Recognizing what's right with Parliament

For the first time, a Conservative MP, Jason Kenney, has won the Best Overall award

Voter participation in Canada’s 2008 federal election unhappily set an all-time low. While it was once commonplace for 75 per cent of Canadians to vote for their politicians, last year just 59 per cent did. In a modest bit of encouraging news, however, voting by politicians is on the rise.

This issue marks our third annual Parliamentarians of the Year Awards. And along with partners L’actualité, the Dominion Institute and Ipsos Reid, Maclean’s is pleased to report that participation in our election, which sees members of Parliament vote for their peers, has hit an all-time high.

Our first two competitions saw response rates in the 50 per cent range, but this year we went out of our way to encourage participation by all MPs. The poll is entirely confidential. It is also controlled for partisanship, meaning parties with more members will not win every category.

This year’s results speak to our success. An impressive 69 per cent of MPs filled out ballots. And the resulting winners come from across the political spectrum.

For the first time, a Conservative MP, cabinet member Jason Kenney, won Best Overall. Peter Stoffer (NDP), Joe Comartin (NDP) and Paul Szabo (Liberal) all repeated as Most Collegial, Most Knowledgeable and Hardest Working, respectively. Megan Leslie (NDP) took Best Rookie—a new category added this year—while Bob Rae (Liberal) was named Best Orator and Bill Casey (Independent) earned Best Constituent Representative. Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe was runner-up in two categories. All winners were honoured at a gala ceremony in Ottawa this week.

We believe these awards to be an important component in revitalizing public participation in Canadian politics, and reversing the depressing national voting trend. Thus we are gratified to see sitting MPs legitimize the process by voting in record numbers.

The vast bulk of the media’s efforts at political coverage consist of the blood-sport mechanics of party politics. We look for scandals, mistakes and oversights and play up the inevitable conßict. No apologies there. Holding government to account is one of the media’s reasons for being.

But to focus solely on confrontations misses a bigger picture. Canadians are fortunate to live in one of the wealthiest and best-run countries anywhere. At a time of unprecedented global economic and political crisis, the entire world has looked to Canada for leadership. That leadership flows directly from our political system, and the efforts of our politicians.

For all this, however, politics actually involves very little glamour. The typical politician faces achingly long days filled with endless meetings, appointments, reading and travel. There is much more sacrifice than privilege. And all Canadians ought to be thankful that someone is prepared to do this difficult but necessary work.

By celebrating the best of the best in Ottawa, Maclean’s seeks to raise the standing and esteem of all our politicians, and hopefully bring our voters back to the ballot box.

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