Elementary Kinship Structures in Parliament since 1867

Article 5 / 12 , Vol 34 No 3 (Autumn)

Elementary Kinship Structures in Parliament since 1867

The title of this study is a nod to the distinguished ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2009) who demonstrated that multiple family structures (monogamous, polyandrous or polygynous; patrilineal, matrilineal or bilateral, extended or restricted) all serve the same social functions to varying degrees. Since 2000, the Library of Parliament’s PARLINFO service has made available on its website kinship ties of senators and MPs from 1867 to the present on its website. This database is the source for this article. It allows us to look at the considerable number of parliamentarians who are spouses, brothers, sons or daughters of other parliamentarians.

People who share both a bedchamber and a parliamentary chamber are rare worldwide. Only about twenty married couples over three quarters of a century have sat in the Parliament of Canada. Intuitively, we would expect these couples to share the same ideology and to be more common among the less conservative parties. We would also expect that increasing numbers of couples were elected as more women left the home and entered the workforce and that they would be more common in urban areas than rural ones.

Our Canadian sample shows that most of our intuitions are wrong. Of 20 couples, half are from conservative parties. The two periods with the most couples in Parliament were the 1960s and the 2000s, with no gradual progression from 1930 to 2008. The urban-rural divide is no more apparent: we note only that Ontario sent the most couples to Ottawa (6 of 20).

Nonetheless, we do note the following trends; husbands and wives always shared the same political philosophy; the husband’s political career usually preceded the wife’s (18 of 20); the wife’s career often began later in life than her husband’s (14 of 20). Half the time, a riding was a “political legacy” passed on from husband to wife.

Am I my Brother’s Keeper?

Since 1867, 105 parliamentarians (92 MPs and 13 senators) have held office alongside their brothers. They were part of 50 families, 5 of which had three parliamentarians each (the Dorions, Geoffrions, Horners, Macdonalds and Prices). Most often, the older brother began his career before (35 cases) or at the same time (5 cases) as his brother(s). There was no significant difference in the ages of the brothers when they began their parliamentary career.1 Most held office in the same province (43 of 50), if not in the same riding. The brothers most often represented the same party (42 of 50). The exceptions are most often from the 19th century, when party discipline was less strict than it is today.

Let us now look at the provincial and party distribution for the 105 brothers. Brothers were clearly more frequently elected in Quebec than in Ontario and more often in the Maritimes than in the Western provinces. The Liberal Party had more brothers in its ranks than the Conservatives or the other parties.

The more complicated question is how the representation of brothers in Parliament changed over time. To find out, we divided history into four “political generations” that correspond to four periods of hegemony of one of the two major parties or alternation between them. How many brothers started their parliamentary careers in each period?

  • 1867–1896 Quasi-hegemony of Conservatives 48
  • 1896–1935 Liberals and Conservatives alternate 33
  • 1935–1968 Quasi-hegemony of Liberals 15
  • 1968–2008 Liberals and Conservatives alternate 9

Total 105

The trend is very clear: the frequency of brothers in Parliament has noticeably diminished over time.

Like Father (or Mother), Like Son (or Daughter)

Now we will consider the daughters, who number only eight. Let us compare their situation with that of the parliamentary wives. There is only one senator who had a senator daughter but four female senators had a father who was an MP or senator. Daughters and fathers shared the same ideology; as many daughters represented the Conservative Party as the Liberal Party; the daughter’s career began at a more advanced age than (5 cases) or the same age (2 cases) as her father’s did. Moreover, the father did not pass on his riding to his daughter except in one case. One or two daughters began their political careers in each decade over the last fifty years. Ontario has the most parliamentary daughters (5 of the 8).

What about the sons of parliamentarians? They are far more numerous: 133 from 127 families, for a total of 260 parliamentarians—fathers and sons—comprising 210 MPs and 50 senators. This means that some fathers had two sons in Parliament (the Barnards, Crawfords, Moffats and Sinclairs). Ralph Horner even had three sons sit in Parliament. George Rideout was the son of two parliamentarians. Another female parliamentarian, Marion Dewar, was the mother of a MP, Paul Dewar.

