HOW GOOD OR BAD IS YOUR MP?

DOUGLAS FISHER, who sat in the Commons himself until recently, bluntly tells how to distinguish between the good, the bad —and the hell-raisers

February 5 1966

HOW GOOD OR BAD IS YOUR MP?

DOUGLAS FISHER, who sat in the Commons himself until recently, bluntly tells how to distinguish between the good, the bad —and the hell-raisers

February 5 1966

HOW GOOD OR BAD IS YOUR MP?

DOUGLAS FISHER, who sat in the Commons himself until recently, bluntly tells how to distinguish between the good, the bad —and the hell-raisers

THE NEWEST CANADIAN PARLIAMENT may last a few weeks or months; it may lurch along for years. But sooner or later its members will be back, electioneering. How will you judge the MP who asks you to re-elect him? Both experience and theory suggest that you will be less impressed by his work as an MP than by the personality of his leader or by his party label. I believe this is both unfortunate and unfair. No group, regardless of leadership or name, can soar above a mediocre membership. Yet there is no accepted standard by which you can answer the question: what makes a good MP? Once I heard George Hees, then a cabinet minister, avow' over a Manitoba radio station that he, the cabinet, and John Diefenbaker would be desolate without the advice and energy of good old Joe. The voters of Springfield must return Joe. He was referring to Joe Slogan, who happened to be an MP seen only infrequently around the Commons. Such exaggerated claims of an MP’s prowess are stock stull. My own campaigns were no exception. Can you cut through such guff and find out for yourself what the true facts are?

One problem is that some MPs have virtually no record of activity in the Commons. I'll bet that unless you live in their ridings, you have never heard of George Nixon (Algoma West), or Rodger Mitchell (Sudbury), or JeanThomas Richard (Ottawa East), or Marvin Howe (Wellington-Huron). Nixon has been an MP for twenty-five years, Richard for twenty, the other two for twelve years.

But even among better-known members there is always confusion about what their role should be. because there are so many things an MP might do. There is fundamental agreement on two primary obligations: to be a good party man and to get re-elected. Beyond this there are few standards.

But the most conscientious MP can find it hard to divide his time and energy to satisfy both his own sense of duty and the demands of people to whom he owes loyalty. From his constituency come pressures to be a party per-

son. a constitutency runner, a grievance man, an influence broker, and a lobbyist. It becomes easy lor him to occupy himself so much with the constituency and the local party machine that legislation, public spending and other national affairs hardly get token attention. But to my way of thinking, the national issues are what parliament is all about. An MP who doesn't talk, doesn't question, doesn't listen, doesn t advocate ideas he believes in and doesn't attack others he thinks are wrong, falls short ol even a modest standard of performance to be expected from an MP.

But not even all the serious and intelligent observers of our parliament consider such activity to be desirable. Charles Lynch, the Southam News Bureau chief, has suggested that it most MPs took a keen interest and worked hard in parliament, chaos would ensue. But I can t buy that theory. Only one man can speak at a time; the agenda of the House has limits; there will always be a variance in ambition, age. occupational experience and education among members to cool volcanic tendencies. The threat of too many busy MPs strikes me as a lesser danger than an institution without standards or without any wide public knowledge about how it is performing.

Experience and common sense seem to me to suggest these basic rules of behavior; Your MP should be in Ottawa most of the time the House is in session. Every MP, including ministers, should spend a few hours in the chamber. He should speak occasionally. He should be modest in praising the marvels of his riding and in exalting the wisdom of his leader. There should be some balance between his need to be parochial and his inclination to use the House as a national forum. He should not be denied hard-hitting partisanship, but at the same time he should not be a sorehead, reveling in the juvenility of name-calling.

To ASSESS HIM FURTHER, you should ask yourself: Are his speeches sensible and well-prepared? Does he do research beyond the clipping of an editorial or analysis beyond a chat with a constituent? Do his speeches have a beginning, a middle, and an end? Is there both relevance and curiosity in his questions? Has he the initiative to use the private-members’ hour and committee hearings?

Those questions are easy to ask — but how, anti where, do you get the answers?

