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Christopher Radojewski | Fulcrum Staff

IF YOU WANT to see something funny, take a trip to the House of Commons during question period (QP) on Fridays. Despite Friday being very much a working day, you will find the House almost empty, with about a third of the members of Parliament (MPs) in their seats. Some must wonder, where are these representatives whom we pay to be on the Hill for a full work week?
QP on Friday is the only place outside of kindergarten and birthday parties where playing musical chairs is acceptable. This isn’t something you would notice if you’re watching it on TV, unless you’re really observant. MPs have become skilled in front of the camera. Since the list of speakers is already confirmed before QP begins, members will rearrange themselves in the area around the MP speaking in order to make their bench look full. Sure, you won’t notice them moving from behind a TV screen at home, but it is really fun to watch them shuffling around from the gallery in the House.

All parties are guilty of this display, except those with few members like the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois. Most Canadians are unaware of where their MP sits—so why would the audience notice where they sit? But on a Friday not too long ago, those from the riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel must have thought their MP, the NDP’s Mylène Freeman, sat everywhere in the House of Commons. She moved constantly to cover up that the House was very short of New Democratic Party (NDP) MPs. We as citizens know that constituency work is important—how else could­ MPs represent citizens if they were never present to listen to their concerns? But I’m intrigued by the fact that all parties feel they have to hide that no one is sitting on any given day.
Canada isn’t the only country whose MPs skip out of the Legislature. Actually, the record of attendance for Canadian MPs is great compared to other countries, like Ireland for example.

“Irish [Teachta Dála] (TDs’) [Legislative members] attendance record at parliamentary debates and other parliamentary functions is rather poor,” said Matthew Kerby, a professor of political science at the U of O who completed his PhD at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. “Consequently, the local dimension in a TD’s life is very important given that’s where the votes are located.”
Kerby explained that this is due to the voting system in Ireland, which has TDs competing as individuals in their riding against other candidates from their party and other parties. Thus the focus for Irish TDs has become less about the country and more about the riding.

In Canada, MPs still have to compete for votes in their riding, which is why constituency work is so important. If MPs are to do their job properly, they should do the job in both their riding and in Ottawa. That is why MPs spent the week following Remembrance Day in their ridings, on a break from parliamentary business. MPs get a week-long break from the Hill roughly once every three weeks.

We can’t have all this shifty business (pun emphasized). Canadians want transparency and productivity in parliament, since they pay MPs’ salaries with their taxes. The charade must stop. MPs should not feel the need to hide their absence in the House if they are doing work that benefits their constituents. If MPs are doing their job well, they should have nothing to hide. No more games in the House. Let’s leave the musical chairs to the professionals—the six-year-olds.

Christopher Radojewski is the Fulcrum’s political columnist. If you have any comments or questions, email politics@thefulcrum.ca