Business tops experience among 2019 candidates, one-third have run for office before

Been fun helping out on this:

Whether debating at town halls, canvassing, or presenting their cases online, it’s a near record year for candidates, with 2,146 running, including 1,741 candidates offering for the six major parties and pitching themselves to Canadians in this election.

One-third of the 2019 Conservative candidates cite their business credentials in their online biographies—far more than their competitors, though business is a top job among all parties. Conservative candidates are more likely to be business owners, while the Liberals are fielding the most lawyers, and the NDP and Greens are popular among professors, teachers and students. Those in arts and entertainment industries are more common among the left-leaning parties, while military and police officers are more likely to appear on the CPC and the People’s Party of Canada’s slates.

This is according to an analysis of the most recent occupations of more than 1,700 people vying for the 338 seats in the next Parliament and was pulled from party biographies and other sources. The analysis is based on research conducted by The Samara Centre for Democracy and The Hill Times in partnership with researchers Jerome Black and Andrew Griffith.

While there are clear clusters of people with certain professional backgrounds who decide to take the leap for federal public office, the skillsets among MP hopefuls in this election are wide: from a semi-professional chess player, to chemists and truck drivers, to the three Olympic athletes trying their luck at a new type of contest.

There are 318 candidates running who have sat in the House, including 288 incumbents and 30 former MPs trying to make it back to Parliament. The Green Party has three former NDP MPs running for it, the PPC has two former Conservative MPs on its slate, and both Independent incumbents are former Liberals.

For many, the campaign trail is familiar territory. At least one-third of the slate is made up of campaign veterans, having previously run for or held political office at the municipal, Indigenous, provincial and territorial, or federal levels. The Liberals, with the most incumbents, lead the pack with at least 214 who fit in that figure, followed by 161 Conservatives. Only 78 NDP candidates cited past political runs, followed by 60 Green and 20 Bloc.

There are 318 candidates running who have sat in the House, including 288 incumbents and 30 former MPs trying to make it back to Parliament. The Green Party has three former NDP MPs running for it, the PPC has two former Conservative MPs on its slate, and both Independent incumbents are former Liberals.

Past political experience

Political experience Bloc CPC Green Liberal NDP PPC Grand Total
Current MP 10 81 3* 162 29 1 288
Past MP 1 18 2 7 2 30
Provincial/Territorial representative 2 11 1 12 1 27
Municipal representative
34 15 24 18 6 97
Past federal, provincial candidate 7 11 36 10 14 7 85
Indigenous government
1 3 4 6 14
Elected in another country
1 1
School board trustee
5 3 2 3 1 14
Total 20 161 60 214 78 18 556

There are clear differences across the parties for professionals they recruit or appeal to—often in expected ways, like business and the Conservative Party, said Paul Thomas, a senior researcher with Samara and Carleton University professor.

“In an ideal world you would have people from all backgrounds in all parties” and those interested would be reflected in the priorities of each, Prof. Thomas said.

The data shows that isn’t happening, he noted, with some sectors disproportionately represented (like business people, professors, and lawyers), while the more precarious sectors (retail, restaurant, or service) have fewer people running for federal office.

“This comes back to the question of whether politics is accessible across employment backgrounds? Do we have people who have experience, say in the retail sector, or in trades, feeling like their views are well represented?” he said.

That’s long been the case, with sales and service experience cited among about five per cent of MPs over the past 10 parliaments, while skilled occupations sat around 20 per cent, according to a Maclean’s analysis in 2015. Double the number appeared in law, social science, education, government services and professional occupations.

It’s a question of “symbolism,” in what it signals to a population that may feel distrust in or disaffected by politicians. It’s also a question of “legitimacy,” he said,  in that those voices should be represented to help with good policymaking.

“There also is the reality of polarization so if people find themselves believing one particular party can represent their best interest, that doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to compromise,” and it can be worrying to see over-concentration of types within a party.

Hopefuls most likely to cite business experience

Candidates most commonly cite their business credentials when wooing candidates, which was mentioned in 20 per cent of candidate profiles, followed by 10 per cent who fit in education, and eight per cent who work in government institutions (whether as staff or as representatives, like city councillors), seven per cent in legal professions, and six per cent in health care.

The Conservatives had the most business owners, at 42, followed by the People’s Party’s 24, the Liberals with 24, Greens with 23, and NDP with 7.The Conservatives were also far more likely to draw out with recent experience in the armed forces (15) as were the PPC (11).

Lawyers have long been an overrepresented profession in the House, and it was the second most common profession this election, with at least 46 running for Liberals, 26 for the Conservatives, 16 for the NDP, 10 for the Greens, and 8 for the PPC.

But that shift has changed over past Parliaments as more business people get elected, according to a 2013 Toronto Star. Before 1993, between 22 and 38 per cent of MPs in each Parliament were lawyers, but that moved down to 15 per cent,

About 10 per cent of each of the Liberal, NDP, and Green candidates are in the education field, with half that amount running for the Conservatives. Twenty-two per cent of the Bloc Québécois candidates cite education as a recent job before running for federal office.

