03/11/2012 09:25 EDT | Updated 05/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Public to Politicians: Is it Just You, or Is it Me?


On Friday, the Manning Centre, an organization that supports people who "advance our vision of a free and democratic Canada guided by conservative principles," released their annual poll on Canadians' attitudes towards various policy issues and government's performance more generally.

The most sobering bits, for me anyway, were the 10 questions that examined Canadians' attitudes to politicians. If I were a politician, these stats would make me want to enter some form of image makeover and/or rehabilitation program, pronto. Look at this:

  • 77 per cent of poll respondents hold somewhat or very unfavourable feelings towards politicians;
  • 58 per cent said politicians are unprincipled;
  • 77 per cent said politicians are untruthful;
  • 59 per cent said they are incompetent;
  • 85 per cent said they are reactive (versus 15 per cent who said they were innovative);
  • 52 per cent said they are lazy (versus 48 per cent
  • who chose hardworking).

And if that's not enough, here's more:

Ninety per cent of poll respondents described politicians as more concerned with money than people; and

76 per cent said politicians are "out of touch" with Canadians' daily realities.

Cynics would rightfully note that it's been forever thus. And they are right: slagging politicians is a long-standing political tradition that even politicians themselves often can't resist.

But that doesn't mean we should accept it, or that it should continue. At what point does the political class in this country, such that it exists, take this on as a real concern?

Canadians elect MPs to play an important role in our country, and it's worrisome that we have such low regard for the people we choose to perform it. With numbers like those, it's a wonder anyone wants the job.

One reason for this sad state affairs is that the role of an MP is so poorly understood. For example, in a series of exit interviews with 65 former MPs, there was so little consistency in how they described the essential purpose of the job, and what they were elected to do that it took a whole chapter to summarize the MPs' own job description.

Yes, the job is multi-faceted, and that's part of its appeal. But it's fair to assume if the MPs themselves had little shared sense of what an MP is supposed to do, citizens are probably similarly confused.

When citizens have little idea what to expect from our MPs, we'll likely be frustrated when the MPs don't deliver (see exhibit A in the poll numbers above). Furthermore, this job confusion can also lead MPs into work that arguably is an undesirable, or even inappropriate, use of their time and resources.

A first step would be to give MPs a proper job description. Being an MP is a critical job in our democracy, and there needs to be some consistency in our collective understanding of its key components, responsibilities and expectations.