Q&A with Mackenzie Grisdale

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Leadership Thursday, November 23, 2017 View Count = 164

Q&A with Mackenzie Grisdale

Last month, Samara released “No One Is Listening,” a report on incivility and heckling in the 42nd Parliament. This research is based on a survey of Members of Parliament conducted by Samara from April to June 2017.

It was only the third time that Canadian MPs were surveyed on the subject of heckling. The first survey was developed by Mackenzie Grisdale, then a member of the non-partisan Parliamentary Internship Programme, in 2011, during the 40th Parliament. Samara and Mackenzie decided to take on the topic again in 2015, resulting in the report “Cheering or Jeering?”.

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We caught up with Mackenzie to find out more about what inspired her to undertake this important line of research.

Mackenzie is a medical student at the University of Calgary, a former award-winning producer for CBC radio, and a former member of the Parliamentary Internship Programme.



SAMARA: How did you get the idea to survey MPs about heckling?

MACKENZIE: The initial survey was done in 2010-2011 during the 40th Parliament, prior to the non-confidence motion that led to the election of the 41st Parliament. At that time, I was in the Parliamentary Internship Programme, taking a kind of sabbatical from being a producer for CBC radio, and was interested in the House of Commons as a workplace because it differs so much from other work environments. One of the biggest differences was, and is, heckling. I wanted to know what impact getting yelled at, and yelling at your colleagues, truly had on the work of MPs. It was, and is, very easy to make assumptions about the effect it must have, but assumptions are often flawed, and even if you’re observing the House in person you can’t have a true sense of what it’s like for MPs themselves. Nobody had systematically studied this before in this country. It was important to have some real data on which to ground our country’s thinking about heckling and parliamentary behaviour.

S: What made you so concerned about heckling?

M: Believe it or not this wasn’t automatically an anti-heckling project. Personally, I like a lively workday just as much as anyone else if not more, and I truly wanted to know how heckling affects the work of the House. The questions in the initial survey, which was replicated in the 2015 iteration, and only slightly changed in the 2017 version, were neutral – the conclusions about the negative impacts on the work of the House came from the MPs’ responses. Certainly the use of words like “cunt,” and racist and homophobic slurs is disgusting. There’s no way around it. The responses I received from 2011 and onward speak for themselves.

S: How have things changed since the first time you surveyed them?

M: One of the things that continues to stand out to me is the consistency of the responses and fraction of MPs who say they heckle, and are heckled. This isn’t substantively changing. As well, the detail MPs who respond to the surveys give in their written remarks is impressive and speaks to the passion they feel about this – these are busy people and they take the time to write paragraphs upon paragraphs, anonymously, about their thoughts and experiences with this. I remember pouring over those responses the first time, and how obvious it was that this is something that reaches them on a visceral, personal level. The solutions they have offered since 2011 in the surveys have remained consistent as well, but they’ve either not been tried, or haven’t stuck enough to start dramatically changing the numbers we see in these surveys.

S: Has your view on this changed since you left Parliament?

M: Like everyone reading this, I continue to be passionate about democracy and representation. However, I’m in a very different field these days – medicine. Medicine is like Parliament in the sense that it is an old, hierarchical institution that is having to adapt to big societal changes. As much as people in my current field might at times be frustrated with things (sometimes extremely serious, life-threatening things) that come their way, they can’t just call each other names to deal with it – and if someone does, that is increasingly seen as completely unacceptable. It’s an outstanding question for parliamentarians – what are the barriers stopping this group from deciding, collectively, that it is unacceptable to dehumanize one another? There are select MPs who are making it their mission to stamp this out, and that’s fantastic – why aren’t all other individual MPs internalizing that positive peer pressure? Heckling is one thing, but the racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., comments we keep documenting in these surveys are on another level. If we need to eliminate heckling to eliminate those comments, so be it. This survey is my passion project, but I’d love it if it put itself out of a job.

To read “No One Is Listening,” go to samaracanada.com/heckling.

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