Politics
3 min

Whose job is it to hold government to account?

I was interested to read of the latest series of “exit interviews” of former MPs by the group Samara, who found that most MPs don’t really have an expectation of what the job is they’ve been elected to do, and they don’t really get any kind of job training once they are elected. The parties for the most part leave them to it, and they stumble around for a while, believing their jobs to be somewhere between “Doctor, priest, teacher, ambassador, social worker, spokesperson, lobbyist and guard dog.”

Personally, I can’t say that this surprises me much – I’ve been reading about this for a while from political scientists like David E Smith and Donald Savoie, who have seen MPs move from their actual job description of holding the government – and its spending – to account to more of an “ombudsman” job, where a lot of their time is spent doing constituency work, like helping people with passport applications and sorting immigration problems. More time, it would seem, than scrutinizing legislation and government spending. In fact, on the latter part, they’ve almost entirely abdicated that role to independent officers of Parliament like the auditor general, and the parliamentary budget officer (if he was an actual officer of Parliament).

It’s not difficult to see why this happened – part of it has to do with the realities of elected office, where being seen to help on the ground is key to being reelected. The complexity of legislation and government finance has also made it more difficult for MPs – few of whom are either lawyers or economists – to follow the intricacies of what it is they’re supposed to be scrutinizing, so they’re happy to turn it over.

All of this is to say that we do need to have a discussion in this country about what jobs we expect our MPs to have, while reminding ourselves that they have important responsibilities – like holding the government to account – and that they can’t be all things to all people, and doing too many things mean that they will do none of them very well.

Elsewhere, on the eve of the Dec 6 anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, the Conservatives have decided to further delay certain gun control regulations that would allow police to quickly trace guns used in crimes. Because they still believe in gun control (so long as it’s not the long gun registry) everyone!

Michael Ignatieff is calling out Diane Finley’s dishonest portrayal of Bill C-428 – Ruby Dhalla’s private member’s bill to lower the residency requirement for Old Age Security benefits – as a Liberal bill. He says the party doesn’t actually support it and the minister knows that, but is trying to portray it as such.

A Postmedia analysis shows that more Conservative ridings saw tourism dollars from the government than Opposition-held ones. Not that this should surprise anyone.

Meanwhile, the auditor general says that there’s no evidence of bureaucrats with spending problems, after Stockwell Day made a big show of clamping down on it. In fact, she now believes there are too many rules on bureaucrats’ spending. But Harper? He personally signed off on a $7,400 “refreshment” tab for a Privy Council Office staff meeting three months before the announced crackdown on spending. But we already knew that all their spending is “essential.”

Peter Tinsley, the former head of the Military Police Complaints Commission (who Harper basically fired to frustrate the probe into Afghan detainees) has decided to run for the Liberal nomination in Prince Edward-Hastings, saying that Ignatieff stood up to Harper’s “authoritarian exercise of power.”

I was speaking the other day with Libby Davies about the government’s new anti-drug ads, and, oh look – experts agree that these ads are pretty much going to be ineffective because they’re doing exactly what these kinds of ads shouldn’t. But what’s that? It’s because they’re designed to attract worried parents as voter rather than to actually stop youth from using drugs? You don’t say!

And Susan Delacourt delves into the roots of our “inferiority complex” and its history in Freudian psychoanalysis.

This week – It’s the second-last week of the sitting, and the Conservatives are planning on unveiling a new counter-terrorism package. It’s supposed to be based on the recommendations of Justice John Major, but I’m sure it will be stuffed with all the constitutionally questionable stuff that the Senate objected to before and allowed to lapse when it came up for review the last time.
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