By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
As the House reconvenes—and with Mark Warawa’s question of privilege still hanging over the proceedings—Alison Loat sees an opportunity for change.
Limiting debate affects us all. It weakens our democratic institutions by making them less responsive to citizens and their representatives. It makes it more difficult to attract good people to public service (after all, who wants to move away from home to be known as what several former MPs referred to as “trained seals” or “potted plants”?) and it erodes Canadians’ faith in their government. Latest survey numbers show that only 55 per cent of citizens report being satisfied with their democracy, an all-time low.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer, has said he’ll continue to hear from MPs with views on the admissibility of Warawa’s motion next week. This provides an opportunity for MPs of all parties to consider and articulate their roles to the citizens they serve. Let’s hope MPs take him up on it, and that following blindly behind a political party, whatever its colour, doesn’t top their list.
Brent Rathgeber talks to the Globe.
Won’t you face backlash from either your party or the PMO for saying that?
Well, I don’t think so. I certainly haven’t received anything yet. And this is not new. For at least the last year, I’ve been a bit of a non-traditional member of our caucus, in that I have, from time to time, constructively criticized our own government’s policies, whether it was limousine overtime or supply management… I take the view that we’re not the rogues, we’re not the radicals. We’re the ones that are defending the historical and traditional role of the Member of Parliament.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 8:25 AM - 13 Comments
For its latest report on the state of our democracy, Samara consulted the public.
Overall, our research shows that declining political engagement is, at least in part, due to concrete experiences with politics. Indeed, participants’ answers belie the notion that the Canadian public is not knowledgeable or sophisticated enough to understand how their political system works. Rather, the people we spoke to are keenly aware of the forces that affect politics.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 10:02 AM - 14 Comments
Alison Loat considers the 41st Parliament’s diversity.
Furthermore, Canadians also elected a higher number of women and visible minorities than in the previous Parliament. There are 76 female MPs – the most in history — meaning women are roughly a quarter of Parliament. Much of this is thanks to the NDP, whose caucus is 39 per cent female (the Liberals is 18 per cent and the Conservatives’ 17 per cent).
This Parliament is also home to a record number of visible minority MPs, with 29 or just over 9 per cent of Parliament. Again, the NDP is behind this increase, with nearly double the number of visible minority MPs than the other two national parties.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 13, 2011 at 11:52 AM - 77 Comments
From the print edition—part of a series of stories on innovation—an attempt to tie together various threads on the matter of political leadership.
“Can you imagine a doctor saying, ‘Well, I never thought of becoming a doctor before’?” asks Alison Loat, co-founder of Samara, a charitable organization dedicated to the study of Canadian democracy. Indeed, one would probably not entrust their health to a brain surgeon who claimed to have come to the profession quite by accident, made it through a confusing and mysterious nomination process, and shown up for the first day of work feeling mostly unprepared for the surgeries they were expected to perform. And yet, we expect little more of our parliamentarians.
For sure, politics is a pursuit neither easily explained, nor particularly well-regarded. The job of elected office itself is subject to wide interpretation and powerful competing pressures. But if the political process is to be improved upon, it may require dealing with these issues of confusion and ill repute, up to and including how we might build a better politician.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 1:30 PM - 31 Comments
Alison Loat considers the ramifications of our 110 new MPs.
The good news in this is we have a more diverse background in our politicians than we usually give ourselves credit for. Most MPs are not lawyers or former political staffers (although some are). It’s good to have fresh, diverse minds, and a relatively open political system.
However, this may also mean that our Parliament is too transient to do its job properly. As I’ve argued elsewhere, what to do about this is less clear, but at a minimum, it’s encouraging to hear that training and orientation is taking on a greater priority this year.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 18, 2011 at 10:19 AM - 26 Comments
Samara has released its latest report on the life of an MP.
The MPs’ insistence that important work was done only in private raises some serious questions for Canadian democracy and citizens’ ability to engage with it. After all, how are Canadians to observe and understand the work of their elected representatives— to say nothing of their ability to hold them accountable—if all the “real work” is done away from the public gaze? And if the MPs were so embarrassed by the behaviour on display in the House of Commons, why didn’t they do something to change it?
