Representation in Isolation

Representation in Isolation

Representation in Isolation

The Samara Centre for Democracy surveys Canada’s Members of Parliament on democratic issues every year. The 2020 MP Survey provided an early opportunity to hear from sitting MPs on the pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 40% of MPs shared their experiences of the challenges they faced in their constituencies, how they thought Parliament was performing, and whether they believed an appropriate balance had been struck between oversight and expediency in the legislative process.

"Representation in Isolation" examines MPs’ efforts to stay connected with their constituents during the first months of the pandemic, and finds some cross-partisan agreement—along with deep divisions—regarding how the House of Commons should uphold its fundamental democratic functions during the pandemic. It also presents recommendations to sustain representative democracy throughout this time.

Read the report below, or click here to open the PDF.

This report forms part of the Samara Centre's Democracy Monitor, an ongoing research series that examines the state of democracy in a state of emergency. Click here to explore the entire series.

Key findings

  1. MPs’ roles drastically changed during the first months of the pandemic. Parliament had adjourned and constituency work skyrocketed. As other workplaces closed, MPs and their staff took up many responsibilities that usually fall to the public service, and became broadcasters of real-time information for their communities.
  2. MPs made new use of digital technologies to communicate with their constituents, stakeholders, and colleagues. The experience left many Members eager to continue to learn and experiment with digital tools, even beyond the pandemic.
  3. More than 80% of MPs agreed that the House of Commons must find a way to meet regularly in order for Parliament to continue its important function of holding the Government accountable. But they also recognized that business as usual isn’t possible.
  4. Two-thirds of MPs also agreed that major legislative decisions should be voted on by all MPs, not only those who are a part of the smaller group that has been able to meet in person in the House of Commons during the pandemic.
  5. Nevertheless, with 96% of Conservative MPs opposed to moving most of Parliament’s important business online, and other parties largely in favour, there was a deep partisan divide over the implementation of some form of a virtual Parliament. Polarization has gotten in the way of the House of Commons finding a compromise to meet regularly throughout the pandemic.

Methodology and data

This was the fifth time sitting MPs have been surveyed by the Samara Centre. The survey was conducted from May 11 to June 26, 2020. Due to the pandemic, the survey was conducted entirely online. The survey was available in both English and French, and responses were submitted anonymously. Of the 130 MPs who started the survey, 123 completed it. These 123 complete responses—representing 36% of MPs in the House of Commons—were used for the analysis in this report. The demographic information of MPs in the House of Commons was obtained from the Library of Parliament’s Parlinfo website. Additional web searches supplemented some of the missing age information. For more on the methodology, see page 35 of the report.

The full data set of MP responses has been made public on our Research page, with only a few redactions made to preserve anonymity. If you have any questions regarding the survey or the data, please contact us.

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