I’ve never been a fan of the term “break week” – a term often used on Parliament Hill to describe the time a Member of Parliament spends in their constituency when the House of Commons is not sitting.
“Break weeks” often feature less hustle and bustle on the Hill, but Members of Parliament – the good ones at least – and Ministers normally spend their time running themselves ragged attending to constituency or Government business. I’ve often thought that the manner in which an MP spends their break week often impacts their re-election prospects more so than their time in Ottawa. When the House isn’t in session, MPs are still working, even if it is from the comfort of their home communities.
Being present in the constituency is crucial for an MP, but there are certain unavoidable aspects of the job that require one to be in Ottawa. Voting, debating, hearing from committees and passing legislation – these items can only occur when MPs are doing their job in our nation’s capital, and sometimes being in Ottawa means being away from family.
The PROC committee is currently looking at options to make Parliamentary life for MPs more family friendly, and several Liberal and NDP members are openly musing about the possibility of dropping Friday House of Commons sessions from the MP work week.
Any party that champions this is going to suffer politically because of it.
Ordinary Canadians don’t have the luxury of a 4 day work week and will have little sympathy for Parliamentarians pushing for this change, especially when Friday sessions in the House of Commons are already shorter than other weekdays. Along with a shorter Friday, MPs can have colleagues cover for them in the House or for Committee in the event they need to take care of some personal or constituency business, giving them some flexibility with the House schedule.
Regarding the House schedule, a shorter work week would entail scheduling problems for Committees and House debates. This would not only be a headache for political parties, but for the House of Commons administration. A compressed work week would also present challenges for the 338 Parliamentarians we have with markedly different personal schedules. Democratic considerations: if Fridays are removed and the work week isn’t compressed, Canadians will have less face time for their government to be held to account for their decisions.
The 2016 House of Commons calendar has MPs sitting for roughly 27 weeks of the year; leaving the rest of the time for constituency work, or the occasional holiday. MPs are well compensated for their efforts, to the tune of $163 700 per year. They also receive a salary increase if they hold a Ministerial portfolio ($78 300), if they are a Parliamentary Secretary ($16 600), or if they hold a multitude of other roles (varying amounts). It’s a very hard sell to convince Canadians that 20 percent less time in the House of Commons is a good way for these folks to be earning their pay, even if they are working in their constituencies.
On the prospect of dropping Fridays from the House session, (potential) Conservative Party leadership candidate Lisa Raitt likely moved forward her campaign by stating “Canadians just don’t like it. I heard very clearly that they didn’t feel that the job is that onerous, that we should be in Ottawa doing our work — that the expectation was that we fulfill all the hours of duty that we said we were going to do.”
There is no question that Members of Parliament from all parties have a difficult job, filled with stress and long hours at the office. Balancing family and work isn’t easy on the Hill. Yet, many ordinary Canadians would truly love to have the opportunity to take on the work/life balance challenge as a Member of Parliament, even if it meant spending 7 days of the week in Ottawa. Ordinary Canadians juggle work and family by working night shifts or by working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Our Canadian Armed Forces members fight terrorism overseas, away from their families for months at a time. There is no question that our MPs work hard in and out of the House, but they need to stay grounded to be in line with the people they represent.
Raitt quote obtained here: