Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Newbie MP's

Interesting article here: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Stunning+number+lack+experience/1560257/story.html

It raises some interesting points:

-A large number of MP's have only served in minority Parliaments, which tend to be more tense and partisan. I think this is a valid point, as the high tension between the different parties really is a significant factor in turning voters away.

-What should the proper balance be between "real life" and "political" experience? This dynamic is being played out in the PC leadership race, with Christine Elliot running on a slogan of "Real Life Experience" and Tim Hudak flaunting his cabinet experience and impressive establishment support. This relates back to the first point, as it implies that experienced politicians will result in a better functioning Parliament. Coming from a municipal political circut in which incumbency pretty much means victory, I am particularly unsure about this one. However, the ADQ I think offers a cautionary tale that experience does matter, after surging from a handful of seats to 40 in the 2007 Quebec election, the ADQ caucus was almost entirely made out of MNA's with very very little political experience, and in addition to the decline of overt "reasonable accommodation" politics, the low-performance of the ADQ caucus was cited by many as a reason for the decline of the party.

-Something not adressed in the article, but I think is worth mentioning, is the idea of "star candidates". While some high-profile recruits have a built in background in politics, often either formerly on the federal level, or at the provincial/municipal level (figures such as Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy, and Ed Broadbent fit this bill), more often, they are lauded for being able to bring some note-worthy "real-life" experience to the table, from outside politics. (From the Liberal side in the last election, Briony Penn, Marc Garneau, and Eric Hoskins are examples)
Star candidates of this nature, despite often having little to no political experience, are often given cabinet positions.

-Does federal political experience matter more than other forms of political experience? While the article talks about "newbie's", particularly MP's elected since 2004, I think this a little unfair. Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy, and Jim Flaherty may combined only have 8 years of experience as federal MP's, but I don't think you could call a former Premier and two high-profile cabinet ministers of the largest population in Canada politically inexperienced. Considering many federal MP's have served as either provincial or municipal legislators at some point, I think the idea of politically inexperienced MP's is slightly overblown by this article.

-Ultimately, in the Canadian experience, does "real life" experience count for anything? It is not popular to say politicians really do know better, particularly veteran politicos, but if you take a look at the Harper cabinet, political experience does matter. From a Liberal perspective, it is obviously difficult to define what the "good" ministers are, but if we can define it roughly as the Minister being politically benefitical being in the ministry, a clear pattern develops. In large part, the ministers generally considered either objectively not bad at controlling the ministry they are in charge of (Prentice, Aglukkaq) or even just the most high-profile Ministers, are mostly newbies. Indeed, of the Priorities and Planning Committee of the Cabinet, the collection of the most powerful Ministers, (Stephen Harper, Lawrence Cannon, Marjory LeBreton, Chuck Strahl, Peter MacKay, Stockwell Day, Vic Toews, Jim Prentice, John Baird, Tony Clement, Jim Flaherty, Josée Verner, and Christian Paradis), only Harper, Strahl, Day, MacKay, and Toews were elected before 2004. Many of the post-04 figures, however, do have extensive provincial political experience (Cannon, Baird, Clement, Flaherty). Further more, looking at the list of Harper ministers to suffer embarrassing scandals, demotions, etc, with the exception of Gerry Ritz (elected 1997), cabinet lightweights and dropouts such as Gordon O'Connor, Maxime Bernier, Rona Ambrose, Bev Oda, etc, are all from primarily non-political backgrounds.

-The nature of the Canadian political system, particularly on the cabinet level, dilutes the need for so-called "real life" experience. Compared to the US system, with appointed Secretaries who are experienced in the field they represent, and who extremely rarely serve as the head of another department, Ministers in Canada (and Parliamentary systems in general) are far more disposable and flexible, with significant power and experience resting in the hands of the Deputy Minister and the civil service. The best example of real life experience failing to provide political points is Gordon O'Connor. Being a former general, on the surface he would seem to be a natural minister of Defense. However, this reign at defense was marked by scandal, conflicts with other departments, and arguments between O'Connor and the civil service over how to run the department.

Anyway, read the article, what are your thoughts?

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