In June 2010, Samara released The Accidental Citizen?, a report that described the backgrounds and paths to politics of the 65 people who participated in Canada’s first-ever systematic series of exit interviews with former Members of Parliament.
Samara is charitable organization that studies citizen engagement with Canadian democracy. This project began when co-founders Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan learned that exit interviews, common in many organizations, had never been undertaken systematically in one of the most important workplaces in our country—our federal Parliament.
Exit interviews indicate the care and interest that an organization takes in its employees by providing an opportunity for departing staff to reflect on their work and share ideas on improvements. It concerned us that those who served as the democratically-elected link between citizens and their government—our Members of Parliament—were not regularly asked to reflect on their experience or to provide advice on what can be improved for future Parliamentarians and in the service to all Canadians.
Samara’s goal with this work is to better understand how Canada’s democracy functions, and to suggest ways to strengthen it. This project is based on the personal reflections of MPs, providing different and often more detailed information than that provided by polls, surveys or media commentary. We approach this work as documentarians, reporting on how the MPs described their feelings and beliefs.
Samara was able to conduct these interviews almost entirely in person, and often in the homes or communities of participating MPs, thanks to introductions from the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians. The former Parliamentarians generously gave their time, allowed us to record the interviews and granted us permission to use the information to advance public understanding of Canadian politics and political culture.
This report is the second in a series sharing the stories and advice of these 65 Parliamentarians, each of whom dedicated an average of nearly ten and a half years to national public life, acting as a bridge between Canadians and their government. Many served during a transformative time in our political history: when the Bloc Québécois, the Reform Party and the merged Conservative Party of Canada rose as important players on the national stage. Each MP served in at least one minority Parliament, and during a time when changes in media and communications technology had begun to take hold. This report should be read with this context in mind.
Memories are often coloured by the passage of time and personal interpretations of events and experiences; we assume that the testimonies of the participating MPs are no different. In many ways, these subjective reflections on the experiences of these MPs provide some of the most illuminating insights into Canadian politics.