The rebel sell


Andrew Potter considers the overarching theme of Samara’s findings.

To begin with, Samara’s findings underscore the profound amateurism that permeates our national politics. When the vast majority of members of Parliament, upon leaving office, feel obliged to insist that well, they never really wanted to be a politician in the first place, that only reinforces the broad cynicism that many people feel toward public life. After all, if our members of Parliament don’t take their jobs all that seriously, why should anyone else?

To amplify that point a bit, it raises the question of who is ultimately responsible for the health of Canada’s democracy. Institutions are not buildings, they are sets of norms and procedures designed to achieve certain goals, and being “institutionalized” simply means that you accept those norms and are committed to keeping them healthy. Parliament’s central function is to enable representative self-government, which in our system involves working within and through institutional structures that are centuries old.


The rebel sell

  1. ‘the profound amateurism that permeates our national politics’

    A major problem in a democracy…there are no qualifications to be an MP…anybody can run.

    So we make up our own requirements….’someone I’d like to have a beer with’…or ‘someone who’s met a payroll’ or someone who’s worked in farming or worked on the line…the supposed working mans ‘common sense’, or even just the fact the candidate ‘always remembers my name and asks after my wife and kiddies’.

    Riding associations duly nominate these people…good ol’ Fred from down the road….throws a mean BBQ…serves beer, always remembers your name. ‘He’ll give em what for…old Fred has a temper and doesn’t stand for any guff’….like he’s off to do battle with ‘big gubmint’.  He’s a rebel underneath it all apparently.

    So ol’ Fred goes to Ottawa….where it turns out he has to deal with Chinese trade deals, stem cell research, space exploration, war in Libya and so on.  And ‘ol Fred’ is completely lost. Turns out he’s Don Quixote.

    But hey, you can have a beer with him.

    • You make an excellent point.  And yet the candidate who researches the issues of the day, comes to a conclusion based on facts, and stands by that conclusion even in the face of an audience who wants the answer to go the other way–well, he might as well not run.  And in so very many ridings, he doesn’t.  I saw it in my own riding this last time, we need a ‘candidate’ (the guy you can have a beer with and who remembers your name) hand off the relay baton to the ‘MP’ (the guy who knows what he’s talking about and can “work the system” to get stuff done)

      • We’ve lost a lot of excellent people that way…unless they lie, they don’t win.

        And even lying doesn’t always help.  We had an MP some years ago who assured one group he was pro-choice, and assured another group he was anti-abortion. Unfortunately for him some of the people in both groups knew each other…and he was found out.

        So of course you shouldn’t lie, or even feel the need to…but voters want definite positions, even though an MP can’t do anything about their particular cause to begin with.

  2. Could this just be a case of a lot of people believing their own hype?  Many politicians get elected on the claim that they “aren’t part of the system” or are “political outsiders” when the reality is that they obtained nomination signatures, the support of local riding associations, and the support of party brass before even running against the other local candidates in an election.

  3. a bunch of silly comments about a trivial post. Does everyone want all Canadian parliamentarians to be erudite political scientists with uni degrees so stating?  Hope not.

    • Oh goodness no. We wouldn’t want our parliamentarians to actually have any expertise in something.

  4. Some hard truths from AP. It does seem to be an age were many people don’t really bother to think issues through and develop some kind of independent view of society, or at least an attempt at an original one; rather, they seem to feel that getting in front of the parade [ basically telling people what they want to hear] is all that’s needed for elected office – how many of us get our views or gripes challenged when they come knocking at our doors? Most seem so anxious to please.
    OTOH i’d like to see some evidence going a little further back then the relatively short period Samarra covered – perhaps earlier surveys would have always turned up a fair number of disillusioned “outsiders” who couldn’t seem to make Ottawa change as quickly or radically as they had hoped for?  I suspect though that Potter has it basically right -either they don’t learn how to play the game effectively once they’re there, or they never had a really coherent idea of what they were there for in the first place. Just getting Ottawa off your back or bitch’n about why the world’s not fair can only get you so far; probably a lot of us would make the same mistakes…or is it that Ottawa’s only for the trully committed or convicted nowadays? Maybe it always was?

  5. I agree with parts of what Potter has written and disagree with others.

    My impression from these Samara interviews over past couple of years is that potential MPs have no idea what job entails but I am willing to bet everyone knew salary, benefits and pension were worth. Anglo countries at least, have been run by ‘amateurs’ for centuries and that’s not the problem. 

    It is type of people Parliament is attracting – lickspittles – which are lowering repute of MPs. MPs are supposed to represent each riding’s interest but that’s been abandoned in pursuit of power. Parties put their own interests first, not Nation’s, and it is easy for party leaders to coerce colleagues with threats to their salary/pension and a variety of other accoutrements.

    Many MPs don’t behave on principles because there is too much money involved – it is like winning lottery when someone is elected MP – and they don’t want to jeopardize their position or future security.

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