Changing face of Parliament better reflection of country’s diversity

The Christmas cards that MPs are sending out this year offer a small glimpse of what a remarkable change has overtaken the House of Commons in recent years.

It is a vastly under-appreciated story.

There is rookie Mississauga Conservative MP Eve Adams, a single mom, with her son on her Christmas card. There is labour minister Lisa Raitt posing with her two sons, no dad in sight.

Of course, a lot more traditional Christmas card photos with dad, mom, the kids and the dog are flying out of MP offices.

Still, the Christmas cards tell at least part of the story of the remarkable 41st Parliament since Confederation.

The Commons has become a much more diverse place, much younger and more interesting: in other words, more representative of the Canada it represents. Guys in suits still predominate, of course, but far less so than just a few Parliaments ago.

The amazing 2011 election was a major factor, sending a large contingent of new MPs to the Commons, and in the case of the NDP, a strong Quebec core sprinkled with students, a teenager or two and as diverse a group of 20 somethings as you will find.

Among them was Ruth Ellen Brosseau, a 27-year-old single mother of a 10-year-old who was assistant manager of a university pub in Ottawa and amazingly won election in a Quebec rural riding she had never visited. Brosseau is now the NDP assistant agriculture critic, winning praise for her work on the file.

Among the NDP Quebec contingent were four McGill University students in Montreal who, like their colleagues, dislodged Bloc Québécois MPs who had dominated the province for almost two decades.

It was a revolution by voters looking for change.

But the parliamentary youth and diversity movement actually started several elections before as the country’s political forces began to change.

Think back to 2004, when a 25-year-old recently-moved-to-Saskatchewan Conservative named Andrew Scheer unseated veteran New Democrat Lorne Nystrom and his more than 30-year parliamentary legacy.

This Christmas, Scheer is sending out a family photo Christmas card as the youngest speaker in Canadian history and the second youngest ever in the Commonwealth. He is winning praise from all sides for the job he is doing in a sometimes-raucous House.

However, perhaps the most striking characteristic of this Parliament is the number of women in the leather seats, many of them young, some of them single mothers or young mothers balancing family obligations and the intense political engagement that comes with the job.

This is a Parliament in which a young MP caused an uproar when she carried her infant into the House for a vote. But it reflected a new reality.

And it happened in a legislative chamber where not so many years ago, one of the few women MPs at the time asked a question about spousal abuse and was stunned when many men in the chamber joked about the issue by asking each other if they were still beating their wives.

Canadian politics has its detractors and there is much to disparage about the current meanness in the political discourse, but there is no denying that progress is being made in attracting young people and women to what was once an old-guy business.

The current House of Commons is proof positive.