OTTAWA -- There's no butcher, no baker and no candlestick maker, but Canada's 41st Parliament is made up of one of the most diverse groups of MPs ever elected in this country.

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OTTAWA -- There's no butcher, no baker and no candlestick maker, but Canada's 41st Parliament is made up of one of the most diverse groups of MPs ever elected in this country.

There are more women than ever before, more visible minorities, more aboriginal MPs and a significant contingent of 20-somethings.

The House of Commons in Ottawa.

THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

The House of Commons in Ottawa.

There were also 108 rookies taking their seats for the first time Thursday, the largest freshman class of MPs in almost two decades.

Graham Fox, president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, said there seems to be a much wider variety of backgrounds for MPs in this Parliament than in previous versions.

"It's a lot more reflective of the reality of what Canada is," said Fox.

Will that variety have an impact on both the style and substance of Canadian politics? "I think it can and I hope it does," said Fox.

There are nearly five dozen MPs with backgrounds in business and 40 who come to the chamber as lawyers. But there are also two firefighters, five cops, three car dealers, four chiropractors, four doctors and a dentist. There is a bricklayer, an astronaut, a Christmas tree farmer, an air traffic controller, a composer and not one, but two, karate teachers.

Not to mention 10 MPs whose most recent job description is "student."

Will they, along with the 19 teachers, five university professors and two college instructors bring more order and discipline to the bunch? At least it means there are three dozen MPs who have it ingrained to put their hand up if they wish to speak.

Parliament still has a way to go to reflect Canadian society exactly.

 

While women make up 52 per cent of Canada's population, they account for just 25 per cent of MPs. The good news is that is the highest proportion of women in Parliament ever, up from 22 per cent (69 MPs) in the last Parliament.

Steven Fletcher, the Conservative MP from Charleswood-St.James-Assiniboia in Winnipeg, was the first quadriplegic elected in Canada in 2004. He is joined in this Parliament by Manon Perrault, a Quebec NDP MP who is also in a wheelchair due to an equestrian accident.

There are 38 MPs in the House now who were not born in Canada, accounting for a little more than 12 per cent. That is far shy of the 20 per cent of Canadians who were born elsewhere.

Only eight per cent of our MPs are visible minorities, half the 16.2 per cent of visible minorities in the population of Canada as a whole.

The average Canadian is white, female, and 39.5 years old.

The average Canadian MP is white, male, and around 50 years old. He has served just under 5 years in Parliament and likely came into politics from a business or legal background. He is also most likely to be named Robert, Peter or John.

But if you look at the representation within each party, there are some clear differences.

Conservative MPs are slightly older than the Parliamentary average (51), and have spent just over five years in Parliament on average. They have the highest number of aboriginal MPs (two Metis, two First Nations and one Inuit).

Sixteen Conservatives were born outside Canada.

Twenty-eight are women.

One in three Conservative MPs got their political start in either provincial (13) or municipal (42) politics.

Nearly five dozen Conservative MPs have a background in business, while a further two dozen are lawyers. At least 15 list "farmer" as a previous occupation,

The NDP, not surprisingly with its contingent of Quebec university students, is the youngest on average at 46 years old. There are 19 NDP MPs who are under 30. No other party has any MPs under 30 in this Parliament.

With 40 women on its benches, the NDP is also the closest to reaching gender parity of any of the parties at 39 per cent.

The caucus is the least experienced, with an average of just 1.9 years in Parliament. There are 68 NDP MPs without any Parliamentary experience, and 13 more with less than three years. Only four NDP MPs have been in the House for more than a decade, compared to 26 Conservatives and 19 Liberals.

While the Conservatives are clustered in business and legal professions, the NDP MPs are more likely to have backgrounds in teaching (19) union or labour (9), journalism (7) and the public service (5).

There are eight lawyers, two with backgrounds in business and one who was formerly a farmer.

One fifth got started in either provincial (6) or municipal (15) politics.

There are a dozen visible minorities, including the first ever MP of Tamil background, and two First Nations MPs. Sixteen were born outside Canada.

