Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Duane M. Covrig

Second Advisor

Ian Greene

Third Advisor

Shirley Freed


Problem. Sustaining healthy democracies requires citizens to successfully transition from civilian life into political leadership positions. Despite the need for this transition to take place, little is known about the transition. Globally, lawyers are the most represented professional group inpolitics, therefore, a study of their transition acts as a good starting point in understanding the process. This study used the Nicholson Transition Cycle (NTC) to explore the transition of 65 lawyers into Canadian politics.

Method. An exploratory multiple case study approach was used to gather data from face-to-face interviews, phone interviews, public archives, email, and websites. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and categorized to fit under the NTC's four phases of transition: preparation, encounter, adjustment, and stabilization. Qualitative Data Analysis software assisted with the organization of the data. Confidentiality and anonymity were maintained by concealing the identity of participants by changing some geographic locations, omitting obvious identifiers, and occasionally changing gender.

Results. Statements about motivation, early exposure or experience with politics, as well as early steps into political activity were classified under the preparation phase. Many participants reported having family members who worked in politics, and that experience prepared them for politics. Reported motivations for entering politics included career advancement, using politics as a stepping stone, and fulfilling a childhood dream. Participants who were unhappy with the status quo regarded politics as an ideal forum for creating change and improving social conditions. Participants reported that the knowledge and skills obtained in law helped them transition intopolitics. Early exposure to politics and politicians provided advanced insight about the work of politicians. Many participants were encouraged by others to run for political office because of their legal skills and social networking.

Statements about getting through the initial days, weeks, and months of political office were grouped under the encounter phase. Stories about how participants coped with new and unfamiliar experiences in politics were included here. Some participants reported they coped with the transitory nature of employment in politics by maintaining a part-time law practice they could go back to if they lost an election. Developing mentors and relying on peers was regarded as crucial in understanding their new environment, processes, and procedures; in handling the media, and in communicating with the public. Participants provided numerous examples of how their litigation skills became useful such as when they engaged in heated debate and inwithstanding personal attacks during a Question Period. Female politicians indicated that they experienced special challenges due to gender discrimination. The experience of helping constituents, meeting fascinating people, and enjoying the privileges of public office were cited by participants as joyful new experiences during the encounter phase.

Personal changes, role development, and relationship building were major areas participants reported working through and were labeled under the adjustment phase. Adjusting to the loss of income and personal privacy, and having to maintain a hectic schedule were part of this transition. Some reported a disruption of the family unit related to prolonged absence from the home. Divorces were reported and some noted that children experienced difficulties in home and school. Participants found that consensus, collaboration, and building bridges were vital in getting things done. Due to the volume of issues requiring attention, delegating to competent staff was imperative for survival. For Anglophone participants, learning French was regarded as a valuable skill in running an efficient constituency office, if they were not already bilingual.

When respondents reported aspects of settling into political life, these were classified under the stabilization phase. Central in this process were reports of beginning to see social problems from broader societal perspectives and not just from legal or policy views. They reported learning how to work with others to identify the core cause of social problems. Some reported harnessing their knowledge of the political process and combining it with the law to advance democratic principles of freedom, equality, justice, and diversity. Some communicated with constituents by using social media and the internet as well as traditional forms of communication. Being re-elected on multiple occasions was seen by some as an indication that their work was being helpful to others. Others viewed being given a government portfolio as a sign of political competence.

Conclusions and Recommendations. Overall, participants reported that the promise to make a positive change in society was a strong motivation to prepare for and transition into politics. Psychological preparation contained elements of political socialization, previous career skills, prior learning, and consistent exposure to politics and politicians. Participants reported confronting the newness of the job by developing coping mechanisms, learning the new rules of the game, and experiencing the joy of political life. Adjusting to the new requirements of the job meant changing personal habits, reaching out to build bridges, broadening their thinking, and leveraging administrative skills. Learning French presented distinct advantages. As participants matured into their political leadership roles, they transitioned from highly specialized knowledge in the law to civic leaders with social insights.

This study shows the challenges of transitioning from civilian to political office in the lives of 65 lawyers. While these findings can't be generalized to all professions, they raise conclusions that call for more research and for action to create resources that help individuals willing to make the sacrifices to become political leaders. Concern to understand more about the transition process and develop ways of evaluating and mentoring civilians in this transition promises to make a major contribution to the long-term viability of democratic states.

Subject Area

Lawyers--Political activity--Canada, Politicians--Canada, Political participation--Canada