New Parliament a chance to make Hill life more...
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Jan 22, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

New Parliament a chance to make Hill life more like real life: Delacourt

Heckling in the workplace is but one example of how far removed politics can be from everyday life. With an influx of new MPs entering Parliament next week, perhaps it’s time to work on bridging the divide

OurWindsor.Ca

Most people get through their days at work without being publicly mocked on the job.

Professional comedians and athletes would be the exception, even journalists too on occasion — in online comment pages, for instance, or when trying to ask questions of politicians in the midst of election campaign events with supporters.

The other big exception would be politicians themselves. A new report this week from the non-partisan advocacy group Samara showed that heckling is a frequent occupational hazard for Canadian politicians, even though everyone — participants and spectators alike — seems to hate it.

Samara called it a “surprising paradox.” A full 69 per cent of MPs who responded to a Samara survey last spring said heckling was a problem. But 72 per cent confessed that they indulged in heckling as well.

Samara’s report is timed nicely to coincide with the reopening of Parliament in Ottawa on Monday. But it also lands while the October election is still fresh in people’s minds — and that timing could be more significant.

Nearly two-thirds of the MPs taking their seats in the Commons next week are new to political life. Not so long ago, this whole business of heckling and jeering was not part of their job descriptions. So why will some of them take up the habit? Because political life, we are told, is not like any other life.

Here’s an idea, though: if we want to fix the tone of Canadian politics — and we’re told this is the conclusion that politicos of all stripes have reached after the 2015 campaign — perhaps we might want to look into why we blithely assume that politics should have a whole different set of workplace standards.

The gap between politics and “real” life has come up a few times this week, not just in Samara’s heckling survey but also in a fascinating discussion on CBC’s The National, about what it’s like to lose in politics. Megan Leslie, who was one of the New Democrats’ rising stars in the last Parliament, spoke emotionally to Peter Mansbridge about the shock of defeat on election night in October.

Leslie, to her credit, was trying to keep things in perspective. “I’ve been trying to think about how this is different than a plant closing, or you’re a barista and your coffee shop goes under — how is it different?”

Good question.

In a subsequent panel discussion on The National, veteran political strategists all agreed that losing is doubly difficult for incumbent MPs because it plunges them back into the “real” world — a world very different from the one in which they have been working.

David Herle, who has been in the Liberal campaign trenches since the 1980s, noted that ex-politicians fare better in the United States, where service in politics is seen as a career achievement. In Canada, Herle said, political experience is less valued by the private sector.

That’s a cultural divide worth a lot more thought and discussion, it would seem.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper will obviously be re-entering the so-called real world too, now that he’s stepped down as Conservative leader and at some point soon, one assumes, he will also vacate the job as MP for Calgary-Heritage.

So Harper, too, will hit the wall between public and private life — a wall that he contributed to building, whether on purpose or inadvertently. From their first moments in office a decade ago, Conservatives hammered home the idea that there was just far too much cosy traffic between business and politics. Most of the various “accountability” measures, for instance, were based on the premise that politics and business should exist in isolation from each other as much as possible.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that 10 years later, Canada’s private sector doesn’t value public service all that much. Accountability, as it was defined for a decade in Canada, dictated that nothing good happens when business and politics get mixed up together.

This week, Carleton University held a wide-ranging orientation session for new MPs that stretched over two days. (I was on one of the panels, talking about how the media works.)

It was interesting to note how many times the seasoned political voices advised rookies not to get too caught up in the famed Ottawa bubble — to always remember that they had a life before politics and would have one afterward.

This new Parliament has presented Canadian politics with a unique opportunity — one in which newcomers vastly outnumber the old hands on the Hill. It could be a chance to narrow the gap between the “real” world, where people don’t generally heckle their colleagues on the job, and the “unreal” world of politics.

Fixing the tone of politics, in other words, could start with the idea that life on Parliament Hill isn’t a world with its own rules, but a workplace like any other.

Toronto Star

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