Dr. Matthew Kerby
Department of Political Science
“You can calculate the odds of a minister getting fired from cabinet the same way that you can calculate odds in a horse race,” Dr. Matthew Kerby said of his research.
The newest face in the Political Science Department, Dr. Kerby joined Memorial in June, and has just received a start-up research grant from the university to expand his study of political career paths in Canada.
“A lot people have studied political careers, of course, but the novelty of this is in the methodology,” he explained.
Dr. Kerby is using computer modeling to track the career events for every federal Canadian legislator dating back to 1867. This is an extension of his doctoral dissertation, which involved a quantitative analysis of Canadian ministerial resignations from cabinet.
“It’s a technique borrowed from biostatics. It calculates the odds of something happening at any given moment.” He cited the example of Alfonso Gagliano, who was minister of public works until he was dispatched by then-PM Jean Chrétien to serve as the ambassador to Denmark.
“The odds of a minister who was close to the prime minister and was Quebec’s lieutenant being dismissed and sent so far away on such short notice, and at that point in the electoral calendar, are incredibly small,” said Dr. Kerby, “so small that you knew something had to be very wrong.”
Some factors, such as age, are easily quantified, but others are tougher to measure, such as the notion of proximity to the prime minister. To determine this, Dr. Kerby takes into account several factors, including education and school ties, which can indicate similar mindsets.
In essence, his work takes what he calls “common pub knowledge” things people take for granted without proof and offers measurable data to support or refute the assumptions.
He found those ministers with law degrees are less likely to get sacked; likewise those who pose a challenge to the leadership the old “keep your enemies closer” adage.
His dissertation forms the basis for a book, to be published by UBC Press. Now, he plans to expand beyond ministerial exits to look at how cabinets are formed.