Welcome to Parliament

Chapter 2: The None-of-the-Abovers

The final group of MPs described their roles with language that did not fit into the above-mentioned categories, using more colloquial descriptions that made little or no reference to definitions of representation or to their political party. These descriptions ranged from platitudes to personal observations, from inspiring statements of purpose to definitions that bordered on the absurd.

"I was the first Greek-born woman elected to the House of Commons... a lot of young women in the community [saw] me as a role model."

One described his role as an MP as a means of professional advancement. “The MP’s role is an opportunity for useful, intelligent people to have a good time... You have such a variety of different things to do... You can talk to anyone, you can learn anything. Some people describe it as the best graduate degree in the world,” the MP said.

There were others who described it as advancing a vision, or wider change. “Your purpose is to advance the public interest… it boils down to working with your colleagues to advance the prosperity of the people,” said one MP.

Another set regarded the role as a call to service. “Being an MP is not a job, it’s a calling, a way of life. You are one of the lucky people to ever get there,” one MP said. “I think [the role] should be thought of as a professional service honour. Public service is something that can be very good for the country,” said another MP.

Others MPs, reflecting their particular variation of an outsider self-identification, described a core aspect of their role as bringing their own personal identity into Parliament. One female MP, elected less than a decade after she’d completed university, said that representing her demographic was central to her job. “[I have a responsibility] for broader representation and involvement with young people and women… [I have] an obligation to speak up,” the MP said. Another proudly remembered, “I was the first Greek-born woman elected to the House of Commons… A lot of young women in the community [saw] me as a role model.”

"Collectively with colleagues, [an MP] must play a role as a watchdog of government activities, and ensure that the government [pursues] the public interests and spends money wisely."

One Aboriginal MP described his role as being a conduit for his community. “They don’t see you as a [party member], they see you as [you], and [say], ‘Screw the political party affiliations, you better do what is good for our people,’” the MP said. A Bloc MP described his job as representing Québec internationally, and interacting with ambassadors of other countries. “Bloc MPs have a big role at the international level... [as] a representative of Québec,” he said.

A further group of MPs compared the role to a wide variety of other professions that had little in common, save perhaps for their heavy interaction with people. These professions included: administrator, doctor, priest, teacher, ambassador, social worker, messenger, spokesperson and lobbyist. One MP equated the role to that of a “guard dog.”

Several MPs who compared the role to other professions also made direct connections to their own pre-Parliamentary careers. One MP, an accountant and executive, described the role as akin to running a small business. Another MP equated it with running two businesses. Another, a lawyer and mediator, said the role was about building relationships. “The whole story of Parliament is human relationships at the level of the MP. We do that in our daily life in our communities: we build relationships; we build networks,” the MP said.

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly given the attention paid to Question Period in our country’s politics, only a few MPs mentioned that the role involved holding government accountable for its decisions. “Collectively with colleagues, [an MP] must play a role as a watchdog of government activities, and ensure that the government [pursues] the public interests and spends money wisely,” one MP said. Another lamented the sentiment that accountability was disappearing and thought greater emphasis should be placed on it. “The House… as a place… to hold the government to account has to be rethought,” the MP said.

Given that contemporary Canadian politics is marked by cultural, regional, economic and political diversity, perhaps such varied descriptions are inevitable. But we argue that this inevitability is not a given, and nor should it be.