Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

To Run or Not to Run? A Survey of Former Members of the Parliament of Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

To Run or Not to Run? A Survey of Former Members of the Parliament of Canada

Article excerpt

To determine the types of experiences that members of parliament face both in office and after leaving public life, the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians (CAFP) surveyed their membership. The following article is a brief summary of some of the results of the survey. The CAFP hope that the results of this survey will increase the public's understanding about the problems facing members of parliament both during their service and after they leave office.

It is hardly novel to comment on the low level of confidence the public has in political institutions. Political parties, parliament and the public service have all suffered the same loss of esteem in the eyes of the public. Of course public institutions are not the sole focus of citizen disenchantment. Large corporations are held in almost equal distrust, but citizens seem more accepting of these latter organizations, perhaps as they correctly feel that branches of the state should be more accountable to citizen demands for both performance and reform.(1)

At the same time that Canadians feel their public institutions are unworthy of greater respect, both parliamentary observers and members of parliament themselves feel the independence of parliament is under threat. Never a bastion of "loose fish" as Sir John A. Macdonald referred to independent members, the present Parliament is nonetheless less receptive to private members rebellions than earlier Parliaments in Canada. It is hardly surprising then that recent editorials have questioned why good men and women would seek to serve in the nation's capital. There is general acceptance among students of parliament that the vast majority of Senators and MPs come to Ottawa with good intentions, serve honourably and make valiant (if some times not totally successful) efforts at properly representing their constituencies. Many of these members seek changes to parliament that would allow them to more efficiently represent people and try and improve credibility to our national legislature.

There is therefore a fruitful dialogue on the problems of serving in the Parliament of Canada, most of it centered on the question of why would any rational individual choose to leave a good job to become a member of parliament. Less studied, but just as important, is the question of why would anyone choose to leave parliament? Put another way, what types of challenges do former members of parliament face when they try to re-enter the non-political world? Do the problems of parliament dog men and women after they leave office?

The Benefits of Service

If Canadians were asked what motivates individuals to run for office, the types of responses might vary from "self-interest and ambition" to "pursue pet policy/partisan beliefs." While it is true that ambition drives many individuals in political life (as it does in the worlds of business, academia, journalism and others) most members who make it to Ottawa are driven by far more altruistic goals. The CAFP sent surveys to over 850 former members of both the Senate and House of Commons. Over two hundred completed surveys were returned for a total return rate of just over twenty-five per cent. Asked what first motivated members to seek office, the primary reason for running federal office was to serve the community in which they lived. As Table One illustrates, this loyalty to community is constant for members of all partisan stripes.(2)

Table One

Motivations for Seeking Office by Political Party
(Numbers illustrated are ranked score where a 1
indicates strongest motivation and a 5 indicates
weakest motivation).

                    Lib   PC    NDP   Ref

Serve Community      1     1     1     1
that elected me

Loyalty to Party     3     3     4     4

Pursue particular    2     2     2     2
policy interests

Partisan Beliefs     4     4     3     3

To serve in the      5     5     5     5

federal cabinet

The most notable result is the consistency across party. …

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