Conservative Party of Canada MPs as “delegates”

Quoted from Tragedy in the Commons pg. 87-88.

Many of the MPs we interviewed described their roles in ways that corresponded to two classic but competing definitions of a political representative’s role: “trustees” and “delegates.” According to political theory, trustees are representatives who follow their own sense of the best action to pursue. A trustee believes she was elected by the public to use her own judgement to make a decision. Meanwhile, delegates are understood to be representatives who follow the expressed preferences of their constituents, regardless of their own personal opinion. On occasions when an MP’s judgement on a legislative matter differs from voter preference, assuming they can appropriately identify their constituents’ view, the trustee will vote according to her own judgment, while the delegate will allow voter preference to have the ultimate say.

Among parliamentarians from the Liberals, New Democrats or the Bloc Quebecois, no clear preference for the role of trustee or delegate emerged. Each of those parties had MPs in both groups, and in fact, many MPs straddled the categories.

Describing a classic trustee’s conception of the job, NDP Bill Blaikie said: “My job as an MP was to do the thinking and the listening at the committee hearings and the meetings-albeit out of certain perspective that I was up front about when I ran-and then to make judgments,” Blaikie said. “The people who voted for me don’t have the time to do all that. That is what I am paid to do. . . . [My constituents] will hold me accountable at elections and in between with their input with letters of criticism or support.” And Paddy Torsney, a former Liberal MP for Burlington, said, “I think my job was to provide leadership. Not just reflect the discussion, but also to lead the discussion. And I think that is where people get caught up in ‘No, my job is to do exactly what those people say.’ . . . No, you’re actually sending me there to think and bring more information back, too.”

The majority of Conservative MPs, in contrast, approached their roles as delegates. Loyola Hearn describes the job in terms very similar to the word’s definition. “[Voters] select you to be their representative in Ottawa, to speak for them, to vote on legislation and, in some cases, to develop legislation that they feel is wanted. Basically, to work [for their interests] and to deliver for them whatever benefits might flow,” Hearn said. “All of [the constituents] can’t be up there, so you’re the messenger. That’s the job you have. . . . You are the representative for the people in Ottawa, not Ottawa’s representative to the people.”

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