I think Member of Parliament attendance records should be public. I also think their expense information should be public and audited by the auditor general, and that not getting out in front and leading on that issue was a significant missed opportunity by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. But I’m digressing.
If politicians are balking at releasing attendance information, I’m willing to bet there’s one big reason why: the inevitable short-sighted, ill-informed media coverage that will result decrying lazy MPs taking long vacations on the public dime, when nothing could (in most cases) be further from the truth.
The fact is, there is a lot more to being a Member of Parliament than sitting in your seat in the House of Commons chamber. There are many hours of committee work, office and constituency work both in Ottawa and back in the riding, and many public events. It’s far from a Monday to Friday, nine to five job.
Yet to many media organizations, if they can’t see you in your seat from their perch in the gallery, you must not be doing your job. It’s like the misguided bosses who believe in management by seeing you at your desk, not what you're doing. And it leads to stories of missing leaders when, rather than taking part in the empty spectacle of question period, they’re actually out meeting actual Canadians.
Whenever I see dismissive comments by pundits about all the “vacation time” MPs get I cringe, because, besides from the fact they’re not “vacationing” when the House isn’t sitting but instead are doing constituency work, research, or many other things, such ill-informed commentary only serves to further undermine public confidence in institutions already sorely lacking it.
So sure, release MP attendance information. There’s absolutely no reason for it to be secret. But I hope the media will resist the urge to just tally the numbers for easy headlines, and will instead look at the why behind the numbers, and put them into context.