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Portfolio ranking and gender occupancy in the Canadian cabinet

In the most recent contribution in a series of opinion pieces Jen Curtin and I develop our thoughts on the need to match parity in number with parity of responsibility.  See

Categories: Canadian Politics.

Beyond Symbolic Representation in the 2015 Canadian Federal Cabinet

*** An updated version of this post appears at:


The incoming Liberal government will make history on Wednesday for one of two reasons. Either prime minister designate Justin Trudeau will assemble a cabinet that unprecedentedly contains an equal number of men and women, or the failure to do so will go down as the fastest broken campaign promise in Canadian history.

We sincerely hope that the former comes to pass. Despite numerical superiority in the Canadian population, women have fared less well when it comes to representation at the highest level of government. Following a slow start in 1957, when Ellen Fairclough was appointed as the first and only woman in John Diefenbaker’s cabinet, women’s representation in the House of Commons, in the governing party caucus and in the cabinet has steadily increased over the last 50 years to the point where it stands today: somewhere roughly between 20 and 30 percent.

Under a first past the post system, achieving between 20-30% women in the House is considered pretty good. Globally we know that proportional electoral systems have long since been more female friendly than majoritarian ones. Moreover, parties to the left of center tend to have a better record on selecting women to safe seats, thereby allowing them a chance of a political career, and thus selection to cabinet. The 2015 incoming class certainly falls within this range: 26 percent of MPs are women; 27 percent of Liberal caucus are women. Had the Liberals not made their promise we could have expected women to fill at least 27 percent of the seats in what is probably going to be around a 30-seat cabinet (eight women ministers). Instead, and if the promise is kept, that number will double to around 15 women ministers. This single day change will propel Canada from the 30th position to 4th (tied with France and Liechtenstein and one ranking below Sweden) in the global UN rankings for women in ministerial positions.

Now before we go patting ourselves too hard on the back we want to present a caveat to the prime minister designate. Not all ministers are created equal. Since the days of Trudeau Sr. the Canadian cabinet has consisted of two ministerial castes: full ministers and junior ministers – typically labeled ministers of state or secretaries of state.

These junior ministerial positions were designed to provide support for individual or specific tasks within the ministerial portfolio. They are also useful in so far as they provide a fertile testing ground for promising backbenchers with respect to promotion into cabinet as a full minister.

The catch is that is not how it works in practice. Our research on cabinet career trajectories suggests that cabinet careers are, for the most part, fixed on entry. Those backbenchers appointed as full ministers typically remain full ministers for the remainder of their cabinet careers, while junior ministers usually remain at that rank indefinitely or until they are reshuffled to the backbenches and replaced with replacement ministerial aspirants.

What we think is more concerning is our finding that female government backbenchers are much more likely to be appointed to cabinet in a junior capacity than their fellow male backbenchers. And often this is done as an appeasement strategy. That is, the party may not be particularly progressive in selecting women for election in safe seats, so the symbolic compromise is to appoint them as junior ministers.

Justin Trudeau is already facing the challenge of his predecessors to assemble a representative and capable cabinet. The legislative arithmetic combined with a promise for gender parity will make that cabinet building task still more daunting. However, given the historical and lackluster prospects for upward mobility for those individuals titled Minister of State, as well as the trend for women to be appointed to these positions, we strongly encourage the prime minister designate to bolster his promise of gender parity in the cabinet. There must be gender equity between the ranks lest his ambitious promise be broken in all but name.

Matthew Kerby is Senior Lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

Jennifer Curtin is Associate Professor Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Categories: Canadian Politics.

Incitatus Canada

The current and serious allegations against Senator Patrick Brazeau made me think that as a political institution, the Canadian Senate has received scant systematic attention from political scientists, at least when compared to the House of Commons. On your mark…

Exits from the Canadian Senate: 1965-2013

Exits from the Canadian Senate: 1965-2013

Exits from the Canadian Senate: 1965-2013, by PM

Exits from the Canadian Senate: 1965-2013, by PM

Categories: Canadian Politics.

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“Representative” by Population in Newfoundland and Labrador

I note from CBC NL that Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale has appointed Ross Reid as  deputy minister responsible for population growth strategy. Dunderdale framed part of her discussion around the challenges associated with the accelerating growth rate of Newfoundland and Labrador’s senior population. Indeed, according to StatsCan Newfoundland and Labrador is on course to having the highest proportion of  seniors of all the Canadian provinces. This is a serious concern. In addition to the lost provincial revenue that accompanies a disproportionately large and retired senior population (tough in the best of times, made worse in periods of economic turmoil), the population imbalance also puts a heavy stress on the already delicate public health sector: a sector which Newfoundlanders regard as a political priority but which demands a considerable (read very large) share of the provincial budget. It goes without saying that as the population ages it will put even greater demands the health care system and the public purse, a point not lost on my former colleagues at Memorial University.

