britain, up to the 2011 federal election, and provides data points in Figure 1 of 'Kinship by Seat Total'; which is to say, the percentage of MPs who have had relatives serve in the House of Commons as a proportion of total MPs. The data points for the 'Kinship by Number of MPs Elected to each Parliament' reflects the number of 'dynastic' MPs elected to the House of Commons in that election. Kinship in Canada's parliament has clearly declined steadily since Confederation (with slight variations over time) and the goal of this article is to offer explanations as to why this happened.

A total of 287 Canadian Members of Parliament since Confederation can be considered dynastic by way of a paternal relationship, such as a father having served in Parliament prior to a daughter or a Grandfather having served in Parliament before his grandson. For example, in 1921 James Woodsworth, the first leader of the Canadian Commonwealth Federation (CCF), was elected to the 14th Parliament. His daughter, Winona Grace MacInnis, would go on to represent the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1965 in the 27th Parliament.

A further 35 Members of Parliament have had kin in parliament through marriage. Winona Grace MacInnis was married to CCF MP Angus MacInnis, who served concurrently with her father. A number of female MPs in the early 20th century were related to other members through marriage, such as the Independent Conservative MP Martha Louise Black. She was the second woman elected to the House of Commons and held Yukon's riding for one term in 1935 while her husband was ill. Her husband, George Black represented Yukon between 1921 and 1945, save for the parliament of 1935. In recent parliaments, there have been a number of spouses sitting concurrently in the House of Commons, perhaps most famously Toronto MPs Jack Layton and Olivia Chow in the 2006, 2008 and 2011 parliaments, respectively.

Finally, there have been 95 MPs in the House of Commons who are related to existing or former parliamentarians through the bonds of brotherhood or sisterhood. One exceptional example is that of the three Geoffrion brothers of Quebec, who passed on the Chambly-Vercheres riding (1) amongst themselves three times, collectively holding the riding from 1867 to 1911. (2)

Overall, a total of 395 Members of Parliament since Confederation have been related to another MP or Senator. Out of a total number of 4206 MPs elected for the first time, this represents roughly 9.39 per cent of the total. The range over the 144-year period for kinship by seat extends from a height of 21.35 per cent in the 3rd Parliament to a low in the 33rd parliament of 3.54 per cent. Kinship by Member of Parliament ranges from a high of 17.97 per cent in the second parliament to a low of 3.47 per cent in the 33rd parliament and is at 3.83 per cent at the time of writing.

Pairing these two trend lines allows us to gauge the impact electoral turnover has on the rate of kinship in parliament. It is notable that the most significant divergence between the lines is in the first half of the table, where turnover was much higher; as many as 40 by-elections were held to fill vacancies between parliaments. As the amount of turnover has diminished overtime, so has the variation between the lines. This suggests there is a negative relationship between kinship in parliament and the turnover of Members of Parliament.

Despite several small variations, the decline over time is clear. It now remains to consider why this nearly steady decline in the rate of kinship has taken place.

Population Growth

At first glance, a simple explanation may be that the decrease in the prevalence of kinship can be explained by the gradual increase in Canada's population since Confederation. Clubok et al. (3) provide a formula to dispel this relationship in the American context and the same formula can be applied here.

The results indicate there is a significant divergence between the actual number of MPs with relatives in each parliament and that predicted by simple population growth. This suggests there are factors involved when it comes to kinship in Parliament other than changes in Canada's population over time.

Electoral Upheavals

Canada has experienced its share of electoral upheavals and shifting fortunes for its political parties. When one party loses a significant number of seats to another party, with the incumbent party losing many seats, it may be hypothesized that numerous dynastic MPs would be defeated and a new slate of candidates elected, leading to a "refresh" with a much lower kinship percentage.

Perhaps the most transformative election which casts doubt on this argument is...

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