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Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives at a Vancouver news conference on Feb 21, 2011. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives at a Vancouver news conference on Feb 21, 2011. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Why leaders miss votes - and how the parties stack up Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has missed almost half the votes in Parliament since 2008.

It is not unusual for the government leader to attend only the most important Parliamentary debates. Still, Mr. Harper's Liberal predecessor, Paul Martin, did somewhat better: He missed less than 40 per cent of the votes during his last year in Parliament as prime minister, from 2004 to 2005.

Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff - busy trying to rebuild his party's fortunes across the country - had the worst voting attendance count of all MPs in the House. Between 2008 and 2010, he was absent for 182 votes, almost 60 per cent of the time.

Ralph Goodale, deputy Liberal leader, pointed out that by tradition the Opposition Leader and the Prime Minister generally avoid voting on the many private-member's bills and "that tends to skew the voting numbers."

But even with those votes discounted, Mr. Ignatieff would find himself on the Top 10 list of absentee voters, with more than 90 missed.

By contrast, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois and Jack Layton of the NDP managed to be in the House for about 97 per cent of the votes - missing only 10 and 11 of the 311 votes, respectively, in the same period.

"It's a question of being well-organized," said Mr. Duceppe. "We only sit for a maximum of 26 weeks a year."

How the parties rank

The Liberals, perhaps still uncomfortable in the role of opposition, have the worst voting attendance record - accounting for 43 of the 50 MPs who missed the most votes in the past two years. They also had a high number of dissenters.

The Conservatives, determined to hang on to power, exerted the firmest grip over their members, not only making sure few members miss votes but also keeping most backbenchers silent and not tolerating much voting against the grain.

The NDP and the Bloc Québécois both scored high in attendance. The NDP also had the most free-minded backbench, with more than two-thirds of its caucus dissenting at least once from the majority party line.

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