What are former MPs saying this time around?

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Leadership Wednesday, August 30, 2017 View Count = 1987

What are former MPs saying this time around?

It’s been nearly two years since the last federal election which saw a staggering 197 Members of Parliament lose or resign their seats, resulting in a massive loss of parliamentary experience and institutional knowledge.

Much like we did in 2011, Samara has sought to capture this valuable experience and knowledge before it's lost forever. Spurred on by friends and supporters, and undaunted by the winter weather, Samara launched the second round of our seminal MP Exit Interview project this past January.

As summer comes to an end, we 'd like to share an update on what we've heard so far.

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Travelling across the country—through sun, snow and sometimes hail—Samara researchers have spoken with former Members of the 41st Parliament from Saskatoon, SK, to Sudbury, ON, from Claresholm, AB, to Montréal, QC, from St. John’s, NL, to Sparwood, BC. We even caught up with one former MP in London, England.

As of August, we've interviewed more than 50 former MPs – Conservatives, New Democrats, Liberals, Greens, Independents and a member of the Strength in Democracy party. We’ve interviewed former MPs from ages 26 to 75, representing over 1,000 years of parliamentary experience.

Interviews have been conducted in both official languages, with conversations lasting an average of two hours.

Former MPs have been interviewed at their homes, offices, universities, local libraries and, most notably, at a fishing lodge. We went to where these former parliamentarians now work as police officers or human rights advocates, in coal mines or back in school as students.

Participants have not only opened their homes to us but also their hearts, candidly telling us the about the personal stories and setbacks that don’t typically make the news. For instance, one former MP told us about what it was like to run in and lose his first nomination: “My family had suffered, my law practice had suffered, everything had suffered so much. I didn’t know that I had it in me to run again.”

They also shared the unique and at times difficult experiences they encountered as a result of their age, gender or ethnic background:

“I remember having to call my parents on election night to tell them, first, that I had been a candidate and, secondly, that I had won.”

“People asked me to anglicize my name and I’d say “Why? It’s my name. I can't get away from the fact.”

They talked about finding ways to stay in touch with their constituents. According to one former MP:

“I would… rip out a page of the phone book, and would call people from the airport. Just say, ‘Hey. There’s a particular bill on this issue. What do you think?’”

They described their biggest frustrations from their time in public office, and the greatest privileges they enjoyed:

“Democracy is a messy business and it should be a messy business. I don’t mind a messy business at all. But I don’t want deals being made in the back of a caucus room.”

“[With parties] we have mindless lockstep tribalism, where they’re always wrong and we’re always right.”

“If you love public policy and are having an impact, you’re right at the focal point.”

Highlighting the importance of this project, one participant pointed out, “If you cease being an MP, you might as well be dead as far as the Ottawa bubble is concerned.”

Though we've already learned a lot, we aren’t done crisscrossing the country just yet! With more interviews scheduled in the next few weeks, we want to forge a new path with this work – to produce insights which can lead to legislative change, a more effective parliamentary workplace and better governance for Canadians.

Look for portions of this groundbreaking research to begin appearing early next year.

For more updates from the road, follow us on Instagram.

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