Can you gauge the worth of your MP from press mention or comment? Hardly! Of course you can’t ignore the tlaily paper if you want some sense of the issues, the personalities and the parties. And if your MP’s name keeps bobbing up in Canadian Press reports you can be sure he is active in parliament. But it does not follow that his work is excellent — or even adequate. I had a party colleague who made the papers every few weeks, grabbing attention with some sensational / continued overleaf

EFFECTIVE MPs: quick, questioning, full of ideas

FISHER’S

CHOICE:

THE DOERS AND DON’TS

“There is agreement among MPs on two primary obligations: to be a good

continued / phrase. In essence, he was conservatively minded, never studied much, and coasted on the speech technique and opinions of his earlier years. But the press made him seem a fire-eating vigilante. He was far from a dud but a long way from being the busy radical a newspaper reader might believe.

1 still blush about a press story a few years ago about some remarks of mine in the House on the ungainliness of Winston Churchill's legs. 1 was arguing against clearing awaiy the desks and chairs in favor of benches, as used in the British House. That same day a Conservative MP. Arthur Maloney, made a speech on penal reform. It was a thoughtful dissertation based on experience and study, and rich in suggestions for legal and penal reform. My gimmickry got a lot of press attention; Maloney was to a large extent ignored.

You can't really fault the newsmen for such imbalance. Necessarily, they choose the story of the moment: sheer rush and volume ol work preclude much estimation of the quality and persistence in an MPs performance. Further, there is an understandable hesitation by the reporter to be tough on a weak MP. Parliament Hill is a small world, and next week he may want that same MP as a news source.

A disproportionate amount of news coverage goes to party leaders, ministers, and ex-ministers. often to their eventual disadvantage. Both Judy LaMarsh and Guy Favreau seem to have been inadvertent victims of too much attention and build-up. If you scan Hansard, the dailyprinted record of House debates, you will discover how the newspapers often miss worthywords of lesser-known figures.

Rather than relying on the press alone to keep track of your MP's performance, you can keep informed if you subscribe to publications of the House of Commons, available

from the Queen’s Printer, Ottawa. The two most useful are the House of Commons Debates (Hansard), published daily (price: three dollars per session), and the Index To Debates (cumulated monthly, one dollar per session). Other useful publications are Routine Proceedings And Orders Of The Day, listing all questions, motions, bills and business scheduled and completed, for one dollar a session; and the minutes and proceedings and evidence of House committees — these are printed as committee sessions are held and are available to subscribers for a five-dollar deposit per committee.

EVEN IF YOU CONSUME some pretty thorough accounts of the things that are said for the record, you won't fully appreciate how well (or how badly) your MP is performing unless you understand something of the setting and atmosphere in which he must do his job. The typical MP is—in the normal sequence of priorities — a constituency representative, a party man and follower of a party leader, a regional spokesman, and a national spokesman.

His constituency is vital to the new' MP. The party veterans pound it into him: “Look after your riding!" No one will push him forward as a national spokesman. Parliament and the parties have a “star" system; their traditions and arrangements favor seniority. A new MP who wants to work in parliament must be a self-starter with a thick skin. Four of the brightest MPs who came into the House when I was there were John Turner, the member for St. Lawrence-St. George, who is now in the cabinet, and ex-MPs Frank McGee (Progressive Conservative), Pauline Jewett (Liberal), and Walter Pitman (NDP). All four launched themselves with a flourish and at once became unpopular with many senior colleagues. (Who did these whippersnappers think they were?)

A prompt start can be important. One new member in 1957 told me that he w'ould wait a year or two before he said much, so he could get “the feel of the place.” He is still waiting. Now he has the gloss of a man re-elected lour times. He is a valued peer of his colleagues, including the stars. Why? Because he’s a perennial, still a listener, and not in the way or taking the time of the talkers.

The government side of the House has some twenty-four ministers and fifteen parliamentary secretaries while both Tories and New Democrats strike their own “shadow" cabinets, allocating departments to men who are supposed to be (or to become) experts in the fields involved. But the fact that a man has been given such responsibilities is no proof that he has been outstanding as an MP.

