Welcome to Parliament: A Job With No Description

November 30, 2010
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Welcome to Parliament: A Job With No Description
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What is the experience of MPs when they first arrive on the steps of Parliament Hill in Ottawa? This report, the second installment in the Samara Centre’s four-part series sharing the stories and advice of 65 former Parliamentarians, explores their personal reflections on their days on the job on Parliament Hill. We found a real difference in opinion amongst MPs in their understanding of their role and purpose as Parliamentarians. 

We found five key archetypes amongst parliamentarians: philosophers, geographers, partisans, service providers and none-of-the-abovers. Philosophers had strong beliefs about their moral responsibility to their constituents, to their own code, or to finding a balance between the two. Geographers understood their job to be a negotiation between local and national interests, while partisans emphasized their responsibility to their political party. Service providers defined their job as a balance between developing policies contrasted with more direct service to constituents. Finally, there were MPs who interpreted the role in more personal ways. Some described their role as bringing an aspect of new representation—such as one’s ethnic identity—into politics. Others viewed it as a call to service or an opportunity “to make a difference” (interpreted in various ways).  

In addition to a lack of shared understanding around their new role, many MPs felt unprepared for their positions and lacked formal training or orientation. To make matters worse, committee appointments were often misaligned with the interests and expertise of the MPs appointed to them. We should ask ourselves whether we can improve on the way in which newly elected Parliamentarians are prepared for their positions. Should we consider a longer transition period where, at a minimum, there is a proper introduction to Parliament, including an overview of the rules and expectations of a Parliamentarian?

The lack of precision and limited orientation for the job leads to a massive learning curve for new MPs. We need to discuss and consider more closely the role of an MP. Should there be a job description? If so, how do we decide what it should include? And who should decide? We should reflect carefully about how we can set up new MPs for success so they can hit the ground running when they enter the House of Commons.

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