Written by Alison Loat, Michael MacMillan
n 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.
“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
About the Author
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 Canada by the Women’s Executive Network, and has received both the Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals for her service to Canada. Loat is also an associate fellow and instructor at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonLoat.
Michael MacMillan is the CEO of the Canadian-based company Blue Ant Media. He was previously the executive chairman and CEO of Alliance Atlantis Communications. MacMillan co-founded the original Atlantis Films in 1978, which won an Oscar in 1984 for its short film Boys and Girls. A recipient of the Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals for service to Canada, he is also a co-owner of Closson Chase, a vineyard and winery in Prince Edward County, Ontario.
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