December 7, 2014 Leave a comment
Many Canadians were surprised to hear last year that fully 85 percent of our federal Members of Parliament are divorced. This was the conclusion of a Library of Parliament research study, which noted that this was a bit higher than the 70 percent rate among MPs in the 2008-2011 parliament.
As the Maclean’s article that reported on these findings observed, political life is hardly compatible with domestic bliss.
Few of the 308 MPs live within daily commuting distance of Parliament, and those from the more far-flung constituencies face just as gruelling a commute as they would if their constituencies were located in the U.K. or Nicaragua. Thus, most MPs and their families must live independent of each other.
Those able to transplant their families to Ottawa are only marginally better off. A 2011 study of British MPs first elected in the 2010 intake found that, after six months in office, these newcomers were working an average of 69 hours per week.
This is consistent with reports from other countries on MPs workloads, and is probably very close to the Canadian parliamentary norm.
Combine family separation with the profession’s inevitably high concentration of narcissistic personalities, and the presence of ample opportunities, and you have the perfect conditions for extramarital affairs to start.
While this has come to be accepted with a collective shrug as long as the sex is consensual, it still has the capacity to make a mess of politicians’ family lives.
In addition to the above, a new study out of Norway recently shed some more light on a political career’s corrosive effect on family life.
Heidi Fischer Bjelland and Tore Bjørgo of the Norwegian Police University College studied 112 members of Norway’s parliament. They found that more than one-in-ten had been victims of actual or attempted assaults, and one-third had been on the wrong end of a “serious” incident of some kind.
The Norwegian English-language newspaper The Local also reported:
Seventy percent of the 112 politicians who took part in the study said they had received unwanted and offensive letters. More than half interviewed stated they have experienced someone spreading malicious information about them. Fifty politicians have received unwanted and harassing phone calls.
[ . . . ]
Serious incidents are physical assaults or attempted physical assaults, threats against closely related people, vandalism to property and objects, or threats published on social media.
This is hardly new: public life has always come with some risk of being targeted for harassment or worse.
In past decades, however, political spouses — almost all women then, and still predominantly so today — had little or no financial independence, and could safely be told to “put up or shut up” with the demands of being married to a public figure, no matter how distressing it became. In a world where everyone else seemed to be gaining liberation, political spouses were expected to remain deferential help-meets.
Today, these spouses are more likely to have careers of their own, and the option to dissolve the marriage and seek out a better life for themselves, with the kids in tow, once they find public life too burdensome.
Male or female, they have every right to exercise that option. A lifetime is a finite, non-renewable resource, so there is no point in wasting it away suffering if better options are available.
Yet neither the parties nor the institutions have shown much sign of being responsive to changes in the balance of power between politicians (“actual” and “would-be”) and their partners. It remains a profession noted for its crazy hours, ridiculous amount of travel required, and put-us-first-and-to-hell-with-your-family demands.
But there is evidence that the so-called Millennials are more apt than previous generations to put family ahead of career advancement, which will make it more difficult for parties to find presentable candidates in the years ahead.
As is the case with any scarce commodity, the parties and the institutions will need to sweeten the offer. Not necessarily with more cash, but with a less demanding and more individual- and family-friendly career — or they will need to settle for whoever they can find who does consider the escalating price of public life still worth paying.
Whatever these changes either way lead to, we will deal with it the same way humans have always dealt with change: by adapting to it.