I can think of at least four ministers in the last Pearson government (William Benidickson. Watson MacNaught, Roger Teillet, and René Tremblay) and seven parliamentary secretaries (Jim Byrne, Roy McWilliam, Chesley Carter, Alexis Caron, Jean-Charles Cantin, Hubert Badanai and Stanley Haidasz) who got their appointments because of their seniority, ethnicity, geography, or religion, not because of any better-than-average work in the Commons.

John Diefenbaker had some doughheads in his cabinets, while his backbenchers included several men of talent who lacked the right geography, length of service or some other such qualification. A Conservative dilemma since the loss of power in 1963 has been the ex-ministers left in the House. They must be spokesmen. A few of them are. Alvin Hamilton challenges the government with criticism and policy ideas about agriculture. Marcel Lambert booms in doggedly on both defense and financial issues. But the rise to and fall from ministry has subdued others. Waldo

THE DRONES: Fisher rates them least effective

THE HELL-RAISERS

FRANK HOWARD (NDP Skeena)

“Mean, even vicious, in personal comments about ministers in the House. He will never let one of his pet subjects drop.”

ARNOLD PETERS (NDP Timiskaming)

“Volatile and a deliberate knownothing (feigns ignorance). Selfmade man; anti-intellectual; a rough, tough union organizer in politics.”

ERIK NIELSEN (PC Yukon)

“Almost as mean as Howard. Thorough in his preparation. Dedicated to the premise most ministers and almost all civil servants are wrong.”

ELDON WOOLLIAMS (PC Bow River)

“Big wind from the prairies—oratorical thunderer. Favorite targets: Social Credit, NDP — all socialists."

DONALD MacINNIS (PC Cape Breton South)

“Rugged battler. Worst-tempered member in last decade. Made sport of badgering Speaker in last House."

RALPH COWAN (Lib. York-Humber)

“Has love-hate attitude toward the PM. Distrusts the civil service; is widely regarded as anti-French."

party man and to get re-elected. Beyond this there are few standards”

Montcith. Angus MacLean, Hugh John Flemming, and Walter Dinsdale have been jaded and desultory since they have moved over into the opposition benches.

Many voters may not realize, while some may overrate, the chances a government backbencher has to speak in the Commons. Theoretically, all MPs are equal, but in practice the government member is expected to give way to ministers and their aides. The main aim is to get legislation and spending estimates passed. The opposition must talk itself out. Thus the ministers and government whip discourage interventions from the back. It takes a forceful man to assert himself over this pressure. It is his vote that is wanted—not his voice. His chances come during "set" debates such as the one on the Budget.

If a government member never speaks in the House it is his own doing; if he is up on his feet more than half a dozen times a session he is unusually aggressive. Ralph Cowan (Lib. York-Humber) is such a pusher. He sounded otf against government policy on the flag, postal rates, taxi fares at airports, and control of community antenna TV systems. Each time, there was chagrin on his own side and glee across the aisle. Steve Otto (Lib. York East) elbows into debates with unique views on such sacred cows as his own party leader or the glories of free enterprise. Auguste Choquette (Lib. Lotbinière) is another untypical government MP. He has advocated a republic and battled over matters which his party seniors would leave alone. Such men enliven the place, but the prevailing wisdom is that they are nuisances and “have ruined their chances.”

The stock rebuttal of the government MP without a record of speeches is that he makes his points in party caucus each Wednesday. He'll put it this way: “Talk’s cheap. 1 zero in

on the ministers and departments to get things done and my ideas accepted." It sounds good, this “behind-closed-doors” stuff, but the tigers of the caucus are also the tigers in the House. Further, the government MP hasn't much edge, if any, with a minister or senior officials. A government leader will stew more about the opposition member who may crucify him on the floor. If any member, government or opposition. does not push his ideas and demands in the House of Commons, on public platforms or openly at home in his riding, he is unlikely to be a tail-twister anywhere.

