New report identifies little consistency in how former MPs describe the core purpose of a Member of Parliament; exposes largely unexplored aspects of Canadian political leadership
November 30, 2010 @ 08:00AM
Toronto, ON (November 30, 2010) – A new report released today contains more bad news than good regarding the current state of Canadian democracy. “Welcome to Parliament: A Job with No Description” documents exit interviews with 65 Members of Parliament (MPs) who recently left public life, and reveals little consistency in how they described the core purpose of an MP.
Following Samara’s first exit interview report, “The Accidental Citizen?,” this new report (available at http://www.samaracanada.com) 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.
This report outlines five different categories of ways in which the MPs described their jobs, each with substantial degrees of difference. Overriding these descriptions, however, was a stated desire to approach politics differently than it had been practiced in the past.
“While some variation can be expected, the job of an MP is an important job, and there should be some consistency in our collective understanding of its key components, responsibilities and expectations. This lack of consistency may be a reason – and one that is rarely considered – behind wider dissatisfaction with the culture of our politics,” said Michael MacMillan, Samara co-founder and chair. “If MPs don’t agree on what they’re elected to do, should we be surprised if citizens are also confused or disillusioned?”
In addition to their lack of training and orientation, other challenges identified in the report include that some MPs with a particular area of expertise received appointments that had little to do with their pre-Parliamentary experience. In addition, as outlined in “The Accidental Citizen?,” most MPs said they agreed to run for office only after being asked, and claimed to have given little conscious consideration to politics before then. On average, the MPs entered federal politics at age 47, having spent nearly a generation pursuing other careers and interests outside of Ottawa.
“That our system is open to people who have backgrounds outside politics and policy attests to its strength. But we must also acknowledge that the role of an MP is important in our democracy, and should not be left to chance,” said Alison Loat, Samara co-founder and executive director. “Effective orientation and training are essential to good government, and indeed, to the success of any organization.”
About “Welcome to Parliament: A Job with No Description”
Samara conducted the first-ever systematic series of exit interviews with federal MPs who left public life during or after the 38th or 39th Parliaments (which sat from 2004 to 2008). Using a semi-structured interview methodology, Samara conducted in-depth interviews with 65 former Parliamentarians from all regions of the country, as well as from all political parties represented in the House of Commons.
Samara’s first MP exit interview report, “The Accidental Citizen?,” described the MPs’ backgrounds and paths to politics. This report is the second in a series of publications that share the MPs’ reflections and advice. The next publication will pick up from the MP’s initial weeks in Parliament, and expand on how they spent their time. Two additional reports will be released in 2011 that will explore the relationship of MPs and civil society, including with citizens’ associations, lobby groups and the media, and summarize the MPs’ highs and lows, and the advice they have for strengthening our democracy.
This project was conducted in partnership with the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians (CAFP) and advised by academics from the University of British Columbia, Carleton University, Memorial University, the University of Ottawa, Queen’s University, the University of Toronto and Wilfrid Laurier University.
Samara is a charitable organization whose programs seek to strengthen Canada’s democracy. Co-founded by Michael MacMillan and Alison Loat, Samara was created out of a belief that public service and public leadership matter to Canada’s future. Samara’s work focuses on three areas: political leadership, public affairs journalism and citizen participation in public life.
Samara is also developing a Democracy Index to measure the health of Canadian democracy. This will serve as a report card, looking at a broad set of indicators that can help assess how Canadian democracy is working. The results will be released annually to encourage discussion and focus attention on the continued strengthening of Canada’s democracy.
Samara is looking for volunteers to assist in its work. If interested, please visit http://www.samaracanada.com for more information on how to contribute.
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