This leads to the second major trend: the consistent observation from the MPs that the greatest frustrations they faced during their political careers came from within their own political party.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 8:43 AM - 16 Comments
Alison Loat poses three questions for the party leaders.
First, how do you define your job description, both as an MP and as a party leader?
Second, what concrete steps will you take to make politics, and political parties, more relevant to the citizenry at large?
Third, what are you going to do to bring constructive, public debate to citizens?
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 12:43 PM - 16 Comments
Rather than simply lament for how little attention is paid to the institution, I thought I’d ask some smart people if they had anything to say in response to my piece about the state of the House of Commons. Over the next little while, those responses will appear here. Next up, Alison Loat.
It seems that few people who become political leaders in this country said they actually wanted the job in the first place. Almost without exception, the MPs we spoke to described themselves as “outsiders” who were cajoled into running for office. Samara’s introductory report on these exit interviews is called “The Accidental Citizen?” because of how accidentally the MPs described their journeys to public life. We might as well have called it “The Reluctant Citizen.”
Most every MP to whom we spoke said they didn’t stand up and ask to run for office. Rather, it wasn’t until someone asked him or her to run that said they even considered it. We heard numerous stories from former MPs talking about how they turned down requests to run numerous times before finally agreeing – often begrudgingly – to run for Parliament.
Read the rest of this series here.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 2:40 PM - 13 Comments
Samara is soliciting nominations for the best in democracy for 2010 and Alison Loat notes the trend of the current entries.
From the submissions made so far, it would seem that Canadian democracy is on the defensive. Many of the entries were public outcry in reaction to a policy decision, a government move, or even an individual politician. What does this say about Canadian democracy? Does democracy always need defending?
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 3, 2010 at 9:51 AM - 22 Comments
Alison Loat follows Samara’s last report with an op-ed.
With that in mind, it’s time to consider giving our MPs a proper job description. Being an MP is a critical job in our democracy, and there needs to be some consistency in our collective understanding of its key components, responsibilities and expectations … it is the responsibility of the Canadian citizenry to define the job of our elected representatives. After all, if the employer – in this case, the Canadian voter – doesn’t give its employees in Ottawa a clear sense of what’s expected of them on the job, who’s really to blame when that job doesn’t get done?
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 29, 2010 at 12:02 PM - 10 Comments
In the midst of a Hill Times survey of Parliament Hill, Alison Loat notes one of the more salient points in the debate over the state of our democracy.
“I’m always so struck, and I’m still struck from the interviews that he expresses exactly what so many MPs who left before him say. You know, ‘we came into politics because we were concerned about this lack of engagement with the public and with Parliament,’ however they describe it. Many of the MPs describe themselves as being outside of Parliament. ‘I looked at Parliament, and I don’t see myself there. I don’t see my community represented, and so I want to run and try to change that,’ and yet, x number of years later, they’re complaining about much of the same thing that motivated them in the first place. How have we gotten ourselves into that spiral?”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 12:08 PM - 0 Comments
For example, what kind of experiences, personal or professional, to do we want them to bring to Ottawa? Should they come from a wide set of backgrounds, generally in line with the Canadian population (which isn’t the case today), or would we prefer a different mix? Should they have deep community experience, or would we prefer a more national, or international perspective? Should they have a background in government? What about in local or provincial politics? And if so, how much is too much?
My sense is that we’d like our MPs to have some experience or appreciation of Parliament, a view endorsed in a recent Globe and Mail editorial, but we’d also like more than that. Maybe we’d ultimately like them to be more like an abstract sense of “us,” a motivation which, by the way, many MPs themselves cited as a reason for running in the first place. Who knows? It’s easy to throw stones, but answering these questions is a much more difficult task.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 11:05 AM - 0 Comments
Over the weekend, Jeffrey Simpson lamented for the lifers he sees as presently dominating federal politics. He defined a lifer as one who has been involved for a long period of time at any level of politics, not just as a candidate or elected representative. In this way, for instance, Mr. Harper is a lifer because he has been involved in politics since the mid-80s.
