By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 11, 2013 - 0 Comments
The issue isn’t abortion — it’s democratic reform
Brent Rathgeber, the Conservative MP for Edmonton-St.Albert, has a blog. And on that blog, on Feb. 6, Rathgeber wrote something simultaneously remarkable and mundane. “I understand that members of Parliament, who are not members of the executive, sometimes think of themselves as part of the government; we are not,” he wrote. “Under our system of responsible government, the executive is responsible and accountable to the legislature. The latter holds the former to account. A disservice is provided to both when Parliament forgets to hold the Cabinet to account.”
Here was a simple, if generally forgotten and regularly ignored, principle: MPs, even those who run under the same party banner as the prime minister and his cabinet, sit in the House of Commons for the purposes of holding the government to account.
Two months later, the basic place and principle of the MP is a point of open debate in the House of Commons. What began, with a motion from another Conservative backbencher, as a discussion about abortion—specifically, “sex-selective pregnancy termination”—has become an even more profound debate about the way in which our representative democracy functions. At its essence is the question of what we elect MPs, and send them off to Parliament Hill, to do.
By Mitchel Raphael - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 10:15 PM - 0 Comments
MPs helped packed the ballroom of the Fairmont Château Laurier for a reception put…
MPs helped packed the ballroom of the Fairmont Château Laurier for a reception put on by the Dairy Farmers of Canada.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 10:41 AM - 0 Comments
Samuel Kirz compares the trustworthiness of MPs to the trustworthiness of the jobs that MPs used to hold.
A few things stand out. Fewer than a third of the MPs in this sample had a pre-political profession that was deemed trustworthy by more than 50% of Canadians. On its face, that’s a pretty damning evaluation of the people in Ottawa.
However, a closer analysis of the numbers reveals that there’s one profession with a disproportionately large (and negative) effect on the sample. Lawyer is the most common pre-political profession, and 75% of Canadians consider lawyers untrustworthy. If lawyers were removed from the sample, we’d be left with 53 MPs from an untrustworthy profession and 46 MPs from a trustworthy profession. That’s almost a one-to-one ratio of liars to truth tellers. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than our current standing.
Nick Taylor-Vaisey mapped the pre-politics professions of MPs earlier this month.
By Mark Blevis - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
Thumbs at the ready, this gang of MPs have tapped the awesome power of Twitter—140 characters at a time
1. Justin Trudeau, @JustinTrudeau: The young Trudeau was a popular online entity even before he announced his leadership candidacy. You could say it’s integrated into his routine. So, it was no surprise that his online properties were just as much a part of his announcement as the party in his home riding in Montreal. Expect digital to play an important role in his effort to build Liberal energy.
Read more about Justin Trudeau later today when The Maclean’s Power List goes online.
2. Tony Clement, @TonyclementCPC He made a name for himself on Twitter early on. His style and tone, sharing both updates on official duties and reflections on his life, earned him a bipartisan reputation as a relatable politician. His approach has allowed him to make mistakes and be (generally) forgiven by his online community. Expect dry humour.
3. Carolyn Bennett, @Carolyn_Bennett She’s among the most active MPs on Twitter. Combined with regular Facebook town halls, she’s built a strong following. Bennett is above average in her number of retweets, making her an effective amplifier of ideas and news she feels her community should know.
4. Elizabeth May, @ElizabethMay Largely shut out of debates in Parliament, the Green party leader makes up for it with Twitter, using it to oppose the omnibus budget. She has the most engaged Twitter community of any MP, and her 2,086 replies to tweets last summer led all MPs.
5. Jason Kenney, @kenneyjason He can be extraordinarily partisan on Twitter, but occasionally dials it back. He recently shared a photograph of his grandfather—one of the more relatable moments in his Twitter stream. Don’t expect much engagement. He views it as a broadcast channel.
6. Paul Dewar, @PaulDewar Though he doesn’t tweet as often as others, Dewar offers a balance of partisan tweets and those announcing events and activities. He’ll need to do even more in his capacity as a reliable member of the NDP front bench to help his party strengthen relations with Canadians.
7. Olivia Chow, @oliviachow It’s easy to say her online profile was elevated because of Jack. That would discredit her own efforts to efficiently build her online personality. The question is, will Toronto municipal politics lure her away from Parliament? Watch Twitter for the answer.
8. Marc Garneau, @MarcGarneau At one time, the Liberals’ industry critic was little engaged in digital culture. That’s changed. Garneau is among the more active and engaged tweeting MPs—two-thirds of his tweets are replies. If he joins the leadership race, Twitter will be central to his campaign.
9. James Moore, @JamesMoore_org Another early adopter, Moore is a lover of gadgets that let him stay connected. His tweets range from biting partisanship to recently bidding farewell to his dog Oakley, thanking him for a lifetime of companionship. He tweets and retweets a lot, but rarely replies.
