The Accidental Citizen?

Samara co-founders introduce us to politicians

If you’re a social innovator, you’re probably dealing with government and let me guess: you’d like to understand the mind of a politician better? Check out the introductory report of Canada’s first ever series of exit interviews with former Members of Parliament.

Entitled The Accidental Citizen? it consists of summaries of interviews with 65 MPs who recently left public life. The interviews focused on what brought them to politics, how they viewed their roles and their time and what advice they’d have on strengthening our democracy.

The report was just launched by Samara’s co-founders Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan (Samara is a MaRS client). Michael is a former Chairman of Alliance Atlantis and co-founder of Atlantis Films who sold his company and decided to embark on this project. They offer a summary of the findings:

“The central finding, and the one that frames this report, is how accidentally these MPs indicated they came to politics in Canada. This is not what we expected and was revealed in several ways.

First, Parliamentarians’ backgrounds, experiences, pre-political careers and expressed motivations for running were far more varied and much less predictable than we’d assumed. Most spent a generation pursuing other careers and interests before becoming an MP. Few self-identified as political candidates. Most say they sought a nomination only after they were asked and some accepted it with only weeks or mere days before the nomination vote took place.

Further, these MPs did not consider themselves to be political insiders, even though they were generally highly involved in their communities. Rather, most portrayed themselves as outsiders and indicated they came to the job with that mindset.

Finally, even the nomination process for a candidate’s political party seemed subject to chance. The nomination is an essential element of anyone’s path to politics. It was thus surprising that, for so many MPs, their gateway into politics was so unpredictable. Few MPs described the nomination process consistently; the confusing rules and their varied application made it difficult to understand the terms on which the nomination contests were fought. Perhaps as a result, most MPs were critical of some aspect of the nomination process, even though they had navigated it successfully. One can only imagine what interviews with less successful candidates might reveal.”

As someone who thinks we have lost our way when it comes to valuing “public service” I am very pleased to see this report. Alison and Michael took a long time deciding where to focus the efforts of Samara and I think they’ve found a project that adds real value to the political landscape in our country. In an era of politicians positioning themselves as anti-government, it’s wonderful to see a report that tells us more about who politicians really are, their motivations and how we can learn from their experience.