Public policy decisions affect the lives of all Canadians. Increasing the knowledge of parliamentarians, and specifically the 197 Members of Parliament elected in 2015, helps to strengthen democracy in Canada.

parlbox31Each political party provides its candidates with its policy platform and messaging on campaign and communication issues. Nonetheless, the 197 newly elected members of Parliament face a significant learning curve following their election. They receive administrative and procedural orientation from Parliament. However, following the 2006 and 2008 general elections, there was no formal policy orientation offered to newly elected members of Parliament.

This contrasts significantly with support offered to elected representatives in other countries. In the U.S., for example, the Congressional Research Service takes newly elected members of Congress and their families to Colonial Williamsburg for a four-day seminar to examine domestic and foreign policy issues from a legislative perspective in a balanced and bipartisan setting. Harvard University’s Institute of Politics located within the John F. Kennedy School of Government invites newly elected members of Congress and spouses for a three-and-a-half-day bipartisan program on such topics as the economy, budget and appropriations, foreign policy, health care, and education.

An exit survey of 65 former Canadian parliamentarians conducted by Samara, a charitable organization that studies citizen engagement with Canadian democracy (www.samaracanada.com), with the assistance of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, found that the former parliamentarians came from a wide variety of backgrounds with little experience in elected office or in the context of national political life. “Few recalled receiving organized support or formal training,” according to Samara’s Welcome to Parliament: A Job With No Description (p.8) The report disclosed that many MPs went out of their way to describe their lack of preparation and concluded that “it was surprising to learn that newly elected parliamentarians had so little support during their initiation into national public life, including insufficient training or formal orientation.” (p.12)