The spice of Ottawa is the oral question period which begins each day (you can see these in the first pages of daily Hansard). This period is monopolized by the opposition leaders and the ministers, but any member can file written questions. These are listed in Routine Proceedings. If fairly put. they will be answered and found in later Hansards.

ANY MEMBER CAN PLACE a resolution on the agenda advocating an idea or policy. For example, Bert Herridge (NDP Kootenay West) has repeatedly entered one seeking a water-pollution policy. Any member can draw up a public bill and present it, providing its passage will not lead to direct government spending. Thus Jean Chrétien (Lib. St. Maurice-Laflcche) wanted Trans-Canada Airlines to become Air Canada. Rather surprisingly. his bill became law. For years Stanley Knowles has brought in bills to establish a national labor code (minimum wages, holidays, etc.) and last year many of his aims became law through government bills. Such private members’ resolutions and bills are usually “talked out”—that is, they are not voted on before debating time ends. But the debate is valuable — it helps create the public and

parliamentary opinion for executive action.

If a member never uses such opportunities, the odds are that he is lethargic or uninterested or in too tough a league. On the other hand, a member can use questions and motions indiscriminately. merely to build up entries in the Hansard index. One colleague of mine who was a drone had a bright secretary and she stuffed in the questions. The challenge to the citizen who follows proceedings is to see whether there is a pattern or purpose and a follow-up to this kind of activity.

There are two general accusations leveled at Canadian MPs: too many of them miss votes, and too many are not in the House during the hours of sitting. But checking on a man's presence at voting time is not a reliable way to spot a good MP. Paul Tardiff (Lib. Russell) has a perfect, or near-perfect, voting record, yet no one on the Hill would rate him with George Mcllraith or Michael Starr or Réal Caouette, all of whom miss formal votes at times. The same caution applies to committees. I sat on the Railway Committee for dozens of hearings over many sessions with Marvin Howe (PC Wellington-Huron) and Ernest Pascoe (PC Moose Jaw-Lake Centre). They were present much of the time (which is creditable since such hearings attract about one third of committee membership), but rarely did they participate beyond a random question or plaint about their own region.

Why does the visitor notice so many empty seats after the daily question period is over? Part of the answer is poor party discipline, some of it is weariness and boredom as sessions wear on. and some of it is the onus of attending to constituency affairs. Much of the absenteeism is forced by the demands of mail, visitors, and preparation for future sittings.

Mail is the galling / continued on page 31

continued from pape 19

problem for many MPs. Most letters take time, thought, phone calls, visits to officials, and many follow-ups if their requests or questions are to be answered well. The better an MP is at this, the wider goes his name, and the more mail comes in. If he becomes nationally known he'll get mail from across Canada. Arnold Peters ( NDP - Timiskaming ) once took up some workmen's compensation cases (which, incidentally, are really provincial matters); in 1964 he got more than two hundred letters about compensation problems. I found a steady mail of six or seven letters a day meant three or four hours' work preparing replies.

Visitors are another time-consuming factor. Along the corridors of the House move droves of constituents, lobbyists, party officials and students. The MP can never be sure when a phone call or a chance visitor may ruin plans for a productive day’s work. What's more, he can't brush off a visitor the way a businessman in an office can.

The pressures of mail, visitors, committees, party business and various odds and ends, eat up time and encourage an MP to duck the House.

A citizen cannot find out much about the w'ork an MP does in the secrecy of the caucus or during the semiprivacy of office work or in the badgering of ministers and officials, hut it's easy enough to find out how he handles mail. Write him to ask for his opinions or those of his party

an issue that concerns you. Once \q>u begin to follow' Hansard you can ask him why he asked certain questions or why he never asks any.

To help you form an opinion about the worth of your own MP. I have taken some examples provided by the past record of MPs who are in the present House. I have chosen five categories, and almost every MP would fit into one of these. My list of EFFECTIVE MPS is perhaps the most useful ol the five because you w'ill cross the busy trail of these men in the House records. In sports terms, these men are “All-Canadians.” They tire serious speechmakers, questioners and debaters, full of ideas, quick off the mark, and very much a part of the House continuity. The list could be much longer.

