Tragedy In The Commons: Former Members Of Parliament Speak Out About Canada's Failing Democracy

Hardcover | April 15, 2014

byAlison Loat, Michael Macmillan

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In Tragedy in the Commons, Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, founders of the non-partisan think tank Samara, draw on an astonishing eighty exit interviews with former Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum to unearth surprising observations about the practice of politics in Canada.
 
Though Canada is at the top of international rankings of democracies, Canadians themselves increasingly don’t see politics as a way to solve society’s problems. Small wonder. In the news, they see grandstanding in the House of Commons and MPs pursuing agendas that don’t always make sense to the people who elected them.
 
But elected officials make critical choices about how this wildly diverse country functions today and how it will thrive in the future. They direct billions of dollars in public funding and craft the laws that have allowed Canada to lead the way internationally. Even with so much at stake, citizens—voters—are turning away. How did one of the world’s most functional democracies go so very wrong?
 
In Tragedy in the Commons, MPs describe arriving at their political careers almost by accident; few say they aspired to be in politics before it “happened” to them. In addition, almost without fail, each MP describes the tremendous influence of their political party: from the manipulation of the nomination process to enforced voting in the House and in committees, the unseen hand of the party dominates every aspect of the MP’s existence.
 
Loat and MacMillan ask: Just what do we want Members of Parliament to be doing? To whom are they accountable? And should parties be trusted with the enormous power they wield with such little oversight or citizen involvement?
 
With unprecedented access to the perspective and experience of Canada’s public leaders, Tragedy in the Commons concludes by offering solutions for improving the way politics works in Canada, and how all Canadians can reinvigorate a democracy that has lost its way, its purpose and the support of the public it is meant to serve.

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In Tragedy in the Commons, Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, founders of the non-partisan think tank Samara, draw on an astonishing eighty exit interviews with former Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum to unearth surprising observations about the practice of politics in Canada.  Though Canada is at the top of int...

Alison Loat is a regular commentator on Canadian politics, a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a former consultant with McKinsey & Company. For her work as a co-founder of Canada25, she was recognized as a young leader by Maclean’s and the Public Policy Forum. She was also selected as one of the top 100 women in ...
Format:HardcoverDimensions:288 pages, 9.33 × 6.26 × 1.14 inPublished:April 15, 2014Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307361292

ISBN - 13:9780307361295

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Revealing! Tragedy in the Commons is an important book. The workings of the Canadian parliament might be presumed to be dry and tedious. Not so with this extremely well written report on the experiences of those who have been on the inside. The experiences and opinions of past MP's will surprise and shock most, while confirming our hunches and suspicions. Do Canadians like and trust politicians? Is democracy alive and well in Canada's parliament? These are only two of the relevant issues addressed in Tragedy in the Commons and there are lots of issues. The authors are to be commended on a timely and revealing analysis of our parliament. It is worthy material for freshman curriculum regardless of chosen study. Thinking, caring Canadians will do themselves a favour to read Tragedy in the Commons. The future of democracy in Canada is an issue for all of us.
Date published: 2015-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tragedy in the Commons "Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada's Failing Democracy" gives voice to over eighty former MPs and what they experienced as political participants in Canada's (now) near dysfunctional democracy. As more and more power is enforced by the party and is centralized in the Office of the Prime Minister and in the hands of the Prime Minister him-herself, MPs play the role of "clapping seals" filling seats in the House of Commons for the sole purpose of voting the party line. Dissent, freely expressed opinions, free votes and individual initiative on the part of MPs has been so eroded as no longer to exist in what should be the primary role of the individuals sent to Parliament to represent and promote the views and needs of their constituents. "Tragedy in the Commons" paints a bleak picture of democracy in Canada today and the reasons why so many Canadians view politics and politicians with distain and disrespect and why they stay away from voting in ever increasing numbers. Democracy in this country is broken and, under successively oppressive and subversive governments, is in grave danger of being extinguished altogether. Until MPs "grasp the nettle" and fight back to regain what is rightfully their role, nothing will change and the democracy Canadians deserve and care about will be forever lost. "Tragedy..." offers present and future MPs advice on the measures they can and must take to restore to Canadians what is rightfully theirs: a properly functioning, vibrant and meaningful democracy.
Date published: 2014-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A well-researched synopsis of what ails our democratic institutions Tragedy in the Commons is a thoroughly researched, easy-to-read synopsis of many of the shortcomings of Canada's federal democratic institutions, a story whose spine is an unprecedented set of interviews with former Members of Parliament. On one level, the story Tragedy tells is a sad one. It is the story of a political system where even long-time participants -- former MPs themselves -- are disillusioned and yet feel almost powerless to change that system. And yet there is optimism here. As the authors point out, most of the failures of our system are fixable, and many improvements can be accomplished with political will and do not require grand institutional redesign or constitutional change. Tragedy contains insights for both close readers of Canadian politics and casual observers interested in learning more. It would be a good thing to read, for example, before deciding whom to vote for in the next federal election, in part because it gives you a much better idea how MPs spend their time and what they are trying to accomplish. The book's authors are fair and respectful to the former MPs they interviewed, and yet do not shy away from criticism. One of the most constructive criticisms is how portrayed themselves as being outsiders or anti-politicians served as a way of shirking responsibility for the state of the system in which they have participated -- in some cases for many years. Future generations of politicians ought to take more ownership for constantly improving the state of our democracy.
Date published: 2014-04-21

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Editorial Reviews

“This important book draws on the personal experiences of former Members of Parliament to illustrate the growing central control of party leadership—in all major parties—and how this has distorted the democratic process. Offering useful suggestions to address the resulting alienation of voters from the political process, Tragedy in the Commons is mandatory reading for all MPs and Canadians.” —Michael Wilson, former Minister of Finance and Canadian Ambassador to the United States “Canadians’ participation in and respect for democracy are fundamental to maintaining a society of which we can be proud. Through the reflections of Members of Parliament, who have devoted themselves to public life, Loat and MacMillan give us insight into how far we have to travel, and how urgent is the cause.”                — Amanda Lang, co-host of The Lang & O’Leary Exchange and author of The Power of Why “In every tragedy there is hope. Members of Parliament go to Ottawa hoping and promising to make a difference; but as these riveting revelations show, high priorities get lost too easily in the widening chasm between constituents, party leaders and good conscience. Is it any wonder Canadians feel disengaged from their hard-won democracy? Loat and MacMillan hope that pulling back the curtain will re-engage Canadians enough to keep our House of Commons from becoming a ‘House of Cards.’”   —Isabel Bassett, former Member of Provincial Parliament “Tragedy in the Commons is a thoughtful analysis of what is broken in our democracy and a must-read for anyone concerned about Canada’s politics. It’s also a cogent and urgent reminder that the struggle to make our Parliament and our politics work falls not only to politicians, but to us all.” —Terry Fallis, author of The Best Laid Plans