Of course, the provinces and parties represented were more or less the same for father and son. As with brothers in Parliament, Quebec had more than Ontario, and the Maritimes more than the West. However, the Liberals’ lead over the Conservatives is not as large for fathers and sons in Parliament.

We will now look at the change in fathers and sons in Parliament over time by comparing the entry dates of the 256 parliamentarians.2

  • 1867–1896 Quasi-hegemony of Conservatives 94
  • 1896–1935 Liberals and Conservatives alternating 68
  • 1935–1968 Quasi-hegemony of Liberals 57
  • 1968–2011 Liberals and Conservatives alternating 37

Total 256

As with brothers in Parliament, the trend is toward fewer fathers and sons over time.3

Do these sons of parliamentarians take up their political careers early? It seems to be the case given that 85 sons began their career at an earlier age than their fathers did.4 Of course, the voters in ridings elect MPs, and the prime minister chooses senators, but the numbers are clear.

How many sons inherited their ridings from their fathers? This trend has been significant; it was the case with over 100 father and son parliamentarians. Quebec had the most of these, followed by Ontario and the Maritimes.

Let us conclude with a few remarks on names. Fifteen of the 20 parliamentary wives had the same name as their husbands; just 1 daughter kept her father’s name; 9 of 133 sons had the same first name as their father.


1. In 20 cases, the older brother started his parliamentary career at a more advanced age than his brother; in 24 cases, the opposite occurred; in 11 cases, the brothers began at the same age or within two years. (This makes for a total of 55 cases, including the five families with three brothers who sat in Parliament.)

2. Not 260 as in the preceding table. Four parliamentarians were counted twice since they are both sons and fathers of other parliamentarians. They are MPs Charles-Eugène Pouliot and Charles-Gavan Power and senators Charles-Philippe Beaubien and Louis-Athanase David.

3. In the present House of Commons the following had fathers who were also MPs: Maxime Bernier, Jack Layton, Dominic Leblanc, Peter MacKay, Geoff Regan, Mark Strahl and Justin Trudeau.

4. Thirty fathers began their careers at a younger age than their sons, 11 at roughly the same age (plus or minus two years).


Husbands and Wives in Parliament
Couple Province Riding Party Start of Mandate Age
Wilson, Norman Frank ON Russell Liberal 1904 28
Wilson, Cairine Reay ON Senate Liberal 1930 45
Casgrain, Pierre-François Qc Charlevoix-Montmorency Liberal 1917 31
Casgrain, Thérèse Forget Qc Senate Independent 1970 74
Black, George YK Yukon Conservative 1921 48
Black, Martha Louise YK Yukon Independent-Conservative 1935 69
Casselman, Arza ON Grenville Conservative 1921 30
Wadds, Jean Casselman ON Grenville-Dundas Conservative 1958 38
MacInnis, Angus BC Vancouver-South Independent Labour 1930 46
MacInnis, Grace BC Vancouver-Kingsway NDP 1965 60
Casselman, Frederic AB Edmonton-East Liberal 1940 55
Casselman, Cora AB Edmonton-East Liberal 1941 53
Hardie, Mervyn NT Mackenzie River Liberal 1953 35
Hardie, Isabel J. Tibbie NT Northwest Territories Liberal 1962 46
Jones, Henry SK Saskatoon Conservative 1957 37
Jones, Eloise SK Saskatoon Conservative 1964 47
Macdonald, John PE King’s Conservative 1957 44
Macdonald, Margaret PE King’s Conservative 1961 51
Rideout, Sherwood NB Westmorland Liberal 1962 45
Rideout, Margaret Isabel NB Westmorland Liberal 1964 41
Sauvé, Maurice Qc Îles-de-la-Madeleine Liberal 1962 39
Sauvé, Jeanne Qc Ahuntsic Liberal 1972 50
Moores, Frank NT Bonavista-Trinity-Conception Conservative 1968 35
Johnson, Janis MB Senate Conservative 1990 44
Cossitt, Thomas ON Leeds Conservative 1972 45
Cossitt, Jennifer ON Leeds-Grenville Conservative 1982 34
Milne, William ON Peel-Dufferin-Simcoe Liberal 1974 42
Milne, Lorna ON Senate Liberal 1995 61
Cadman, Chuck BC Surrey-North Reform 1997 49
Cadman, Dona BC Surrey-North Conservative 2008 58
Grewal, Gurmant BC Surrey Central Reform 1997 40
Grewal, Nina BC Fleetwood-Port Kells Conservative 2004 46
Jaffer, Rahim AB Edmonton-Strathcona Reform 1997 26
Guergis, Helena ON Simcoe-Grey Conservative 2004 35
Finley, Diane ON Haldimand-Norfolk Conservative 2004 47
Finley, Doug ON Senate Conservative 2009 63
Layton, Jack ON Toronto-Danforth NDP 2004 54
Chow, Olivia ON Trinity- Spadina NDP 2006 49
Thi Lac, Ève-Mary Thaï Qc Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot Bloc québécois 2007 35
Guimond, Claude Qc Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques Bloc québécois 2008 45

