On paper, it’s one of the toughest jobs in Canada.
It’s a high-stress, public-facing position in a centuries-old outfit whose customers are also its employers. The majority of the clients are always disgruntled, but dealing with them is only half the job; the other half involves tedious administrative work, weekly travel, 14-hour days and long periods away from family.
Worst of all, you can do a good job but still get fired because your boss screwed up. Your control over your fate is limited; it lies almost entirely in the hands of – and here we will stop being coy – voters and party leaders.
Oh, and one other thing: You are never, ever allowed to complain publicly about your working conditions. Which is why Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux got little public support this week when he said that marathon voting sessions in the House of Commons are a threat to the well-being of MPs.
“I believe it’s only a question of time before someone will in fact die from it,” Mr. Lamoureux said. “It’s insane and completely irresponsible.”
The first part of that laid it on a bit thick; the second part is hard to disagree with. His statement was prompted by a 30-hour voting session at the height of the SNC-Lavalin scandal in March. When the government refused to allow former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to answer questions at committee about why she resigned from cabinet, the Conservatives put forward 257 motions opposing almost every line of the government’s budget bill.
Voting went on from from 6 p.m. on a Wednesday until 1 a.m. Friday; government MPs were unable to stray far from the floor of the Commons the entire time.
Mr. Lamoureux’s lament about it was met with an orchestra of tiny violins played by the many Canadians – from shift workers to new parents – who know a lot about sleepless nights but don’t have anyone to complain to.
Plus, politicians are the authors of their own misfortune. Voters never asked MPs to pull all-nighters debating repetitive and frivolous motions solely designed to vex a government, and which never bring down the targeted bill.
The only reason those votes happen is because the parties demand it. It’s part of the traditional political brinkmanship required of Opposition members who want to rankle a majority government.
The recent record shows that extreme marathon votes generally don’t happen more than once a year, and always take place in relation to especially contentious issues. As Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said after a 22-hour one in 2012, done to protest the Harper government’s obese omnibus budget bill that year, “This was democracy!”
Still, Mr. Lamoureux is not alone when he says life as an MP can be difficult. When he voiced his concern about marathon votes, he got support from Tony Clement, the Conservative MP who was caught texting and emailing explicit images of himself last year.
“I know no one is going to get out the tissue box for politicians,” Mr. Clement said in reference to both the marathon votes and the daily stresses of the job. “But people are going to commit suicide. People are going to die before their time. People are going to make horrendous personal mistakes, and I can obviously speak from personal experience on that one.”
Mr. Clement pointed to a British study that found that MPs in London have a higher rate of mental illness than the general English population. The stresses are real.
But no one is better positioned to address them than MPs like Mr. Lamoureux and Mr. Clement. They should be taking the lead in working with their parties and House colleagues to fix things.
A good place to start would be to insist that Parliament abolish massive omnibus bills that defy proper oversight and lead to opposition stunts, and that all parties stop demanding soul-sucking obedience from caucus members.
Beyond that, MPs need to tread carefully with their complaints. Their stresses are not out of line with those faced by other people in high-pressure jobs. And the pay and benefits are excellent. At $178,900, a backbench MP’s salary is triple what the average Canadian full-time worker earns. Plus, MPs who serve six years are entitled to a generous indexed pension – an undreamt-of benefit for most.
In other words, this is going to be a tough sell. Reform is only justified if it means MPs can better serve the people they were hired to represent.