In Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy, authors Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan draw on exit interviews with 80 former parliamentarians to reveal how federal politicians felt about their experiences leading and directing the country. Chief among their findings: many MPs did not have a clear understanding about what their job in Ottawa was, and often felt stymied by a partisan system that constricted their freedom in Ottawa. These selected excerpts from Chapter 4 (“What Job Is This Anyway?”) suggest that many MPs interviewed found the most tangible result of their work to be individual casework for constituents in their home ridings, prompting the authors to ask if all constituency work alone is the best use of an MP’s talents and time.
Once they’ve faced down the challenges of their first weeks in Ottawa—where the office is, how to claim expenses, where to find staff, how to get to the bathroom—new MPs face a more long-term hurdle: managing the many demands on their attention and schedule. The former Liberal MP for Miramichi, New Brunswick, Charles Hubbard, for one, was astonished by the number of people who approached his office to seek help from one of the federal bureaucracies, such as Immigration Canada, Revenue Canada or Service Canada. “Your office is always facing calls where somebody is frustrated with trying to approach the government,” said Hubbard. “When you think of somebody having trouble with his income tax or with his EI or trying to access the Canada Pension or an old age pension, and they get the proverbial runaround, they wind up calling your office.”