The Liberals, though a much smaller group of 34 MPs, are collectively the oldest and most experienced politicians on the Hill. The average Liberal MP is 54 years old and has been on Parliament Hill for 10.3 years. The Liberals have just one MP under the age of 40, compared to 11 who are over 60.

Eight Liberals have been MPs for more than 15 years, more than any other party (only five Conservatives, one Bloc are also in the over 15 years club).

There are just six women in the Liberal caucus, no aboriginals, and two visible minorities. Four Liberals were not born in Canada. Seven started off in provincial (3) or municipal (4) politics.

There are nine lawyers, five business people, three farmers, three professors and two doctors.

Fox said the fact the Conservatives are more likely to have business backgrounds and the NDP more likely to come from organized labour is certainly not surprising.

People are going to be attracted to run for parties for the same reasons they are attracted to vote for certain parties, he said.

He also said the large number of new MPs and the number of young MPs could really affect how this Parliament functions.

"They will offer a more complete debate," said Fox. "There is this big new generation that may be offering a fresh look on old issues."

Many of the issues this parliament will face are the same ones Canadians have debated for years such equalization payments and the health care accord with the provinces. But the perspective of nearly 20 MPs under 30 and more than 100 MPs who are dealing with those issues from the House of Commons for the first time will add interesting dimensions to the discussions, said Fox.

While the rookies face a steep learning curve, there are some fundamental changes to the make-up of this Parliament politically that will be challenging for the 200 MPs who have been in the House before.

More than 80 per cent of the MPs in the House today have never been there in a majority government situation.

Very few of the Conservative MPs have ever been part of a majority government at the federal level. Justice minister Rob Nicholson, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency minister Bernard Valcourt, and Alberta Conservative MP Lee Richardson were all MPs during Brian Mulroney's majority government. All three were defeated in 1993. Nicholson and Richardson were re-elected in 2004. Valcourt was re-elected May 2.

Only 28 Conservatives even sat as official opposition during the Liberal majorities of Jean Chrétien. A handful have been part of majority governments at the provincial level but more than half the Conservatives are not familiar with majorities.

Neither are any of the NDP MPs familiar with being in the official opposition. That's of course because the NDP have never formed official opposition federally before.

And the Liberals are certainly on unfamiliar ground. While many of them remember the taste of being in a majority government, the Liberals have never before not been either government or official opposition.

The last time Canada saw its Parliament so fundamentally changed by election results was in 1993, when the Liberals grabbed a majority government, all but two Tories were shown to the exit and the Reform Party and Bloc Quebecois arrived on the scene. The latter two both elected more than 50 MPs each.

That was also the first time since Confederation that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives were the official opposition party. With 55 MPs, the Bloc beat out the Reform Party for the second party status by just three MPs.

Deputy Liberal Leader Ralph Goodale, who was part of the Liberal majorities from 1993 until 2004, says one of the key factors to a majority government is of course, learning how to handle the government being able to call all the shots.

He said there are two main functions that become critical for an opposition in a majority situation. The first is the accountability of government spending

"In a majority government, it is important for the opposition to do detailed scrutiny of spending," he said. "In the more partisan atmosphere of a minority government, style takes precedence over substance."

The other critical element is the stoking of public opinion, and using public opinion to sway the government, since just berating government policies from the benches of Parliament won't have much impact.

"You've got to be backed up by public opinion that the government will find impossible to ignore," said Goodale.

Goodale too hopes the new and younger MPs will help direct the tone of Parliament to a more civil level.

"It's an opportunity for a new style to be established," he said.

Fox said he believes all MPs will feel differently in this new session because of the majority.

Both opposition and government, in a minority, feel constant pressure to deliver the lethal barb at every opportunity because an election was always just around the corner.

"As long as there was a threat of an election, it was often 'how do I gain points today because I may need them tomorrow," said Fox.

Now they can sit back, relax and plan out four years down the road.

For the government that means setting an agenda and getting in place incrementally. For the opposition it means establishing itself as a government in waiting, and using the next four years to develop a platform it can sell to voters in the next election.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca