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, January 9, 2011

MP's – Why are we here?

Recently Steve Paikin of TVO spoke to Allison Loat of Samara Canada about their second report based upon MP exit interviews titled Welcome to Parliament: A Job With No Description . The startling bit about this report is that the 65 former MPs interviewed, many of them having served for 10 years or more, could not even agree upon the basics of why they were there.

Following their first report, The Accidental Citizen?, this report documents the widely disparate and often conflicting views the MPs expressed as to the essential purpose of their role and what they felt they were elected to accomplish. They also acknowledged feeling unprepared for their roles as Parliamentarians, and said they received little or no formal training or orientation.

Here are some extracts from the report highlighting these troubling findings, remember these are based upon interviews with FORMER MPs and it seems highly probable that things have deteriorated in the period since these MPs first were elected.

Ultimately, our 308 Members of Parliament all hold the same essential position. Given this fact, we were surprised that the MPs lacked a shared understanding of the job’s key components, responsibilities and expectations. For example, two-thirds of MPs we interviewed spent at least a portion of their time in Ottawa on the opposition benches, so it came as a surprise that only a few mentioned holding a government accountable as part of their job.”

A similarly small number mentioned engaging the public in determining the policies that shape our country and communities. Even those MPs who defined their role as representing constituents were unlikely to talk of such engagement. This raises important questions about the relationship between Parliament and the citizenry, themes we will address in future reports.”

But, at the same time, most Parliamentarians we interviewed arrived in Ottawa with neither a concrete understanding of what they would be doing there, or how they could go about doing it. The MPs gave a wide variety of responses to questions regarding their role in the House of Commons. “

Furthermore, our group of MPs was given almost no orientation or training, and was forced to devise their own means of preparing for the job. Their prior experience was seldom considered when it came to their legislative and committee appointments. “

The orientation is terrible,” one MP declared. “You get there, they take you in the House, they give you a book [on] constituency rights and responsibilities, the former Speaker talks about being in the House, and that’s it. There’s no orientation. There is no training. There is nothing on how to be effective,” said another MP. “You learn by the seat of your pants,” admitted a third MP.

It is difficult to summarize the opinions of the former MPs on the above as they were so varied and contained few common threads, about the only thing they did agree on was the lack of orientation and how long it took to get up to speed, you will have to read the full report to get a clearer picture of what these views were. Suffice to say here that the view of their job ranged from representing the views of their constituents, their own views or their partys views; advocating for their local area or the country as a whole; proving assistance to their constituents or focusing upon life in Ottawa; communicating with those who elected them or having little regard to local views and many other far ranging diversity of opinion.

A small minority even said:-
"Collectively with colleagues, [an MP] must play a role as a watchdog of government activities, and ensure that the government [pursues] the public interests and spends money wisely." and “The House… as a place… to hold the government to account has to be rethought,”

The report sums it up like this :-

Together, our 65 MPs used an astonishing variety of terms and concepts to describe the very same position. This immense variation should give pause to anyone concerned with the political process.
We would hope that MPs should be in general agreement as to why they are in Ottawa and what they are supposed to be doing there. Furthermore, Canadians should have an understanding of what to expect from their elected representatives. As it stands, it is not clear that Parliamentarians have a shared conception of an MP’s job description, which likely makes it difficult for the electorate to have a clear view either.”

Several Constitutional experts have said that the rules of engagement in the HoC and other constitutional conventions need to be examined, clearly defined and written down, it would seem that the role and duties of those appointed to the House need to be similarly defined!
Samara is charitable organization that studies citizen engagement with Canadian democracy. This project began when co-founders Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan learned that exit interviews, common in many organizations, had never been undertaken systematically in one of the most important workplaces in our country—our federal Parliament.

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

1 comment:

Alison Loat said...

Thank you very much for the post Don.

When writing the report, I wondered how the answers may have differed had we given them a survey with a list of potential answers. Some of this variety is no doubt a response to the fact that the role is multi-faceted and different MPs choose to emphasize different aspects.

That said, and as you point out, it was a surprise how few of them noted the long-established definition of what an MP (and by extension Parliament) should do.

Thank you again for your interest in this project.

Alison Loat