The Most Unpopular Fellas

“A scant 25% of Canadians express respect for those who enter public office”
(Keith Martin, Member of Parliament for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, in the
National Post, May 18).

An all-time low? Maybe. Even lawyers get a better rating, at 44 per cent.

Mr. Martin offers this explanation. MPs work hard, but Parliament’s “dysfunctional
structure blocks ideas from moving forward.” Effecting change, he says, “has
become a truly Sisyphean task.” In other words, the individual MP can’t make
much of a difference and can’t get things done.

It’s an old complaint. But the fact is that in parliamentary systems the
Member of Parliament isn’t there to get things done. Or to move ideas
forward. She or he is there to object (in caucus, in committee, or in open
debate in the legislature) when the government of the day tries to put
through legislation that will adversely affect the interests of her/his
constituents. First and foremost among her tasks is to see that the
government doesn’t squander the money it takes from our pockets or siphon
it off for private purposes. See sections 53 and 54 of the Constitution Act
(1867), the beloved and venerable document that was once known as the
British North America Act (1867). It’s a tricky job deserving of respect.

Spare a thought for the lawyers, only somewhat less unpopular. At a Christmas
party in Toronto’s Annex district (aka the Centre of the Universe: cramped
quarters, standing room only, trendy decorations, good red wine and massive
amounts of excellent food) I found myself in conversation with someone who
told me that so-and-so had gone back to school to study seriology. “Oh,
sociology,” I said. “Surely Ben can do better than that.” “Seriology,” said
the someone. “Musical composition. But let me ask you. If you don’t think
much of sociologists, what’s your opinion of lawyers?” And I said, and not
just because it flashed on me that I was talking to a lawyer, “ The law is
an ancient and honourable profession. In a liberal democracy lawyers are
among the guardians of the citizen’s freedom.”

Lawyers and Members of Parliament. Guardians of our freedoms.

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