10. Denis Coderre, @DenisCoderre Simply put, he’s a tweeting machine—an active tweeter and retweeter who also replies to tweets. A lot. His live-tweeting of Montreal Canadiens hockey games is legendary. Rumour is Coderre may leave Ottawa to run for mayor of Montreal. Expect to learn about it on Twitter first.
Mark Blevis is a digital public affairs strategist with Fullduplex.ca
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 10:26 AM - 0 Comments
If you should be so interested, here is a list of MPs on Twitter. You can either subscribe to the list or bookmark it to follow MPs as they tweet.
At present I’ve got 157 MPs on that list: basically all those that I’ve found tweeting so far. I’ll be adding to that list as I come across others.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 16, 2011 at 1:16 PM - 0 Comments
The Ottawa Citizen editorial board challenges MPs to save themselves.
Minority or majority, the constant is the lack of honour and civility in Parliament. What hasn’t changed is the reduction of the role of elected members to bit players in hackneyed political theatre. Every MP, of any party, who acquiesces in this must answer for it to his or her constituents.
The holidays should be a time for every MP to consider this problem and how he or she might contribute to a solution when the House reconvenes. The caucus is ultimately the only source of authority for any party in the House of Commons. MPs should demand a greater role in question period than that of heckler and, occasionally, script-reader.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 77 Comments
The Liberals have apparently decided that 308 MPs is enough.
“It doesn’t make any sense in these days of financial restraint,” Liberal MP Marc Garneau said Tuesday at a Commons committee studying the legislation that would give 15 extra seats to Ontario, six seats each to B.C. and Alberta, and three seats to Quebec … “Canadians are concerned about the added cost of such an inflationary measure,” Garneau said. “The government’s new proposal sends the wrong message to Canadians: that it wants to increase the number of politicians, while it slashes the public services that are provided.”
We presently have 308 MPs for 34.6 million people (one MP for approximately 112,000 people). For the sake of comparing Westminster systems, the United Kingdom has 650 MPs for 62.2 million people (one MP for approximately 96,000 people), while Australia has 150 MPs for 22.3 million people (one MP for approximately 149,000 people).
But if the concern is “cost,” then perhaps the Liberals should propose reducing the number of MPs. Never mind, how many we need, how few could we get away with? That, if the Liberals want to get into it, makes for an interesting debate about what exactly our MPs do to justify their respective existences.
A young Stephen Harper, for instance, advocated for a ten percent reduction in MPs. That would’ve reduced a 295-member House to a 265-member House. So instead of adding 30 seats, perhaps we could get away with 43 fewer than we already have.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 9:42 AM - 0 Comments
On Monday, the 2011 class of MPs will settle in the Commons for the first four-year mandate in a decade. It will be their loss if they do not use that time to expend more energy than their predecessors on challenging a system that is turning them into drones.
See previously: The rebel sell
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 11:44 AM - 9 Comments
To begin with, Samara’s findings underscore the profound amateurism that permeates our national politics. When the vast majority of members of Parliament, upon leaving office, feel obliged to insist that well, they never really wanted to be a politician in the first place, that only reinforces the broad cynicism that many people feel toward public life. After all, if our members of Parliament don’t take their jobs all that seriously, why should anyone else?
To amplify that point a bit, it raises the question of who is ultimately responsible for the health of Canada’s democracy. Institutions are not buildings, they are sets of norms and procedures designed to achieve certain goals, and being “institutionalized” simply means that you accept those norms and are committed to keeping them healthy. Parliament’s central function is to enable representative self-government, which in our system involves working within and through institutional structures that are centuries old.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 4:57 PM - 23 Comments
Kyle Crawford considers Parliament, cabinet, politics and professionalism.
While Canadian cabinets must always be composed of people possessing a delicate balance of skills, and considering regional and demographic representation, this analysis suggests that, when cabinet is chosen, political experience is valued very heavily – perhaps at the expense of other kinds of experience.
The concern that we are privileging one form of experience over another was also shared by MPs in Samara’s MP exit interviews. One MP-turned-cabinet-minister said, “There’s a lot more talent sitting on the backbenches than sitting in the front row,” adding that those with a long partisan history are usually appointed to cabinet, “whether with the Liberals or the Conservatives.” … Several cabinet ministers expressed surprise when their appointments had little to do with their pre-parliamentary knowledge or interests. “When I was appointed to cabinet, [the policy area] came as a complete surprise to me. I didn’t see it coming,” one MP said, adding that he had no background in the area.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 1:56 PM - 11 Comments
While many may think we vote for a Prime Minister, in fact we don’t. And we don’t vote for a party either. We vote for a Member of Parliament to represent us in Ottawa. We send 308 Members of Parliament to Ottawa and, from their ranks, the governor general calls on one to form a government and test the confidence of the House of Commons.
