Representation in Isolation: Member of Parliament Survey 2020

September 21, 2020
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Representation in Isolation: Member of Parliament Survey 2020
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The Samara Centre for Democracy surveys Canada’s Members of Parliament (MPs) on current democratic issues. 

The 2020 MP Survey provided an early opportunity to systematically hear from federal political representatives in Canada on the democratic pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 40% of MPs anonymously shared their experiences of the new 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. 

This report examines MPs’ experiences staying connected with their constituents during the early period 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.

Key Findings

  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Two-thirds of MPs agreed that major legislative decisions should be voted on by all Members, rather than only the smaller group of MPs that have been able to meet in person in the House of Commons during the pandemic.
  • Nevertheless, with 96% of Conservative MPs opposed to moving most of Parliament’s important business online, and the other parties largely in favour, there was a deep partisan divide over implementing some form of virtual Parliament. Polarization has gotten in the way of the House of Commons finding a compromise to meet regularly throughout the pandemic.
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