Advancement and Discipline

Advancement and Discipline

Chapter 2: You’re Hired, You’re Fired!: Advancement and Discipline

In our last report, Welcome to Parliament: A Job With No Description, we discussed how little agreement existed among the MPs as to their essential role. There is no job description for an MP, so it perhaps should come as no surprise that there is no systematic way that party leadership evaluates MPs’ work. With the exception of their occasional—albeit important—report card from the voter, there are few goals set and little feedback delivered.

As a result, the only guidelines for performance came in the form of ad hoc and seemingly arbitrary decisions about their advancement and punishment. The MPs to whom we spoke expressed confusion as to how they were evaluated by their party leadership, and how promotions or discipline were allocated. Advancing within the party signalled they were doing something right and being punished meant they were doing something wrong, with reasons for these decisions seldom given.

Apparently, the Bloc Québécois was the only party with any form of performance evaluation: an annual tabulation of the total time each member raised questions during Question Period. Clearly this is inadequate, as the Bloc MPs themselves admitted. “We only had the rankings for Question Period. We had nothing for our participation on committees,” one said.

The MPs routinely expressed frustration with what, in other workplaces, one might term management processes.

Many MPs voiced disappointment when the criteria for promotions, particularly to cabinet posts, were not explained. Even though most MPs acknowledged the importance of balance in gender, region and ethnicity in promotion decisions, several said that too many appointments were undeserved.

“What was the most frustrating was to see people recognized and rewarded that you know are less competent than other people, because of political debts,” one MP said. Another MP, when passed over for a promotion, accepted the decision but was discouraged that she was never told why. “You like to think that when you work hard and make an important contribution it’s going to be recognized and appreciated, and that doesn’t always happen. That’s one of the most disappointing things about politics,” she said.

Even those who were promoted to cabinet expressed surprise at the decision, particularly 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. I didn’t see it coming,” one MP said, adding that he had no background in the area. Another recounted receiving a call from the Prime Minister’s Office, informing her that she’d received an appointment in the justice ministry: “I said, ‘Tell the prime minister to call me back, I didn’t finish law school.’”

More often than not, however, “the party” simply meant those closer to central power.

The MPs told us that other rewards were also distributed in an equally confusing manner, and at the party’s whim. For example, permission to travel for Parliamentary business—an important aspect of committee work—is granted by the party whip. But as one MP described it, if you weren’t “playing the game,” your travel request would be denied. “You can see who was going where. All you had to do was reflect on a six-month period and see who was rewarded and penalized,” he said.

MPs also spoke of seemingly juvenile punishments for actions—or even opinions—that they believed to be acceptable.

One MP, a long-time opponent to the mission in Afghanistan, told his party’s leader and whip of his intention to remain consistent in his position and vote against the extension of the mission in the House. “I told them a dozen times. I stood up to vote against extending the mission. And the whip’s crowd and the leader’s crowd are looking at me thinking, ‘What’s wrong with him?’” he said. “Of course, in no time after that my seat was moved back as far as it can get, by the curtain,” a punishment he, and other MPs, compared to something more appropriate for a kindergarten classroom.

Another MP spoke of his punishment for supporting a losing candidate in a leadership race, and learned that grudges ran deep. “I was made parliamentary secretary [...] So all that was really good, very positive. But [my earlier support meant] the staff and the political people, particularly the minister, didn’t trust me,” he said.