A rapidly aging population in the absence of a contingency plan will also detrimentally affect the lifeblood of rural Newfoundland.  Newfoundlanders are keenly aware of the demographic impact that the collapse of the cod fishery in the 1990s had on  their communities and culture. Rural Newfoundland is a central pillar of the provincial identity and imagination, one needs only to watch the fantastic tourism advertisements which attract visitors from across Canada and the around to world to get a sense of how Newfoundlanders see and like to project themselves to others. The combined phenomena of an uneven population distribution, particularly in rural areas combined with global trend of rural migration to urban centres and educational and economic hubs will be especially hard felt in rural Newfoundland. Ross Reid has his work cut out for him.

I’m not a sociologist or a human geographer, but I did take an interest in the demographic transformation of Newfoundland when I worked at Memorial University. My concern focused primarily on population change and the possible future changes to the number of seats in the provincial House of Assembly. I was interested in what this would mean, broadly speaking, with respect to urban/rural representation and its translation into public policy decision-making, particularly in cabinet. I was lucky to find some interesting and publicly available data at the Department of Finance which contains population forecasts for each of the rural secretariat regions in Newfoundland and Labrador. I presume these are the same data and forecasts which prompted Premier Dunderdale to take action. The data on their own are quite fascinating but difficult to decipher unless they are visualized. Note that Premier Dunderdale in her press conference stated that,

“Our demographic is scary … It’s almost inverse of what it ought to be. Instead of this broad base of young working people at the bottom, and narrowing like a pyramid as you go up to your older people … ours is almost the inverse of that.

To get an idea of what she is talking about, I generated and uploaded some population pyramid time series forecast animations which demonstrate how the demography has changed since the mid 1980s and how the Department of Finance expects the demographic reality to change in the upcoming years. Note that the DofF has estimated several projections. The videos below use the “medium” forecasts. The animations are quite striking, especially when one looks at those areas that have already endured considerable economic stress.

Politics is an art of creative compromise, bold decision-making and the informed awareness of one’s capabilities, strengths and expectations. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Ross Reid in particular face a number of challenges if they wish to successfully tackle this problem. That said, oftentimes the most creative solutions emerge in the most pressing of circumstances.

The graphs were made using Stata12 and animated using Keynote. A replication do file which can be used to recreate the graphs can be found here. The dataset used to make the graphs can be downloaded freely from the Newfoundland and Labrador Department  of Finance website. I recommend setting the playback speed to “X2” to experience the full effect of the animations.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Comparative Provincial Ministerial Turnover in Canada

I just returned from the International Political Science Association in Madrid where I presented a paper on Canadian subnational ministerial turnover. The presentation powerpoint is available here.

Categories: Conferences.

Or you can call VOCM…

Today’s website contains a story about fixing potholes in St. John’s. Coun. Wally Collins is quoted:

“I urge people to report all the potholes they see, so the roads don’t get so bad,”

“If you’ve got a pothole on your street just report it, [call] 311, and within a week it’s fixed.”

Of course many call VOCM instead. Potholes were a recurring theme that came up in the research Alex Marland and I conducted on public policy and open line.

“There was general agreement among our respondents that prompt action in response to minor policy issues or administrative errors raised in the media is common. Calls to talk radio can draw attention to a matter that government officials can react to within existing policy and budget parameters. In some instances this involves routine maintenance (e.g. municipal pothole repair) or processing errors (e.g. cheque amounts) that bureaucrats can immediately address. In such cases calling elected officials directly might be just as effective, leading MHAs to tell constituents: ‘You don’t have to get on the open line and talk about your problem to get me to work on it. Call me.’ (Marland and Kerby 2010, p. 1011)

Somebody should run an experiment to see which of the two, a call to VOCM or a call to 311, get’s the pothole filled fastest!

Categories: Research.

Combining the Hazards of Ministerial Appointment AND Ministerial Exit in the Canadian Federal Cabinet

Matthew Kerby, “Combining the Hazards of Ministerial Appointment AND Ministerial Exit in the Canadian Federal Cabinet”, Canadian Journal of Political Science, 44:3 (September 2011) 595–612.


