A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Samara Report – The Outsiders Manifesto

Samara is an independent charitable organization, founded in 2008 to study citizen engagement with Canadian democracy. Their work focuses on three areas: political leadership; the participation of citizens in public life; and public affairs journalism. They have conducted Canada's first-ever systematic series of exit interviews with former Members of Parliament in Canada and have released a series of reports that use these collective narratives to shine light on how Parliament works, and share MP’s advice on how our politics can be improved.

These interviews were shared in a series of four reports that cover the MPs' backgrounds and paths to politics; their transition to public life and the ways they view their roles; how they describe their time in Parliament and their relationship with their political parties and their advice, recommendations and best practices. They have recently released their final report in this series.

These are the four reports-
This report will focus on the first part of those interviews, where the former Parliamentarians discussed their motivations and paths to politics. It sets the stage for a larger series of reports based on the MP exit interviews. Our purpose is neither to applaud nor embarrass MPs, but to understand political leadership and the role of Parliamentarians in our system.

This report is the second in a series sharing the stories and advice of these 65 Parliamentarians, each of whom dedicated an average of nearly ten and a half years to national public life, acting as a bridge between Canadians and their government.

The report outlines how the MPs expressed embarrassment at the public displays of politics in the House of Commons, saying that little constructive work takes place there.  Instead, the MPs said their most important work was done away from the media spotlight, in the less publicized venues of committees and caucus meeting.

Canadians know very little about those men and women—leaders like our Members of Parliament—and what they've learned serving on the front lines of our democracy. MPs' experiences can offer tremendous insight into the successes and failings of our democracy, and yet they're rarely consulted about what should be done to improve our democratic process,

Below you will find a few 'teasers' from the final report, there are many surprises in these extensive summaries of the MPs comments and I recommend that anyone interested in our parliamentary system past, present or future read each of the four reports.

'The first area in which MPs focused their recommendations was the nomination process, the point at which a political party, in each of Canada's electoral ridings, chooses its candidate for the federal election. Many of the MPs to whom we spoke, despite winning their nominations, expressed discomfort or outright disgust with the way these decisions were made and the lack of transparency and local engagement in the process.

'Many said they were left to their own devices to determine how to go about their job, how to navigate the intricacies of parliamentary procedure, and even how to hire appropriate staff. As one MP put it, "Rookie MPs are, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the day after they're elected. Unless you've established the right contacts and you've got the ability to find your own way and ask questions, it can be a pretty overpowering situation."

Another simply blamed the leadership of the political parties and the culture of antagonism in the House. "It's going to come from the leadership on top. I really would like to see party leaders from all parties engage in sober debate, and not throwing the malicious barbs back and forth," one MP recommended.

'Several felt that the Speaker should be more empowered to enforce good behaviour. "To me the decorum should be simple. Run it like I did my Grade 8 classroom. Stop it and stop it now. You point at him and put the cameras on [those] who are causing too much disturbance, then let the people talk about it back home," said another MP.

'Many MPs claimed committees were where some of Parliament's best work took place, where MPs could transcend the inflated partisanship of Question Period and make policy recommendations that best reflected the interests of the country as a whole. As such, their recommendations centred on reducing political party influence over the committee process, and putting in place guidance to ensure committee work was better reflected in the legislative process.

Specifically, a number of MPs, including two party leaders, suggested reforming committee regulations to weaken the ability of political party leaders to replace MPs on committees mid-way through their mandate, a tactic used to delay work from moving forward, or to stop it all together. 
Several MPs were concerned that committee work didn't have enough influence over the legislative process, and that committee reports were often shelved without proper consideration. "Where committees have more power, a lot more things are going to get done there," one MP said. Another recommended that committee reports should be brought forward as Parliamentary motions, to ensure greater profile and debate of the work. "You spend all this time on committees. Surely there should be some way to have motions on your recommendations. But there isn't. There's just a minister who takes it and says, ‘Thanks very much, we'll veto that. Goodbye,'" he said.

Given the recent shelving of a number of reports from the Public Account Committee the latter three points are particularly of interest! We also wonder why these MPs all wait until they 'retire' before speaking out and if the current lot will actually do anything to improve things. Not holding my breath on that one!

Do visit the Samara web site and support their work to give us a better insight into how our democracy is working and how we might improve it.

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