Note: Because of the difficulty in tracing past parliamentarians’ family relations and the inadequacy of printed sources, the present listing may not be complete.


Brothers in Parliament
By Province By Party
Québec 44 Liberal 65
Ontario 34 Conservative 26
Nova Scotia 6 Liberal-Conservative 6
Prince Edward Island 6 Progressive 2
New Brnswick 4 NDP 2
British Columbia 4 Independent 2
Alberta 3 Anti-Confederate 1
Saskatchewan 2 Unionist 1
Manitoba 2
Total 105 105


Fathers and Daughters in Parliament
Father-Daughter Province Riding Party Start of Mandate Age
Forget, Joseph David Québec Charlevoix Conservative 1904 43
Casgrain, Thérèse Forget Québec Senate Independent 1970 74
Woodsworth, James Manitoba Winnipeg-Centre Labour 1921 47
MacInnis, Grace British Columbia Vancouver-Kingsway NDP 1965 60
Rowe,William Earl Ontario Dufferin-Simcoe Conservative 1925 31
Wadds, Jean Casselman Ontario Grenville-Dundas Conservative 1958 38
Bissett, Edgar Manitoba Springfield Liberal-Progressive 1926 36
Neiman, Joan Ontario Senate Liberal 1972 52
Jackman, Harry Ontario Rosedale Conservative 1940 40
Nancy Ruth Ontario Senate Conservative 2005 63
Drope, Robert Ontario Northumberland Conservative 1945 47
Browes, Pauline Ontario Scarborough Conservative 1984 46
Connolly, Harold Nova Scotia Senate Liberal 1955 54
Carstairs, Sharon Manitoba Senate Liberal 1994 52
Whelan, Eugene Ontario Essex-South Liberal 1962 38
Whelan, Susan Ontario Essex-Windsor Liberal 1993 30

Note: Because of the difficulty in tracing past parliamentarians’ family relations and the inadequacy of printed sources, the present listing may not be complete.


Fathers and Sons in Parliament
By Province Fathers (Sons) By Party Fathers (Sons)
Québec 47 (48) Liberal 59 (68)
Ontario 34 (31) Conservative 46 (52)
New Brunswick 16 (15) Liberal-Conservative 6 (2)
Nova Scotia 12 (12) National Government 1 (1)
Prince Edward Island 2 (3) Anti-Confederate 4 (0)
Newfoundland and Labrador 1 (1) CCF/NDP 3 (4)
British Columbia 5 (10) Social Credit 2 (1)
Alberta 4 (5) Unionist 2 (1)
Saskatchewan 3 (5) Nationalist 1 (2)
Manitoba 1 (3) Independent/None 3 (1)
Northwest Territories 1 (0) Reform Party 0 (1)
Yukon 1 (0)
Total 127 (133) Total 127 (133)