There are a combined 35 professors running for the Liberal, NDP, and Green, while the CPC has four.

Almost a third of the PPC candidates didn’t have their professional experience publicly listed, and so couldn’t be categorized.

In some cases—for the PPC and gaps in other parties—that may signal they’re placeholder candidates that national parties put on the ballot to make sure all 338 ridings are covered. Many of the more minimalist biographies appeared for candidates running in long-shot ridings— facing off against some Conservative candidates in Alberta, for example.

More than 100 PPC candidates didn’t have a website—mostly in Quebec where the party leader Maxime Bernier is trying to keep his seat, Newfoundland and Labrador, and P.E.I.—with many using Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter profiles as their primary place for campaign communications.

That’s likely more a function of them being a new party rather than any particular attempts to hide, said Mr. Thomas, noting it was the party without a standardized web template for candidates.

Their candidate pages were also more likely to have gaps in personal information, focusing instead on issues, values, and platform promises.

“Possibly because it’s a new political movement with distinct political philosophy, people were trying to demonstrate their commitment to cause as compared to lay out their professional experience,” he said. That kind of signalling also came out with Green candidate, he noted, with nearly all biographies making references to environmental commitments.

Liberals have highest education

The analysis also tracked when candidates cited educational experience, ranging from college degrees up to a PhD. More than 200 of each of the Conservative, Green, and Liberal candidates have undergraduate degrees or higher, while the NDP reported 148 and the PPC, 95.

To Mr. Thomas it was “quite striking” to see so many Liberals (141) with postgraduate degrees. Liberal candidates most commonly had PhDs (19), followed by the Greens (11), and the Liberals also have the most masters and law degree holders (122), followed by the Conservatives (97).

Education level Bloc Québécois Conservative Green Liberal NDP People’s Party of Canada Grand Total
Undergraduate degree 29 106 121 78 77 61 472
Post-graduate degree 18 97 74 122 64 29 404
PhD 1 7 11 19 12 6 56
Community College 4 14 19 4 10 15 66
Trade certification / license 1 9 13 2 5 7 37
Total 53 233 238 225 168 118 1035

Though a complete picture can’t be captured as candidates are inconsistent with the amount of information they publicly share about their background and qualifications, Prof. Thomas said how political candidates present themselves matters, as does the experience they choose to highlight.

The low numbers is likely due, in part, to underreporting as both were less consistent with the biographies on party websites.

Even if under-reported, candidates are more likely to be higher educated than the average citizen. In 2016, 54 per cent of Canadians had college-and-above qualifications, compared to at least 58 per cent of those on the ballot this year.

Top occupation, by category

Occupation Bloc CPC Green Liberal NDP PPC Grand Total
Business (owners, entrepreneurs, consultant, realtors) 7 113 54 84 25 70 353
Government (all positions, excluding MPs) 8 51 17 50 34 14 174
Education 17 20 41 36 40 13 167
Law 3 27 10 50 19 9 118
Health care + social work 5 16 18 23 28 10 100
Trades, engineering, construction 3 8 18 6 11 32 78
Media / communications 4 19 9 16 5 8 61
Arts/Entertainment 5 2 26 4 15 3 55
Student 4 1 17 3 23 48
NGO 3 6 13 7 17 46
Military, police, and corrections 1 15 4 4 3 11 38
Agriculture 1 13 7 4 3 4 32
IT sector 2 5 8 2 4 7 28
Restaurant, service and retail 2 3 4 1 12 4 26
Labour / union 3 1 2 16 22
Director / manager 1 2 1 6 3 3 16
Sales 2 4 2 3 1 12
Human resources
3 3 3 1 1 11
IT sector 2 3 2 2 2 11
Scientist 4 3 1 2 10

Top occupation, by job title

Title Bloc Québécois Conservative Green Liberal NDP People’s Party of Canada Total
Business owner 1 42 23 24 7 32 129
Lawyer 3 26 10 46 16 8 109
Teacher 7 8 19 7 15 4 60
Student 4 1 17 3 23 48
Professor 2 4 7 14 14 4 45
Farm / agriculture 1 13 7 4 3 3 31
NGO Director 3 5 6 4 11 29
Entrepreneur 9 9 4 5 27
Engineer 1 3 8 4 3 7 26
Municipal councillor
8 1 8 6 3 26
Armed Forces 1 10 3 2 1 7 24
Political staff, federal
9 7 8 24
Consultant 6 4 7 4 2 23
Social work 3 2 6 3 8 22
IT sector 2 3 7 2 1 6 21
Realtor 3 5 4 2 2 3 19
Public servant, provincial 3 5 3 4 2 2 19
Nurse 1 1 2 3 9 2 18
NGO staff 1 7 2 6 16
Trade 2 2 1 5 6 16
Service industry 2 3 7 3 15
Business manager 2 6 2 1 4 15
Journalist 7 2 4 1 14

Source: Business tops experience among 2019 candidates, one-third have run for office before

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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