The Outsiders' Manifesto: Surviving and Thriving as a Member of Parliament

September 14, 2011
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The Outsiders' Manifesto: Surviving and Thriving as a Member of Parliament
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If one thing unites the 65 former Parliamentarians who participated in Samara's series of exit interviews, it's that they know that politics matters. Whatever the colour of their team sweater—red, blue, orange or green—and whether they favour big or small government, a centralized or decentralized federation, every Member of Parliament believes that getting government right is critical to the way Canadians live together.

Members of Parliament are the citizens Canadians choose to represent their interests and contend with the important issues facing Canada. From the economy to the environment, healthcare to foreign policy, Canadians expect their Parliamentarians to listen to their concerns while making tough decisions about how the country is run.

Or at least they used to. A worrying trend facing all western democracies, including Canada, is the declining interest in politics and a lack of faith in its ability to lead on the issues that are important to citizens. Opinion polls suggest Canadians view what happens in Ottawa as increasingly irrelevant, inconsequential and disconnected from their lives. Canadians don't see themselves reflected in the way their democracy functions, they don't believe they're being heard or represented and they feel that politicians' promises are largely meaningless. As a consequence, they turn away from federal politics, cynical and frustrated.

But Canadians cannot turn away. The world is changing daily; Europe and America face economic crises, and how Canada chooses to respond to these crises will be critical. While banks, corporations and NGOs play important roles in our society, at the end of the day, solving our public challenges and creating opportunity for the country's future will always be the business of citizens and those who we choose to lead us.

Yet Canadians know very little about those men and women—leaders like our Members of Parliament—and what they've learned serving on the front lines of our democracy. MPs' experiences can offer tremendous insight into the successes and failings of our democracy, and yet they're rarely consulted about what should be done to improve our democratic process, so in 2009–10, we at Samara travelled across Canada and conducted a series of exit interviews with 65 former MPs from all regions and political parties (see Background to the Interviews box).

To our knowledge, this project is the first of its kind in the world. These former Parliamentarians took the time to reflect on their time in office to help Canadians better understand their politics and to begin a constructive discussion about what can be done to improve how Canada's democracy functions.

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