Canadian Parliamentary Review

Current Issue
Canadian Region CPA
Archives
Upcoming Issue
Editorial and Stylistic Guidelines
Subscribe

Search
HomeContact UsFranšais

PDF
A Note on the Average Age of Senators Since Confederation
Rob Cunningham; Deborah Wehrle

At the time this article was written Rob Cunningham was a consultant in Ottawa and Deborah Wehrle was former Clerk of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

There has been much public discussion over the years about the age of the parliamentarians sitting in Canada's Senate. The Constitution Act, 1867, provided that Senators retained their appointment for life. Moreover, a person needed to be at least 30 years of age before he or she could be summoned. In 1965 a constitutional amendment came into force requiring Senators to retire at age 75. The amendment only applied to Senators appointed after June 1, 1965; Senators appointed prior to that date could still hold their seats for life. This study examines the average age of Canadian Senators since Confederation.

The data required to complete the study was obtained from listings prepared by the Senate Communication Office, the Library of Parliament, and the Canadian Parliamentary Guide. The necessary data for each Senator included the date of birth, date of summons, and date the Senator ceased to be a member (because of retirement, resignation, death, or disqualification).

Method

A series of Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets was used to calculate relevant statistics from this data. The average age of Senators in a given year is based on the Upper Chamber's membership as of December 31.

New Senators were added in the year of their appointment at the age they had attained at December 31 of that year. In 1867, each Senator's age was recorded as of December 31, 1867. When a Senator resigned or died, he or she was not included in the average for that year (which was calculated as at December 31).

If a Senator turned 69 on June 30, his or her age is set at 69 (not 69.5) for the purpose of calculations as of December 31. The same principle applies for all birth dates regardless of where they fall between January 1 and December 31.

Results

The average age of Senators for each year is found in Table 1. A total of 770 persons have sat in the Senate including four who were reappointed after resignation and one who was reappointed twice.

In 1867, the year that Senators were first appointed, the average age was 55.3. At the end of 1993, a total of 770 persons had been appointed to the Senate. This number includes four Senators who were reappointed after resignation and one who was reappointed twice. In 1917, it dropped suddenly to 64.0 because a total of 26 Senators were appointed, including many of a relatively young age.

After 1917, the average age of a Senator climbed steadily to a peak of 71.2 in 1961. Following mandatory retirement in 1965, the average fell significantly and stood at 65.9 in 1966. Over the next two decades, the overall trend was a further decrease in the average age. In 1993, the average stood at 62.6. For the years 1984 to 1993, the average was fairly stable ranging between 62.1 and 63.6. The average has not been below 62 since 1885.

The youngest Senator was William Miller from Nova Scotia who was 32 when summoned in 1867. The oldest Senator was Georges-Casimir Dessaules of Quebec who died at age 103 in 1930. The only other centenarian was David Wark of New Brunswick who was 101 when he died in 1905. A total of 22 Senators have sat in the Chamber after their 90th birthdays. A further 138 Senators sat past their 80th birthdays. A total of 162 Senators were at least 80 years old when they ceased to be members. This represents 21.0% of all Senators ever appointed and 27.6% of Senators appointed prior to 1965.

Only two "lifers" were sitting at the end of 1994. These Senators were appointed before 1965 and hold their seats for life: Orville Phillips (70), and John MacDonald (88).

While editorial cartoonists are likely to continue targeting the age of Senators, the fact is that the average age has decreased considerably in the last 30 years. Senators have not been younger since the 1880s.

The increase in age following 1867 is principally explained by the fact that Senators held their seats for life. The average age increased yearly, while only a few new and younger members replaced those who resigned or died.

Table I Average age of Senators from 1867 to 1993

1867

55.3

1892

63.3

1917

64.0

1942

67.6

1967

65.4

1992

62.8

1868

55.7

1893

63.6

1918

63.8

1943

68.1

1968

64.5

1993

62.6

1869

56.5

1894

63.7

1919

63.8

1944

67.7

1969

64.8

 

 

1870

56.9

1895

64.5

1920

64.8

1945

66.7

1970

64.3

 

 

1871

57.2

1896

64.4

1921

64.0

1946

67.0

1971

63.3

 

 

1872

58.0

1897

65.1

1922

64.1

1947

67.9

1972

63.3

 

 

1873

57.4

1898

65.1

1923

64.7

1948

68.2

1973

63.4

 

 

1874

57.4

1899

65.8

1924

65.2

1949

67.9

1974

64.1

 

 

1875

58.0_

1900

65.6

1925

64.8

1950

68.1

1975

64.3

 

 

1876

57.7

1901

65.4

1926

64.6

1951

68.7

1976

63.6

 

 

1877

58.2

1902

66.0

1927

65.5

1952

69.5

1977

63.1

 

 

1878

58.3

1903

64.5

1928

65.3

1953

69.2

1978

63.8

 

 

1879

59.1

1904

64.3

1929

65.7

1954

70.1

1979

63.1

 

 

1880

60.0

1905

65.0

1930

65.1

1955

69.0

1980

63.6

 

 

1881

60.5

1906

65.1

1931

65.7

1956

69.6

1981

63.7

 

 

1882

60.7

1907

64.8

1932

65.9

1957

69.1

1982

63.9

 

 

1883

61.7

1908

65.6

1933

65.3

1958

69.4

1983

64.0

 

 

1884

61.5

1909

66.1

1934

65.8

1959

70.1

1984

62.3

 

 

1885

61.4

1910

66.6

1935

65.6

1960

70.3

1985

62.7

 

 

1886

62.2

1911

67.5

1936

66.1

1961

71.2

1986

62.3

 

 

1887

62.7

1912

66.3

1937

66.5

1962

70.1

1987

62.7

 

 

1888

62.6

1913

66.6

1938

67.1

1963

70.0

1988

62.8

 

 

1889

62.9

1914

67.1

1939

67.7

1964

69.8

1989

63.6

 

 

1890

63.5

1915

67.3

1940

66.9 1

1965

69.6

1990

62.1

 

 

1891

61.9

1916

67.4

1941

67.3

1966

65.9

1991

62.2

 

 

 

As new provinces and territories became part of Canada, the number of Senators rose from its original 78 to the current 104. The addition of new members slowed the increase in average age. But as the new members grew older, the average age of Senators increased.

Part of the increase in average age might be explained by the increase in life expectancy. In 1921, when Statistics Canada first calculated estimates, life expectancy stood at 59.7 (58.8 for men and 60.6 for women). These figures had increased to 73.0 for men and 79.7 for women by 1986.

Given the relative stability of the average age of Senators over the last ten years, it is unlikely that there will be much of a decrease in average age in future years. However, there might be a change if the criteria for Senate membership is modified. A lower retirement age, an elected Senate, or even a 10 year term appointment for Senators would likely lower the average age.


Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 17 no 4
1994






Last Updated: 2018-07-31