Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The number of words MPs speak in House counts

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As a measure of gauging the volume or quality of work of Canada's members of Parliament, a series of calculations released by a Toronto-based think-tank leave a lot to be desired.

Nevertheless, the Samara organization's latest initiative -- Lost in Translation or Just Lost -- attracted considerable attention last week. The report provides counts of the total volume of words spoken in the House of Commons by each MP last year.

The discrepancies were remarkable. B.C. MP Peter Julian uttered the most: 226,027 words. Calgary West's Rob Anders spoke just under 1,000.

There are a host of factors influencing word counts. For example, cabinet ministers might have lower totals because they're away from House sessions more frequently than other MPs on government business.

As well, the Samara word tally doesn't capture things spoken in committees.

But Samara has generated something in this report that should not be ignored. It offers additional context, for example, to consider whether the workings of our democratic system have shifted too significantly to a partisan realm where appointed party spokespersons on issues participate in transparent democratic activities disproportionately more than other MPs.

It also provides a conversation point for constituents to raise with their MPs -- particularly those with low word counts. Being vocal in the House still carries weight with many Canadians.

Much too has been made of the fact 77 of the 100 parliamentarians with the lowest word counts are Conservatives. That's no doubt because the degree to which this party's backbenchers may be too tightly controlled has been a recent subject of controversy.

In the end, Samara has added another tool for Canadians to use to evaluate their MPs. Like attendance in the House, it takes them only so far. But it adds value by building on the public recording of democratic acts by elected stakeholders and generating additional conversation about what they should be delivering.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2013 A15

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