Redesigning Parliament: improving the jobs of Members of Parliament

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013 View Count = 1293

Redesigning Parliament: improving the jobs of Members of Parliament

Over the month of February, Samara will be writing and presenting guest blogs from MPs, Samara readers, partners and volunteers, community leaders and citizens from across the country on how we can “Redesign Parliament” to more ably serve Canadians in the future.

The responses received were broken out into themes or ideas. Each week we’ll explore a theme or two and then offer deeper dives by individual writers. The first theme is brought to you by Samara’s Jennifer Phillips: Redesigning Parliament to improve the jobs of Members of Parliament.

“Working in the House of Commons is like no other job in the country. Most Canadians do not have parts of their job televised and their words recorded verbatim for public record; nor are they expected to sit in an enormous room through something akin to a seven-hour meeting while colleagues drift in and out, and where they may speak on talking points that they did not write, and perhaps don’t fully support. Furthermore, without much training, MPs must grasp the complex set of rules and procedures—many with centuries-old origins—that structure the debate in the House, if they want to successfully participate. This is the reality for Members of Parliament working in the House of Commons.” [from Lost in Translation or Just Lost?”] 

Create a Job Description and Training for MPs
Both former MPs and sitting MPs agree that there is a need for a defined role and training. And it’s not only MPs who see the need for this. In the dozens of reader submissions Samara received over the fall of 2012, several mentioned the need for MPs “to pass a comprehensive course” or to give a “clearer description to everyone of what the MP’s role is.” 

Reduce travel
When asked, “what change would make you better able to do your job and more effective as an MP?,” the first response Liberal MP Mark Eyking (Sydney-Victoria) listed was “reduce travel.” For Mr. Eyking to travel from, Sydney Airport in Nova Scotia, which is just outside of his riding, to Ottawa is at minimum a four-hour flight. Ottawa to Whitehorse is 10 hours at minimum; Ottawa to Vancouver is over five hours. Double all of these times, and remember they do this every week, and you can start to understand why MPs would rather spend that time in other ways. This point was raised by MPs in our MP exit interviews project when they suggested the House be closed on Fridays to allow for travel time. 

Increase resources in constituency
MPs have two offices that serve different purposes: an office in Ottawa focuses on committee work, legislation and policy; and a constituency office carries out casework such as immigration, employment insurance and pension issues. Don Davies, NDP MP from Vancouver Kingsway, would use “more resources at the constituency level to assist with service delivery for constituents,” and this can include the MPs themselves.  As Liberal MP from Vancouver Centre, Hedy Fry, points out, “The House of Commons should sit four days a week, for longer hours, so Members of Parliament can spend at least one day per week in their constituency office. That way, there is a balance in the MP’s ability to relate to Ottawa and to relate to their constituents in a timely manner.”

Get rid of the paper 
NDP MP, Peter Stoffer remembers the days when backbench MPs would rush to the House of Commons to hear what Trudeau or Tommy Douglas had to say. Today, “MPs spend half a day rehearsing a 30-second speech they read from paper anyway. If MPs aren’t paying attention, is it any wonder why the public isn’t paying attention?” It’s a good question, and Stoffer thinks he has the answer – get rid of the paper, “Getting rid of the paper would force MPs to know their subject. Sure, Members will stumble on their words, but who cares. At least it’s real.”

We especially liked this recommendation from one of Samara’s readers to improve the work of MPs: “Create an online school for MPs based on the Samara exit interviews and reports.”

Follow the Redesigning Parliament blog series here

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