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NDP Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash speaks during the NDP leadership debate in Ottawa Dec. 4, 2011. (BLAIR GABLE/BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS)
NDP Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash speaks during the NDP leadership debate in Ottawa Dec. 4, 2011. (BLAIR GABLE/BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS)

Leadership hopefuls had worst attendance in current Parliament Add to ...

The federal politicians in the races to lead the NDP and the Bloc Québécois are also leading the pack of MPs who missed the most votes in this session of Parliament, according to the latest investigation of House of Commons attendance by The Globe and Mail.

Maria Mourani, who represents the Montreal riding of Ahuntsic and failed in her bid to become Bloc leader on Sunday, missed more votes than any MP – 73, or nearly three out of every four. Ms. Mourani said she had to be “pretty much everywhere in Quebec” for the leadership race and managed to make it to Ottawa two days a week.

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Five NDP leadership hopefuls are among the top 10 MPs with the worst attendance record, and two others were in the top 30 – a far cry from the party’s strong performance of consistent attendance in the previous Parliament.

Romeo Saganash missed close to two-thirds of the votes and Thomas Mulcair more than half, placing second and fourth respectively.

As the first MP to declare in the NDP race, “Romeo has been on the campaign trail nearly three months and has balanced that with a lot of time in his riding, which … is vast and time-consuming to travel,” said his campaign manager, Daniel Wilson.

Mr. Mulcair’s spokeswoman, Chantale Turgeon, said the MP was present “for every single vote in the House of Commons from the start of the session … until the launch of his campaign.”

But not just the NDP is slipping in attendance.

Absenteeism in this session of Parliament – which has sat so far for only 69 days since June and adjourns this week for the holidays – appears to be getting worse. A Globe analysis of attendance data from the last parliamentary session, which ran from 2008 to 2010, showed that 17 MPs from all parties had missed one-quarter of the votes. As of Tuesday evening in this Parliament, 26 MPs missed the same number – and 17 of them were away for more than a third of the votes.

During the years of minority government, Liberals dominated the absentee ranks. But this time, with the Tories apparently less disciplined about missing votes in a majority Parliament and the New Democratic MPs consumed with their leadership race, the three main parties in English Canada equally shared about one-third of the top 30 absentee spots.

Seven Tory cabinet members were among the top 25 most absent MPs in 2011, including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae had the fifth-worst attendance record in the House, missing nearly half the votes, but he was adamantly unapologetic and blamed the Tories for a chaotic parliamentary session.

“That is not a meaningful statistic, it is an irrelevant statistic,” Mr. Rae said of his 47 missed votes.

“I’m on the road, I’m rebuilding the party, I’m speaking across the country,” the Liberal Leader said. “I make no apologies. I turn up for work every day – it’s just that my work is not simply attending votes.”

Mr. Rae and other opposition MPs pointed out angrily that voting in this session has been more confused than usual, with the Tories scheduling many votes – including closure motions to shut down debate – on Mondays and Thursdays instead of more conveniently in the middle of the week.

“To be perfectly frank and very blunt, when there is a majority government and there is absolutely zero prospect of the government changing its mind on a particular bill, voting is largely symbolic,” Mr. Rae said.

While some votes are procedural, most in this session were about government-proposed legislation on everything from the budget to major Criminal Code changes and the abolition of the gun registry and the Wheat Board monopoly.

As it has in the past, The Globe worked with the website HowdTheyVote.ca to analyze the voting records, eliminating the prearranged “paired voting” that takes place when MPs do not vote to balance out the planned absence of another member.

Unlike the Senate, which makes its members’ attendance numbers public, records of MPs’ presence on Parliament Hill are kept confidential, so counting who showed up to vote is one of the few public ways to measure a politician’s presence in Parliament.

An MP who misses more than 21 days in a single session can be fined $120 – but not if he or she has a valid reason such as health or “public or official business” – which presumably includes campaigning for a leadership post.

“You feel pulled in 100 different directions. You want to do everything well,” said Nathan Cullen, who has represented the sprawling British Columbia riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley since 2004. Another NDP leadership hopeful, this session he had the sixth-worst voting record, with almost half the votes missed.

“MPs have divided lives, it’s challenging,” he said last week in a phone interview after meeting native leaders in his riding. “It’s a balancing act. I don’t know if have perfected it. I don’t think anyone has.”



How the party leaders rate

47

Votes missed by Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae

18

Votes missed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper (18 per cent), far better than his nearly 50 per cent absentee performance in the previous Parliament.

9

Votes missed by Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel. Former party chief Jack Layton also had the best attendance record of all party leaders

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