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Parliament's Summer Recess—No Break for MPs

MPs are people just like the rest of us. Let's be a bit more deliberate about encouraging them.

When I was a church pastor, the joke that got old quickly was the one where people said, "Must be nice just to work one day a week." In reality, my family and I considered it fortunate if I got one day off during the week!

The strain on family life is dreadful and can be quite taxing on relationships.

Members of Parliament hear similar jokes. Parliament typically recesses for the summer, from the end of June to the middle of September. So, MPs are subjected to the comment, "Must me nice to have such a long summer vacation." While Parliament does recess for the summer, there is no break for MPs.

Consider first the grueling winter schedule for most MPs. Parliament is in session 27 weeks out of the year. Nearly all MPs are in Ottawa during the week, then race home for one or two days on the weekend; only to start all over again on the following Monday. The weekends are not a break—most of the time it is spent attending events in the riding or meeting with constituents. The strain on family life is dreadful and can be quite taxing on relationships.

The last weeks of Parliament are often the most trying for MPs. Starting with the Budget Speech, usually given by the end of March, the wrangling over financial issues continues until it is time for the summer recess. MPs can't go home until the budget process is completed; no later than June 23. Witness the recent acrimony between some of the Atlantic Provinces and the federal government over the Atlantic Accord and how it has affected MPs, such as Bill Casey who left the Conservative Caucus to vote against the budget. Saskatchewan, too, is crying foul over the equalization payment formula and what share the province gets from its oil reserves, putting additional pressure on Saskatchewan MPs. Emotions are running high across the country and it is into this kind of environment that MPs return for the summer.

As we consider the many trials, the numerous decisions that have to be made, the juggling and balancing of their schedules to accommodate as many people as possible, let's also remember that MPs are really no different than the rest of us. Consider their occupations before being elected and it is clear that MPs represent a cross-section of typical Canadian society. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau may have been a bit cruel in the way he described it, "When they get home, when they get out of Parliament, when they are 50 yards from Parliament Hill, they are no longer Honourable Members—they are just nobodies." The point is, your Member of Parliament is just like us—a spouse, a parent, has friends, has enemies, has good days, has bad days, etc.

It's easy for any one of us to be critical. However, doing good is a bit harder to accomplish; that, we have to be a bit more deliberate about—like encouraging our MPs, for instance.

When I talk to people about political engagement in general, I say there are five ways to communicate with your Member of Parliament, and then I list them from most effective to least effective.

Visit your MP.

Phone your MP.

Write a hand-written letter to your MP.

Email your MP.

Send a petition to your MP.

This summer, instead of just "political engagement," why not try a little bit of "political encouragement" as well. The list above may help you determine the best way to give that encouragement. Offering encouragement involves a little more effort than offering up criticism, but in the end it goes a lot further.

Another suggestion is to "pray for those in authority." You might ask your MP for a photo so that it can be posted on the bulletin board of your church, so that each week as you walk by, you are reminded to pray. Let your MP know you are praying for them. Remember, "Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up" (Proverbs 12:25).

Douglas Cryer is a former director of public policy for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.




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