How'd They Vote
On July 5th 2005, one of my little projects made headlines...
I was searching for work at the time, moving on from a business opportunity and various projects; I was labelled "unemployed" nonetheless, as that makes better headlines. Upon review, I found my time investment to be closer to 200 hours -- but once again, that's a complete guess as I didn't keep track.
Anyways, i'm proud to say that I was personally responsible for having a number of MPs running for the exits...
"Independent website tracks MP voting records" -- globeandmail.com (page A9!), ctv.ca
"Job-searching engineer compiles statistics on MPs" -- canoe.ca
"Tracking our absentee MPs; Unemployed engineer launches website" -- Edmonton Sun
"New website tracks MP voting records, absences, words spoken" -- yahoo.ca
By SUE BAILEY
Ottawa — Have you ever wondered how hard your member of Parliament really works?
Tracking MP performance has always been a tough slog through reams of eye-glazing transcripts: until now.
A young electrical engineer still searching for a job in his field spent 600 hours compiling statistics on votes missed, bills introduced, words spoken in the House of Commons and voting records.
These and other fruits of his non-partisan labour can be found at www.howdtheyvote.ca.
“I think it needed to be done,” says Cory Horner, 24, who lives in Kamloops, B.C. “Before I came along, it wasn't really accessible.
“You couldn't find out how your MP was voting unless you dug right into the Hansard,” he said.
Hansard is the verbatim record of parliamentary proceedings.
“The information is there but it's hidden.”
Horner, a computer whiz and marathon runner, is widely read in philosophy and science fiction. He says he's confident in his results.
“I've checked them... but they aren't infallible. There could be an error. I'm sourcing everything so people can always check.”
Horner last voted for the Green Party but says he's not an official member of any party.
His painstaking work offers an interesting snapshot.
Ten MPs, led by a trio of members battling cancer, have missed more than 50 votes during the 38th Parliament, which began last October.
Independent MP Carolyn Parrish, booted from the Liberal caucus last fall after stomping on a likeness of U.S. President George W. Bush during a TV stunt, missed 79 votes.
That places her fourth among the 308 MPs for the most absences.
“You don't get notices of votes,” she said of the often isolated life of an Independent. She rarely missed such proceedings as a Liberal, she said.
“The parties send notices of votes to each of their members. If you've got a particular vote of interest you have to really pay attention and your staff has to actually seek it out.”
Otherwise, she was in Parliament for the rest of the session except for two weeks of travel on official business, she said.
Tory MP Gurmant Grewal ranked next with 62 absences. He missed much of the spring sitting on stress leave after secretly recording talks on his potential defection to the Liberals.
Thirteen MPs, 11 of them Liberals, were recorded as present at every vote.
Liberal MP Paul Szabo ranked No. 1 for the most words spoken in the Commons — 107,873 — out-talking Speaker Peter Milliken, the runner-up, by more than 6,000 words.
That represents hundreds of times on his feet addressing a near-empty chamber on everything from national finances to same-sex marriage. It inspired Horner to crown Mr. Szabo “parliamentary windbag.”
MPs averaged about 30,000 words.
“I've always been active in the House,” says Mr. Szabo, first elected in 1993. “It's an opportunity to keep the debate relevant.”
Liberal Claudette Bradshaw, junior minister of Human Resources, ranked dead last with zero words spoken. She did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.
Mr. Szabo defended his colleague as one of the most active MPs behind the scenes, especially on children's issues and crime prevention.
“I know the work she does and I would not judge her by what she has said in the House.”
New Democrat Pat Martin of Winnipeg emerges as perhaps the most well-rounded MP. He topped the list with 23 private member's bills, missed just five votes and ranked fourth with 90,571 words spoken in the Commons.
He has checked some of Horner's statistics and found them to be “bang on” with updates almost daily.
“He's actually, inadvertently, motivating MPs to do a better job,” Mr. Martin said. “He's serving a public function.”
Shortly after, the Hill Times put together several indepth articles:
The Hill Times, July 18th, 2005
By Paco Francoli and Bea Vongdouangchanh
Junior minister Bradshaw never spoke in the House
Cabinet minister Claudette Bradshaw may not have said a single word in the Commons this past session, or tabled a government bill, but her spokesperson says a scandal-obsessed opposition is to blame. The Tories say she's been given a make-work file.
Minister of State for Human Resources Development Claudette Bradshaw did not speak one word or table a single bill in the House of Commons during the last eight months of House sittings, leaving opposition critics puzzled about her place inside Prime Minister Paul Martin's federal Cabinet which includes five Cabinet ministers and several Parliamentary secretaries in charge of various aspects of the federal government's social policy agenda.
Conservative MP Peter Van Loan (York-Simcoe, Ont.), his party's critic for human resources and skills development, said Ms. Bradshaw's silence in the Commons illustrates how skilled Prime Minister Paul Martin (LaSalle-Émard, Que.) is at creating busy work for his large 39-member Cabinet, and sidelining hangers-on from the Jean Chrétien era such as Ms. Bradshaw who served as the former prime minister's national election campaign co-chair in 2000.
