MP REPORT: Voting in the House of Commons

How best can citizens keep track of their Member of Parliament’s voting attendance in the House of Commons?

In just over one week the House of Commons will again be in session for the first time in 2015.

As 2015 is also an election year, this will be the final sitting of the 41st session of Parliament. As is customary at the end of a year, there have been a number of year end reviews on Parliament, covering a wide range of topics from a variety of media organizations.

Most recently the subject of MP voting attendance records was reported on by the Ottawa Citizen. Attendance in the House of Commons is an interesting subject for MPs. It may come as a surprise to some that the House of Commons does not formally report MP attendance records. In fact, within the House it is actually considered unparliamentary to point out or otherwise mention the absence of another MP.  As described by the House of Commons Procedure and Practice manual: “Allusions to the presence or absence of a Member or Minister in the Chamber are unacceptable.”

This raises the question on how best can citizens keep track of their Member of Parliament’s voting attendance in the House of Commons?

One such way is by recorded votes in the House. Surprisingly there is no readily available information of this type from the Parliamentary precinct. In the past an independent website known as “How’d They Vote” would provide helpful information to citizens of this nature however as I observed back in 2012, this website is no longer active. Fortunately two journalists from the Ottawa Citizen did take the time to cover the topic of MP voting records to determine attendance. The results were quite surprising. The good news is that there were five MP’s with perfect 100 per cent voting records and a further sixteen MPs who were all above ninety nine per cent. To achieve a 100 per cent vote attendance record meant that an MP would have voted 269 times in 2014. I am proud to be among the five Members of Parliament to achieve a 100 per cent voting record on behalf of the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla.

On the other hand, the ten Members of Parliament with the worst attendance records were all less than 50 per cent – meaning they missed more votes than they attended. The worst record belongs to an MP who voted only 16 times out of the possible 269 votes. One other trend that emerged in the analysis from the Ottawa Citizen is that a proportionately large number of these MPs missing votes most often were independents with no party affiliation. Although political parties are often not portrayed positively the party whip system of ensuring MPs are in the House of Commons to attend votes does on the surface appear to have more success in this area.

It should also be pointed out that there are many valid reasons as to why a Member of Parliament may be away from the House of Commons and miss votes as a result.

Parliamentary business and committee work, Ministerial responsibilities, important events in an MP’s home riding, illness or family emergencies are some of the many reasons that account for the diversity of voting records. Members of Parliament are also required to fill out monthly attendance records with the House of Commons that is submitted internally.

In my view I believe that vote attendance could be better reported in a more user friendly format so that media or others are not required to take on a project of individually compiling each Member of Parliament’s vote record in order to ascertain attendance; more so when not all sitting days in the House of Commons have votes. Some days there may be many votes whereas other days may have none.

As always I welcome your comments and questions on this or any subject before the House of Commons.  I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and writes this weekly report for his constituents.