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Saturday, May 18 2024 @ 01:57 MDT

Members of Parliament and the Military

Jason ramblingPoliticians love to wrap themselves in the flag and say how wonderful the military is. Some of them love to send the military off on adventures in foreign lands where our young men and women are put into harms way, sometimes for a greater good, sometimes not. Given our current government's predilection towards the use of military force, I began to wonder how many of our politicians had the stones to do the job themselves, that is, how many of our MP's and PM's had served in the military in the past.

Finding this information out is actually relatively easy since the Parliamentary website has a database of members with military service. So a scan of the database provides us with the following information:

Prime ministers who've served:

  • John A. MacDonald
  • Alexander Mackenzie
  • John Abbot
  • Mackenzie Bowell
  • Wilfrid Laurier*
  • John Diefenbaker*
  • Lester Pearson*

Those marked with a * possibly saw combat as they were serving during wartime, Diefenbaker and Pearson during World War I and Laurier during the Fenian Raids. As a side note, Diefenbaker was the last WWI vet to sit in the House of Commons. So we have 7 out of 22 PM's having served or about 32%. Broken down by party four were Conservatives and three were Liberals. The trend has been to non-service as all prime minsters since Pearson have not served.

When it comes to parliamentarians in general, there has been a general decline in service since 1945.

This is to be expected, of course, given that the number of WWI and WWII veterans that would have been in the general population and hence probably elected to parliament. As these veterans began to retire, their numbers would diminish in the House which is indicated by the dramatic drop starting with the 28th Parliament (1968). This drop leveled off somewhat with the 34th Parliament (1988) but has again been in decline as of the 37th Parliament (2001). Our current crop of parliamentarians have the lowest percentage of service since Confederation at 3.27%.

On a percentage of members of a particular party, it looks something like this:

In general, the Progressive Conservatives and the CCF/NDP seem to have the largest percentages of their caucuses having had prior military experience. In terms of averages the CCF(35%), PC's (33%), and NDP (24%) have the greatest proportion of their members having military experience. Those with the lowest are the Bloc Quebecois (5%), Conservative Party of Canada (6%) and Reform Party(7%). For information, the Liberals come in at 19%. It would seem that parties that tend to the centre and centre left tend to have a greater percentage of MP's with military experience. Whereas those farther to the extremes, especially the extreme right, tend to not have the same amount. To be fair, however, the CPC does beat out the NDP if the CPC/PC numbers are averaged against the NDP/CCF numbers, but not by much (29% vs 27%).

In terms of the current parliament, the NDP have the most members with military service at 6.9% with the CPC following at 5.6% and the Liberals at 1%. Which makes the Tories complaining that the NDP don't support the military a little thin, given that a smaller proportion of Tories served compared to the NDP. Though given the numbers, none of the parties can be said to have a lot of depth when it comes to military experience.

So what does all this mean? After all, military experience doesn't necessarily make for a good parliamentarian or even a good defence minister in the same way that an economist doesn't necessarily make a good finance minister or prime minister. For me it speaks to motive to some extent. After all, Parliament is responsible for sending our young men and women into harms way and if the MP's aren't willing to do the job themselves, why should anyone else? It all seems to me to say that our current crop of parliamentarians wouldn't lift a finger to do the job if they had to do it personally. It all seems a little hypocritical to me.

To see the more detailed data, download the spreadsheet here.

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