"She clearly was a key player for Chrétien," said Mr. Van Loan. "It is a classic example of trying to marginalize these players so that [Paul Martin] has his own crew in place. It appears she's been treated badly in the process, given a portfolio but then not allowed to do anything. I would not fault her for that."
Mr. Van Loan added that he's not sure how Ms. Bradshaw (Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, N.B.) fits within the federal government's new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSD) which is now headed by former Tory MP Belinda Stronach (Newmarket-Aurora, Ont.). Ms. Stronach got the portfolio after she crossed the floor in May in a dramatic move.
Ms. Stronach has two Parliamentary secretaries to help her carry out her duties: Liberal MPs Peter Adams (Peterborough, Ont.) and Gurbax Malhi (Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Ont.).
Housing and Labour Minister Joe Fontana (London North Centre, Ont.) is also attached to HRSD. His Parliamentary secretary is Liberal MP Judi Longfield (Whitby-Oshawa, Ont.).
Ms. Bradshaw, who makes $213,500 annually as a minister of state like full ministers, doesn't have a Parliamentary secretary.
Moreover, the new parallel Department of Social Development is headed by Social Development Minister Ken Dryden (York Centre, Ont.). His Parliamentary secretary is Liberal MP Eleni Bakopanos (Ahuntsic, Ont.). The department also includes Minister of State for Families and Caregivers Tony Ianno (Trinity-Spadina, Ont.).
Before Prime Minister Martin took power on Dec. 12, 2003, the government's entire social agenda was run out of now defunct Human Resources Development Canada Department headed by a single minister.
"What, in particular, Madame Bradshaw does, we're not sure. We don't know which files have been given to her or that she has any particular responsibility," said Mr. Van Loan in an interview with The Hill Times last week.
Mr. Van Loan said when he asks questions related to his critic area during the daily 45-minute Question Period, those normally get picked up by Ms. Stronach (Newmarket-Aurora, Ont.), or one of her two Parliamentary secretaries.
"Never has Madame Bradshaw gotten up," he said.
Ms. Bradshaw proved to be the only MP in the 308-member House of Commons who didn't speak a word in the House during this past session. The session started on Oct. 4, 2004 and ended on June 28, 2005. She also didn't table any government bills and missed four votes.
This is according to extensive data compiled by Cory Horner, a young electrical engineer and computer whiz who created a computer program that tracks the voting and speaking record of all MPs. The results can be found on his website: www.howdtheyvote.ca.
Mr. Van Loan, who uttered 29,157 words, placed 87th overall. He also didn't table any private members' bills and missed four votes.
A spokesperson for Ms. Bradshaw's office brushed off the statistics last week.
"I mean if no one is going to ask her questions she can't get up in Question Period and speak... It's not because you don't get asked questions in Question Period that you're not doing anything," said Yannick Leclair, Ms. Bradshaw's press secretary.
"Obviously, the opposition is only looking for scraps to lunch on," he added, noting that questions on the allegations to come out of the Gomery Inquiry have dominated Question Period most of the past session.
Outside the House, Ms. Bradshaw has delivered six speeches since Nov. 17, 2003, according to her website, including her most recent one at the Canadian Legislative Conference of the Building Construction Trades Department on May 30. She also spoke at the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization in Geneva, Switzerland on March 24. And on March 17, she spoke at the Employer Best Practices Workshop in Moncton, N.B., and on Feb 24, 2004 at the Workshop on Minimum Age for Admission to Employment in Canada and International Standards held at the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa.
Mr. Leclair had little trouble rattling off what his boss, Ms. Bradshaw, has been doing since she was shuffled after the last federal election from the Labour portfolio and handed responsibility for a junior Cabinet role in Human Resources Development in July 2004.
"I mean, minister Bradshaw has been working hard on the literacy file, for example. In Budget 2005, there was $30-million extra approved for the national literacy secretary. She has also been working at the same time with the aboriginal human resources development strategy getting the agreement holders renew the initiatives. We're talking about a $1.6-billion initiative. At the same time she worked on the official languages file," he said.
NDP MP Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), his party's critic for human resources and skills development, was similarly clueless as to the extent of Ms. Bradshaw Cabinet duties.
"To be honest with you, I really don't know what Claudette does. I'm assuming that she's working within her capacity in her ministry," he said, adding that he mostly deals with Mr. Adams when dealing with his critic role.
However, Mr. Martin added that he admires Ms. Bradshaw, particularly the work she did when she was responsible for homelessness from 1999 to 2003.
Mr. Martin spoke a total of 47,826 words, placing 30th overall. He didn't introduce any private member's bills and missed 16 votes.
Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott (Fredericton, N.B.) also spoke very little in the House Chamber this session, speaking out 2,950 words in total and placing 291st overall. This is despite the fact he tabled four government bills.
Spokesperson Campbell Morrison said his boss, who's also federal interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, prefers to let his Parliamentary secretary, Liberal MP Sue Barnes (London West, Ont.), shepherded his bills through the House.
Ms. Barnes spoke 23,347 words in all, placing 124th overall. She missed 15 votes and didn't table any private members' bills as Parliamentary secretaries aren't allowed to.
Mr. Morrison said the opposition is only interested in scandal.
