The organization Samara, a “charitable organization that studies citizen engagement with Canadian democracy”, conducted a research project on the role of parliamentarians in Canada by conducting what they called ‘exit interviews’ with retiring or defeated MPs.
The results of the interviews were varied but the former MPs were largely lumped into five distinct categories when questioned on their reasons for becoming Members of Parliament. The results can be found here The Accidental Citizen? .
What the study brings to light is the stunning realization that we sent MP’s to Ottawa with no real direction on what it is they should be doing. We know that they will be voting on, amending, and sometimes even creating legislation. We know that they will bring a mix of the views of their constituents, their own views and those the party they belong to into their decision making process. We know they might sit in cabinet or on committees. But ultimately there is no one great reason or guiding principle that all MPs are there for. However, I have a suggestion.
MPs and the ‘Do No Harm’ Principle
One thing that all elected officials can or at least should be able to agree on is to do no harm to the political institutions they serve in or the overall civic environment they largely represent. In much the same way that doctors are to do no harm to their patients, politicians should be tasked with and also see themselves as being tasked with protecting democracy, its institutions, and the civic health of the nation. Considering the last election yielded the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history, I would argue that MPs are failing us in this central component of their jobs.
There are many ways in which the government (the worst offender is usually the one with the most power, regardless of party) and opposition parties have harmed the civic health of Canada, including:
- suing one another
- suing other parts of the government (Elections Canada)
- abusing communications tools of MPs at irresponsibly expensive cost to taxpayers
- ignoring election campaign spending limits
- submitting fraudulent claims for campaign financing reimbursements
- bringing puppets into the House of Commons to illustrate points
- disrupting legislative committees on purpose
- using bullying tactics to keep the voices of specific parties and movements out of national debates
- attempting to adjust bodies of parliament without the constitutional reform that is required to do so
- focusing political attacks on people and not policies
- undermining the Governor General and the powers of the position
- having a tunnel vision focus of destroying one another instead of offering up policy alternatives to the public
There are countless other examples but the recurring theme is that many of the people we send to serve in our democracy and by extension protect it, undermine it at every opportunity. This must change.