The Canadian federal cabinet stands out among Westminster parliamentary democracies because of the large number of first-time ministers who are appointed to cabinet without any previous parliamentary or political experience. Several explanations have been put forward to account for this peculiarity but no attempt has been made to examine how Canadian prime ministers overcome the information deficit associated with appointing ministers with no experience. How can prime ministers be confident that they are making the right choice? This paper explores the subject by estimating the survival functions of ministerial turnover for potential, but not yet appointed, cabinet ministers were they to survive to a defined political benchmark; these survival rates are included in a logit model of Canadian ministerial appointment following four general elections (1957, 1979, 1984 and 2006) in which the prime minister was tasked with appointing a cabinet with ministerial neophytes.

Categories: Research.

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Determinants of Voluntary Legislative Turnover in Canada

Matthew Kerby and Kelly Blidook, 2011, “It’s Not You, It’s Me: Determinants of Voluntary Legislative Turnover in Canada”, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 36(4), pp. 621-643.


The Canadian federal parliament is unique among Westminster parliamentary democracies due to the unusually high level of voluntary and involuntary MP turnover that occurs at each general election. This article builds on existing research to test the hypothesis that the MP career duration is related to MPs’ expectations about parliamentary roles, insofar as voluntary turnover is concerned. Data on MPs drawn from historical records collected by the Library of Parliament and from surveys conducted in 1993 and 20011 are used to develop an event history model which estimates the hazard of voluntary career termination when different parliamentary roles are taken into consideration. Findings suggest that a number of individual factors play a role in voluntary turnover, most notably that MPs who enter Parliament hoping to affect policy are the most likely to move on.

Categories: Research.

Hot off the Press: Journal of Legislative Studies

Hot off the press…

Kelly Blidook and Matthew Kerby, 2011, “Constituency Influence on ‘Constituency Members’: The Adaptability of Roles to Electoral Realities in the Canadian Case”, Journal of Legislative Studies, 17(3). pp. 327-339.


This paper takes a first comparative look at ministerial duration and exit in two Westminster parliamentary democracies: Canada and Australia. Despite sharing the same core rules which govern ministerial tenure (individual and collective ministerial responsibility), Canada and Australia differ with respect to parochial conventions which have evolved since federation in Australia (1901) and Confederation in Canada (1867); these conventions both enhance and diminish prime ministers’ ability to appoint, retain and dismiss their ministers. Furthermore, we expect the variation in institutional and party organization in both countries to affect the rate and nature of ministerial duration and exit. This paper makes use of an original combined dataset of complete ministerial career paths in both countries for the period 1945-2010 in order to provide a first round of descriptive statistics which highlight the similarities and differences in ministerial duration in both countries across space and over time.

Categories: Research.

SEDEPE in Iceland

SEDEPE is hosting two panels at the 2011 European Consortium for Political Research General Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Section 35, Panel 21: From the Bottom to the Top? Career Paths of Political Leaders in Multi-Level Settings

When: Thursday, 25 August, 1500-1640
Where: Main Building – Room A218

Chairs: Patrick Dumont and Matthew Kerby
Discussant: Christopher Kam

  1. William  Daniel: All Roads Lead through Brussels? Career Ambition in the European Parliament
  2. Elena  Semenova: All Roads Lead to Moscow? Careers of Russian Political Elite in Multi-level System
  3. José Real-Dato, Juan  Rodriguez-Teruel and Miguel  Jerez-Mir: In Search of the ‘Ladder Model’: Career Paths of Spanish Diputados (1977-2010)
  4. Richard  Whitaker: Legislative Careers at the Supranational Level? The Stability of Membership of the European Parliament and Internal Advancement

Section 35, Panel 22: Political Elites and Institutions: Recruitment Patterns and Turnover

When: Friday, 26 August, 0900-1040
Where: Main Building – Room A218

Chairs: Hanna Back and Keith Dowding
Discussant: Indridi Indridason

  1. Matthew Kerby and Keith Dowding: Comparative Ministerial Turnover in Canada and Australia: 1945-2010
  2. Sebastian Jäckle: Ministerial Turnover in the German Länder: An Event History Analysis of Macro-Political Factors and Biographic Determinants
  3. Juan  Rodriguez Teruel, Oscar  Barberà and Astrid  Barrio: Party Government in Multilevel Settings: The Determinants of Ministerial Turnover in Spanish Regional Cabinets (1980-2011)
  4. Marcelo  Camerlo and Aníbal  Pérez Liñán: Presidential Cabinets. Minister Turnover and Critical Events in Latin America

Categories: Conferences, Research.