What do Canadian Politicians Talk About in Parliament?

Did you know that in parliament the NDP and Conservatives talk about families more than the other parties? Or that our elected leaders talk about Quebec 100x more than Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick combined?

How much time does each party spend talking about each province. Darker equals more time.

Before starting this project, I didn’t either. And to be honest I still don’t know what our MPs actually talk about. All I have is an approximation. I’ve pulled all parliamentary transcripts from the past two sessions, and done some simple text analysis on them. I’ll share with you data and my approach. This could give a starting point for helping lay people gain insight into what our elected officials talk about once they’re elected.

Warning: all the analysis that follows is casual and done over a weekend. If you want to re-create it, or do your own, likely better, analysis than check out the Github repo!

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

What goes on in parliament has always been a mystery to me. We Canadians elect and pay for hundreds of representatives every year to live in Ottawa, engage in what we hope is honest conversation, and make the decisions and laws we live by. However, despite this weighty mantle of responsibility, for me as a member of the public, it’s hard to get a view into what’s going on in parliament.

This isn’t due to any deliberate measures to make that information inaccessible. Parliamentary sessions are publicly broadcast, and the transcripts of every session can be found online. Unfortunately, these resources have limitations. Our representatives can be loquacious to the point of inarticulacy, and there is a vast amount of context needed to follow the discussions. Taken together, these factors make it difficult for a lay person to stay engaged.

With the election coming up, I thought it would be fun to shine a light onto what goes on in parliament. After all, an election is an opportunity to clean our collective house, and they say sunlight is the best disinfectant.

In what follows, I’ll share how often politicians of each party use certain words. There is no doubt more sophisticated ways to analyze the parliamentary text corpus, and I hope readers use them!

What’s everyone talking about?

All the text is taken from Government Bills & Private Member Bills (starting with C-) from sessions 43–1 and 43–2 of the Canadian parliament. Some parties talk more than others, so I’ve normalized the data so that all the frequencies are relative to the party. I looked at keyword analysis as well, but found simple word frequency to be more effective and easier to reason about. In the charts below, I show the relative frequency each party uses the displayed words. Someone well versed the latest NLP models may be able to take this much further than I can.

Again, you can find all the data and my code on Github!

Without further adieu, here’s some results.

Popularity contest

No surprise that the Liberals are the most talked about party in parliament. It is surprising how little they talk about themselves (maybe has to do with being in power?). Conservatives are a close second, with the NDP and Bloc coming in 3rd and 4th. Another interesting point, the NDP seems to talk about themselves more than any other party.

The relative amount of time each party spends talking about the other parties. Darker equals more time.

A mari usque ad mare

All the parties talk about Quebec way more than any other province (maybe more than all the other provinces combined). As I mentioned in the introduction, Quebec is talked about more than 100x more than all of Atlantic Canada. All parties talk about Canada approximately the same amount.

The relative amount of time each party spends talking about Canadian provinces. Darker equals more time.

Pandemic Response

Covid-19 hit in the middle of session 43–1. For the most part, parties were uniform in how they discussed the pandemic. I’m surprised so little time was spent talking about “lockdown”. Perhaps this is a problem with my approach.

The relative amount of time each party spends talking about the pandemic. Darker equals more time.

Social Terms

I left “climate” off this chart because the Greens talk about it so much that it throws off the scale for the rest of the topics.

The relative amount of time each party spends talking about social topics. Darker equals more time.

Economic Terms

A decision here was to include “tax” instead of “taxes” because “tax” is talked about more.

The relative amount of time each party spends talking about economic topics. Darker equals more time.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this birds-eye view of what our MPs have been talking about for the last two years. You may have noticed this approach makes it hard to capture context, and there are some associations that were intentionally overlooked. For example, “tax” and “taxes”. If you see ways to improve on it, please do. You can reach out to me on Twitter or Github to learn more.

A profusion of data, and newly developed language processing algorithms, make this kind of analysis more possible, and more useful than ever. I hope that these tools can be used to make understanding our government, and the discussions that are had in parliament more accessible to all Canadians.

— Andrew



CTO @ Looka | @andrewbrownmart

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