I he other categories are the ORONES, the LISTENERS, the CONSTITUENCY BUFES and the HEÍT-RAISERS. (Some ot these MPs may toil unsung in their ridings but they are rated here on their parliamentary record.)

Effective MPs

C.ERAID BALDWIN (PC Peace River) and H. A. OISON (SC Medicine Hat) are steady-going apostles of commonsense. Their forte is analysis of legislation and ministerial statements. STANLEY KNOWLES (NDP Winnipci* North Centre) is the complete MP and thus not without the faults of repetition and overexplanation.

JOHN MATHESON (Lib. Leeds) is an incorrigible digger and an idealist who II persist with arguments that seem sure to lose votesr CLEMENT VINCENT (PC Nicolet-Yamaska) is an unpolished pursuer of

What’s going on? The Listeners know

YOUR MR continued

farm policies and solutions to rural discontent.

DONALD MACDONALD (Lib. Rosedale) is hard, even arrogant, but superbly prepared and with a wide range of interests.

The Drones

RODGER MITCHELL (Lib. Sudbury) GUY CROSSMAN (Lib. Kent)

JOHN MORISON (Lib. Wentworth) VIA i EUR EITHER (l ib. ClengarryPrescott )

c. F. KENNEDY (PC Colchestcr-Hants) AÍ BERT HORNER (PC The Battlcfords)

To this list, I could quite fairly add twenty Liberals from Quebec, four Liberals from Newfoundland, and twenty Conservatives from the prairies. And 1 can think of three other MPs who have done fitful work in the House but who have boldly kept up their outside work. Hugh Horner (PC Jasper-Edson) keeps a medical practice going at home. William Howe (NDP Hamilton South) has developed a medical practice in Ottawa. John Addison (Lib. York North) works a car dealership in Toronto. Along with John Morison, who operates a thriving insurance agency in Hamilton, they form a quartet who do not disguise the fact they are not full-time MPs.

The Listeners

There’s always a shortage of listeners for House speeches but a small core of MPs are consistently present. They seldom say much but they know what's going on. Thus they contribute to their caucus and their leaders in reading the temper and prospects of the House. These patient listeners not only give the stars an audience, they take some attention away from the casual or absentee MPs. I could add about twenty names to this list but (except for the party whips) none would be much better in attendance than:

KENNETH MORE (PC Regina)

REYNOLD RAPP (PC Humboldt-Melfort Tisdale)

HERBERT GRAY (Lib. Essex West) HAROLD WINCH (NDP Vancouver East )

ELMER FORBES (PC Dauphin)

The Constituency Buffs

In each parliament a few MPs work up reputations as head-hunters for their constituents, especially those with beefs about the bureaucrats. Such MPs begin each case with the premise that the officials are wrong. Public evidence of their activity may be scant but usually they earn admiration from their colleagues and make ministers very careful. My choices: EUGENE WHELAN ( Lib. Essex South) JOHN MCINTOSH (PC Swift CurrentMaple Creek )

MURDO MARTIN (NDP Timmins) CHARLES GRANGER (Lib. Grand FallsWhite Bay-Labrador)

HENRI LATULIPPE (Creel. ComptonFrontenac)

The Hell-Raisers

I might well add Ralph Cowan, Steve Otto, and Auguste Choquette to this list of men who go to extreme lengths to air their views. They put an unpredictability in the place that keeps party discipline from stultifying into a rote. The distinctive trait of all these men is a kind of lone-wolf stance. Each leaves a trail of questions and interruptions in Hansard: FRANK HOWARD (NDP Skeena) ARNOLD PETERS (NDP Timiskaming) ERIK NIELSEN (PC Yukon)

ELDON WOOLLIAMS (PC Bow River) DONALD MACINNIS (PC Cape Breton South)

The hell-raisers are often rough on their own colleagues. As one New Democrat has put it: “Arnold Peters is the hardest part of being an NDP MP.” The hell-raisers make a good conclusion to an outline of an MP’s working place and possibilities. Democracy should not send men to its assemblies to become beloved, nor. of course, to be silent. ★