towards a more purposeful legislative assembly.

With the end of the fall Legislative sitting comes the perennial calls for a more civil discourse by the members of the Assembly. This year’s call for decorum comes after a particularly nasty sitting that will undoubtedly make many Albertans wonder why we elect these people in the first place. There are many reasons for the lack of civility by MLAs, including lack of enforcement by the Speaker and low expectations from the party leaders.

This recent article by Samara Canada co-founder Alison Loat on creating a more purposeful parliament in Ottawa may also include some truths about the Legislative Assembly in Alberta:

It may be time to ask whether we can do better for our Parliamentarians, and by extension, for the citizens they serve.

When our organization, Samara, conducted exit interviews with 65 former Members of Parliament, many of them long-time veterans of federal politics, we found most ex-MPs recalled feeling very unprepared for their new careers. We were surprised by the intensity of these descriptions, even years after they first took their seats in the House of Commons.

On one hand, this was only logical. For many, politics was a career change. On average, the MPs came to Ottawa in their late forties, having spent most of their life pursuing other careers and interests outside national public life. They arrived on the Hill with a desire to create a different politics from that which was on offer. They were determined to better represent their communities, and felt pride in the privilege to serve in such an important role in an important institution.

But on the other hand, it was a surprise to learn that when the MPs arrived on the Hill, they were given almost no orientation to Parliament or training on how to effectively advance that which brought them to politics in the first place.

“You learn by the seat of your pants,” one MP recalled. “There is no training … nothing on how to be effective,” said another.

While preparation is, in part, the role of each individual MP, Parliament is an institution with complex rules and traditions. We should look to systematically improve on the way in which newly-elected Parliamentarians are prepared for their positions.

11 thoughts on “towards a more purposeful legislative assembly.

  1. Jason

    Should parliamentarians get better training? Undoubtedly. Does that have anything to do with decorum? Not really. They’re not acting like children because no one explained to them how to behave.

    And, “a particularly nasty sitting that will undoubtedly make many Albertans wonder why we elect these people in the first place?”

    I think of myself as a person who is unusually aware of the comings and goings of the legislative assembly. And yet, not one instance of nastiness stands out in my mind. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they were being entirely unreasonable to one another. But if I didn’t even notice the “particularly nasty” nature of this sitting, I don’t think it’s going to strike Albertans one way or the other.

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  2. Brian Dell

    Hancock has taken exception to Rob Anderson’s belligerence in particular and I agree with Hancock. Anderson has almost single-handedly turned me off the Wildrose. If he really believed in Wildrose Alliance principles he could have ran for election as a Wildroser either in 2008 or when he crossed the floor at the beginning of 2010. While a PC he defended the Land-use Framework he now attacks and I don’t recall anybody threatening him should he fail to speak on it as a PC. If somebody did, why didn’t he just refuse, and if remaining silent got him kicked out of caucus, how would that have been a bad thing if the Tory leadership is as unscrupulous and thuggish as Anderson now portrays them to be? Anderson is extremely accusatory when it comes to government spending but won’t dare suggest any spending cuts that might be opposed by the Alberta Medical Association, AUPE, Alberta Teachers, United Nurses, etc.

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  3. daveberta Post author

    Jason, thanks for the comment. Nasty may not be the right word, but I was referring to the particularly negative tone of much of the debate that happened during the last sitting.

    Reply
  4. Alison Loat

    Hi Dave, Thank you very much for the shout-out – much appreciated. It’s great to hear that Samara’s work may have resonance in the provincial legislatures as well.

    Another thing we explored was how little agreement existed among the MPs as to the essential purpose of an MP. Tension is almost inevitable when an organization’s leadership has little shared view of what it is there to do….

    In this Globe op-ed, we wondered if it might not be time for a job description for an MP (and maybe an MLA too?). Would welcome your readers’ thoughts: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/whats-a-canadian-mps-job-they-dunno/article1822817/

    The entire report can be read online, or downloaded as a podcast. Any feedback is greatly welcomed. Thank you again for mentioning us in your post.

    Alison

    Reply
  5. Neal

    I agree with Jason. Our MPs and MLAs are there to debate about the best possible solutions to divise issues. When people are suffering in ER’s due to years of bad public policy, well of course the debate is going to be negative. It’s a bit hard to be upbeat and positive about people suffering or even dying.

    Worrying about the “tone” during important discussions in just nonsense. The only people that would worry about tone are those who fail to comprehend how real and vital the issues being debated are.

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  6. jerrymacgp

    The fundamental job of an MP or MLA is to represent us, the voters, in the assembly that chooses a government and decides on the taxes we must pay, the laws we must obey, and the spending priorities of the government. It’s that simple. The party system evolved many years before Confederation, and is essential to stable government in a parliamentary system.

    IMHO, the duty to provide newly elected members an “orientation” is on the parties. They can provide the institutional memory needed to fulfill this function.

    Reply
  7. Lou Arab

    Calls for decorum and civility are generally expressed from the government benches when they are getting beaten up – which Rob Anderson does to them on a regular basis.

    Decorum and civility generally suit the status quo quite nicely. Quiet legislatures usually lead to governments getting re-elected.

    If the Tories really wanted civility, they might start by changing some of the rules they have recently imposed against opposition parties (in particular against the Alliance) which are heavy handed in the extreme.

    Until they do that, I’ll be ignoring their whining about the opposition being too hard on them.

    Reply
  8. pat thomas

    When a government’s been in power for as long as the PCs, they can do just about anything they want and that includes blaming others for your behavior.
    These PCs are very good at this. A case in point …this debate.
    The role of the opposition is to be hard on government. So guess who is doing their job???????

    Reply
  9. Nancy Cavanaugh

    In a system where one group has the overwhelming power, it does little to respect the balance of their opposition. A blanance in legislature leads to a stronger likelyhood of the government listening to the opposition. As it stands now, the only clear listening that the Tories do is to their own self serving questions in question period, and systematically removing opportunites in Question period for other points of view. Decorum? Repect? That is earned.

    Reply
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