Whatever people may base their voting decision on, the fact is we’re electing a person to represent us. If they change parties, or do something else that we disagree with, then we can defeat them when and if they run for re-election. But taking away their legitimate right to change party affiliations only serves to further re-enforce this fundamental misunderstanding of our political system and further dilute the role and responsibility of individual MPs.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 13, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 5 Comments
The quest to develop new-and-improved leaders—and help the current crop become better at their jobs
“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.
Two years ago, Loat and her team set out to conduct exit interviews with recently defeated or retired members of Parliament. In a series of reports based on those conversations, Samara has raised a number of questions about the political experience: from the nomination process to the power of political parties and the competing views on what exactly the job of an MP is supposed to be. First and foremost among these concerns is how many former MPs claimed to have come to elected politics quite inadvertently. To Loat, this goes to the very nature of how we talk about politics as something one might—or, rather, should not—aspire to. “We don’t encourage people to consider public life as a way to spend their time or something to consider in their careers,” she says.
By Erica Alini - Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 12:24 PM - 0 Comments
Andreas Krebs considers the electoral history of the 41st Parliament.
In this election, the number of MPs who had previously ran increased to 102, or 33% of the House of Commons … Another way to look at “persistence” is the average number of election defeats per MP. On average, each MP in the House lost a total of 0.48 elections prior to winning their seat. If we break this number down by party, however, the NDP has a higher previous-losses average than other parties.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 9, 2011 at 1:16 PM - 10 Comments
David Eaves writes to the new class of MPs.
Maybe you will have an opportunity to be in government, and even cabinet (and even if you do, even these positions are so controlled by the PMO as to have varying degrees of autonomy). But the reality is. It isn’t likely. Few people get into cabinet. Still more starkly, many people don’t get re-elected (it happens to even the best of politicians). You may think you are playing a long game, but the truth is, the opportunity to be difficult, to demand change in how the house works, to cause a fuss, is now. Not tomorrow. If you wait, you may think you’ll be able to change the house one day in the future, but in reality, the house will change you. The best way to change our house of parliament is to have a group of young MPs angry, hungry, carefree and naive enough to simply demand it. That’s you. That’s right now.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 11:34 AM - 27 Comments
Bill Curry talks to the NDP MP for Sherbrooke.
I’m studying politics right now at the Université de Sherbrooke. I threw myself into the race knowing what I was getting into. My goal was victory. I knew I could win. I entered because I was always hearing people who wanted change, people who wanted to send a young person into politics. That’s what encouraged me to run, to propose something new for the people of Sherbrooke.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 18, 2011 at 5:12 AM - 145 Comments
No one shows up. Nothing gets done. The sad decline of our most important institution.
In the early evening hours of an otherwise unremarkable Thursday in December, as a crowd gathered on Parliament Hill for the official opening of the annual Christmas light show, Jim Maloway was lecturing a nearly empty House of Commons on the history of suicide as a technique of military assault. “We had Dutch soldiers fighting for control of Taiwan in 1661, who used gunpowder to blow themselves and their opponents up rather than being taken prisoner,” he explained.
Maloway, a New Democrat backbencher, is either the last man truly dedicated to Parliament or the greatest symbol of its current neglect. In 2010, he spoke more than three times as many words in the House—309,647 in total—as any other member of Parliament, nine times more than the Prime Minister. In the month of December alone, Maloway contributed to debates on vehicle imports from Mexico, autism, white-collar crime, free trade with the European Union, RCMP reform, the parole system, Canada Post, human rights, a proposed national Holocaust monument, railway safety, the prosecution and registration of sex offenders, immigration reform, the military justice system, the census, oil tanker traffic off the coast of British Columbia and prison farms. All the same, you’ve probably never heard of him.
On that Thursday night in December, the House was debating a Senate bill that sought to add suicide bombing to the Criminal Code. A small cluster of four Conservative MPs, chatting with each other in the southwest corner of the room, waited impatiently for Maloway to finish. Irwin Cotler, the Liberal MP, sat listening on the opposition side. The teenage pages assigned to deliver notes and fetch glasses of water for MPs had already begun to clean up. In addition to the 300 or so empty seats around Maloway, the galleries above were empty as well, save for a few police officers.
After he had finished, a series of perfunctory oral votes confirmed that the bill had the unanimous support of the House. And thus did Canada apparently become the first country in the world to explicitly outlaw suicide bombing as a crime unto itself. Save for a short item on the National Post‘s website a week later, not a single major newspaper would carry word of this apparent landmark in international law.
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 macleans.ca - Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 2:41 PM - 27 Comments
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 10:27 AM - 45 Comments
After withdrawing an earlier attempt to adjust the House seating arrangement, the Conservatives are apparently prepared to go forward with legislation to increase the number of federal ridings.
The House would be adjusted so that the three fastest-growing provinces in Canada would have the number of seats that their numbers warrant. Depending on the formula, the House could grow by 30 seats or more from its current level of 308. Quebec, which is now properly represented in the House, might also be given more seats, to ensure that reapportionment did not leave it underrepresented. The influence of the Atlantic provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba would diminish in relative terms.