"I think he's been largely ignored by the opposition who have little interest in our department. So he doesn't get that many questions compared to others," he said.
Some MPs spoke very little as a result of illnesses or surgery, including Independent MP Chuck Cadman (Surrey North, B.C.) who died after a long battle with skin cancer this month. Mr. Cadman spoke 748 words and placed 304th. He was also absent from 147 votes, the most by far of any MP.
The late Mr. Cadman also tabled three private members' bills which will remain stuck on the Order Paper until Parliament dissolves. The bills could move forward if a sitting MP decided to sponsor them, something that would require unanimous consent in the House.
Even though he had been receiving chemotherapy for melanoma, the maverick MP made headlines in May when he traveled to Ottawa from his British Columbia riding of Surrey North to cast a vote on a budget bill that prevented the Liberal government from falling.
Liberal MP Brenda Chamberlain (Guelph, Ont.) spoke only 293 words, placing 306th overall. In an interview, she explained that she was sidelined by "major surgery" this year but wouldn't say what it was.
The veteran MP, first elected in 1993, was absent from 29 votes and didn't table any private members' bills. Ms. Chamberlain said she feels House committee and riding work is more important.
"Some people make it a cause d'être to be in there speaking all the time, but a lot of it is more for show. The reality is that more work takes place, by far, on the road or in committee. There is no question about that. Out of all the priorities, that would be the least on my priority list," she said.
Meanwhile, Public Works Minister Scott Brison (King Hants, N.S.), who has handled most questions related to the Gomery Inquiry, spoke the most in the House of any Cabinet minister, according to www.howdtheyvote.ca. Mr. Brison spoke 65,477 words, placing 13th overall in that category.
Liberal MP Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Ont.) spoke the most (107,873 words), outdoing even House Speaker Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands, Ont.) who placed second (101,743).
Mr. Szabo said that after 12 years as an MP, he has found that people tend to polarize towards things that they're good at and his just happens to be public speaking.
"I spend a lot of time in the House," he said. "Some people like to go back to their offices and work, but the Chamber is basically my office. I take work to the House and I enjoy it because it helps me learn and inform myself on things."
Simply by being in the House more often gives him an advantage over others for gaining the "most words spoken" title according to the website How'd They Vote?, but he attributes his speaking time to the strange minority Parliament situation. "I would characterize the last six months as unusual high activity."
A chartered accountant by trade, Mr. Szabo has risen to speak on both budget bills, C-43 and C-48, more often than others. Mr. Szabo said that he's also spoken more than normal on C-38, the same-sex marriage bill which he vehemently opposed. He also said that he often gives speeches without notice, which could also contribute to his high volume of speaking.
But, he said, "I wouldn't read a lot into [the website's stats]. Some people can't speak all the time because they're in committees, and if you're a finance or justice critic, you tend to speak more. It's interesting that some people don't speak in the House, but I know they're doing a lot of work in other ways."
Travel, both to and from further ridings as well as for committee work is a factor, Mr. Szabo said, as is work that Ministers and other high-ranking MPs which prevent them from being in the House. "I'm most impressed by the work that goes on in committees," he said. "You'll never see statistics on that. An MP's workload has nothing to with speaking in the House. The website is just a snapshot that you can use to look further."
As for the accuracy of the stats, Mr. Szabo said he found some mistakes, such as mixing up people with the same surnames and his own statistic that says he's been absent three times from a vote. "I don't think I've ever missed a vote," he said. "If I'm in Ottawa, I'm in the House."
And in an interview with The Canadian Press, Mr. Szabo defended Ms. Bradshaw's lack of verbosity in the House Chamber in the last year. Declared Mr. Szabo: "I know the work she does and I would not judge her by what she has said the House."
Meanwhile, NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Man.), has nothing but praise for the website. "This young man is doing a great public service," Mr. Martin told The Hill Times. "I couldn't check all of the stats but he seems to be bang on. He deserves a lot of credit. From my understanding, he's an unemployed university graduate who did this in his spare time. Someone needs to give this man a job and pay him a lot of money."
Following House Speaker Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands, Ont.) and Liberal MP Don Boudria (Glengary-Prescott-Russell, Ont.), Mr. Martin is No. 4 on the most words spoken list. He said he was "surprised as anyone" to see the stats, but thinks the website motivates MPs to do a better job. "I don't think it's a contest, but it's very useful," he said. "It's not the only way to measure, but the important thing is the average, which I think is at 30,000 words. So if you're around that mark, then you know you're okay."
Mr. Martin said that he doesn't understand MPs who don't take the opportunity to talk when they can in the House. "You work very hard to earn the honour of speaking. I don't understand those who choose not to. That, in itself, is mind-boggling. How can you have no opinion on an issue and be an MP? But that's not my place to judge."
Mr. Martin is also No. 1 in introducing bills. In the last session he introduced 23 private members' bills. "A lot of people ask me why the hell I introduce so many bills when I know that only one or two of them will even get to second reading," he said. "But I don't see why not if you care about an issue. It's easy to put a bill together through first reading and it's a way to advance an issue. The bill process can move an issue, even if it's baby steps."