The academic research in this regard—though Simpson’s definition complicates a direct comparison and his focus on party leaders is relevant—has generally raised the alarm about the exact opposite concern: that our MPs have too little experience and are too prone to turnover. To wit. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 1:52 PM - 0 Comments
Most MPs come to public life in their mid-to-late 40s, having spent a generation pursuing other interests, and these interests are not always easily dropped (for example Keith Martin, a medical doctor, still practices occassionally to keep up his skills and credentials). Furthmore, as the article points out, electoral politics are inherently unstable, job-wise, so asking MPs to “ditch their professions and businesses” will make it more difficult to recruit candidates to run for office, lest they have nothing to fall back on if they’re defeated at the polls…
The concern, of course, is rightfully making sure these outside investments don’t distort the MPs’ priorities or impede them from fulfilling their responsibilties as an MP. If there is compelling evidence that is happening (which I’m not sure I’ve seen reported), it would be worth questioning whether further disclosure (e.g., the hours spent on these outside interests) is needed, or if it would simply create more paperwork with no discernable difference on outcomes.
Full disclosure: I have, on several occasions, enjoyed dessert at the Future Bakery, which is owned by Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 2, 2010 at 4:08 PM - 11 Comments
More than anything, these narratives may well be important observations on our political culture. Perhaps our politics attracts underdogs. Or maybe we, as citizens, feel more comfortable defining ourselves that way.
The narratives may also indicate that politics is something for which it’s inappropriate to admit ambition, even after the fact. If that’s the case, it’s no wonder that potential candidates don’t generally think about politics, and that they claim to stumble into political life accidentally. This says something about the state of political leadership in Canada.
The Globe editorial board wonders if we don’t need a few more insiders.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 20 Comments
As noted variously elsewhere, Samara has released the first of its reports on the lives of MPs, research drawn from interviews with 65 former Members of Parliament. Among the initial findings: an interesting assertion of outsider status.
Perhaps more powerful than their stated motivations was the way so many of the MPs described himself or herself as an outsider. This was not an explicit question in our interview, but nevertheless emerged as a proactively-volunteered self-description the MPs expressed in a variety of ways. Sometimes it played out in their decision to pursue politics, and sometimes it was made as part of a broader point.
This is the opposite of what a traditional public perception of politicians as consummate insiders would have suggested.
There are all sorts of specific explanations for this, which the report reviews. There are also, from the MP testimonials, obviously impassioned claims to idealism and principle. Those motivations may or may not be related, but to apply those ideas to Ottawa—to attempt to explain Ottawa as a result of those forces—leads to all sorts of fascinating questions about why this place is the way it is.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 2:27 PM - 31 Comments
I’m not convinced a larger caucus will lead to more decentralized management. Jean Chrétien, who at least one prominent Ottawa-watcher accused of running a Friendly Dictatorship, had 177 people in his caucus in 1993 compared to the 143 Harper has today. Allowing more free votes and reducing the number that are confidence motions would be more effective.
Nor, for the record, am I convinced that “governing from the centre” is as much a reality as it is a perception resulting from the fact that most academics and journalists focus only on leaders and a handful of cabinet ministers versus the work of the other 300 elected representatives.
As referenced by Mr. Potter, here is the full paper penned by Sujit Choudhry and Michael Pal on federal representation. They considered several formulas for expanding the Commons—one of which would have grown the House to 885 MPs—before recommended a 324-member model. Under presently proposed legislation, the House will eventually grow to 338 seats.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 17, 2009 at 4:34 PM - 17 Comments
Lawrence Martin laments that all the kids want to do is laugh at their smut. Alison Loat suggests the kids and their smut are not the source of the problem. David Eaves suspects elderly columnists need to get their bifocal prescriptions adjusted and look harder. Loat wraps the discussion into one smutless blog post and concludes:
If we don’t all do what we can to make politics more inspiring, to treat people who pursue public life or advance public ideas with respect and to strengthen the culture of public service in Canada and beyond, our potential for achieving great things will dimish significantly.