[Theme music kicks in]
Mark: You're listening to On the Record, Off Script. The podcast.
My name is Mark Coffin, and I’m one of your hosts.
For the past couple of years, the Off Script team has been tracking down former policiticans in Nova Scotia.
Former members of the Nova Scotia legislature - to be precise.
Whenever we found one, we invited them to participate in an ‘exit interview,” to reflect on their time in public life, and the workplace they all served in - provinces.
All of our interviews were on the record, but what we heard didn’t sound much like the usual script.
Danny Graham: "And it started with the presumption that you take on his bravado about always being right, and the other side always being wrong."
Alexa MacDonough: "A lot of time and effort got spent on policy development and a lot of people said “Are you crazy? Policy’s not that important, you know."
Jamie Muir: "I should confess this – it’s probably not good as a person who was in cabinet for 10 years…”
Mark: We’ve all been there.
We’ve all felt one way about our workplace, our boss, our co-workers but when the opportunity to say something about it came up, we choked.
We said something else, or - perhaps more often - we said nothing at all.
Because saying what we really think is hard, and it doesn’t come without consequences.
And sometimes those consequences can mean the end of an otherwise pleasant relationship.
When your job is on the line, that might not be a risk you are willing to take.
Exit interviews - are an effective tool for uncovering the uncomfortable truths in a workplace. The things you wouldn’t necessarily say if you had to show up to work the next day... or the next day... or for the next year.
Sandra: "What’s the last job that you left?"
Mark: That voice you just heard - that’s Sandra Hannebohm.
Sandra is one of the writers and co-hosts of the Off Script podcast.
She recently spent some time on the streets of Halifax asking people about the last jobs they had left, and offered them an opportunity to have a mini-exit interview with her.
Sandra: "What was the job?"
CP: "I was working in a children’s clinic. It was the 1980s, the floodgates were opening on child abuse of a certain kind, and I’d been asked to handle it. "
Sandra: "And why did you leave?"
CP: "It had become too stressful for my health."
Sandra: "Really, you’re leaving your job tonight?"
(Male Voice): "I’m hoping to. Yeah, I work at --BLEEP--, and hopefully quitting within in the next week or so. "
Sandra: "So if you share this with me then you’d want to remain anonymous?"
(Male Voice): "Yeah (hesitates) my boss probably wouldn't want to hear... well, my boss isn't going to listen a podcasts, he’s an asshole."
Sandra: (laughs) "So my main question is there anything that you have not told your boss because you’re in the job - currently - that you might tell someone else if you were not in the job."
LS: "My complaint about it would probably more or less that he runs the organization very poorly and sees employees as more of a dollar value rather than actual people."
Sandra: "What was the job?"
JD: "It was a call centre."
Sandra: "If your boss from that job asked you 'What can I do to make this a better place to work? Be brutally honest with me.' What would you say?"
JD: "That he should resign."
Mark: Exit Interviews aren’t just about bosses, though.
They’re about the whole workplace experience - whether the expectations coming in to the job, and now that you're on the way out, were they reasonable? What things got in the way of your success? And what's the broader workplace culture is like?
They’re meant to be a diagnostic tool for people - usually bosses - to identify problems, and work towards solving them.
About five years ago, results from the first set of exit interviews with former members of parliament were published.
[music kicks in]
Peter Van Deusen, CPAC - Primetime: "A new book about politics in Canada asks a pivotal question: 'How did one of the world's most functional democracies go so very wrong?”
Global Calgary: "It sheds light on some surprising truths about how it works or how it doesn’t in our country."
Steve Paikin, The Agenda: "You’ve just completed a series of exit interviews with 65 former members of parliament.
I guess exit interviews is fairly standard procedure in the private sector but I haven’t heard it done with members of parliament before."
Peter VD: "And virtually all of them describe the unrelenting power and influence of their own parties, and how that power has minimized the role of the member of parliament and the voters they are supposed to represent."
Stephen Harper: (men yelling in the background) "This is how the Liberal party makes decisions. The vancouver son has learned that the father in law of the member of parliament for Missisauga-Brampton..."
Steve Paikin, The Agenda: "Well here's a quote from the report 'If the MP's so deplore their own public behavior even fearing that it would turn people away from politics, why would they not act to change it?”
Mark: I remember breathing a sign of relief the very first time I read a report from the National think tank, Samara. I know that’s a strange way to react to reading a report, so let me explain.
Samara is the organization behind the reports written based on exit interviews with former members of parliament.
The ones that made national headlines first in 2010, then again in 2011 and then again in 2014, when they released their best selling book based on those interviews.
Here’s my story - it was where I was coming from when I first heard about these exit interviews:
I had been following and involved in politics for several years, first as an environmental activist, then as a student activist.
My experience of being engaged in those movements left me feeling like there were more reasons to tune out of former politics than there were to stay engaged.
I wasn’t alone - many of my peers felt the same way. We were passionate about the issues we cared about, but the world of partisan politics, and electoral politics - the places where decision making power actually lives - was a messy and unwelcoming place.
The closer we got to having an influence, the messier and more unwelcoming it seemed to get.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I first read Samara’s work because it validated many of these feelings, feelings I knew we weren’t unreasonable for holding on to.
Me and my friends - we weren’t the uncompromising, idealistic brats that some people inside the political system tried to paint us as for sticking to our guns.
Our frustrations weren’t that far off from the ones expressed by the people we thought we were supposed to be frustrated with...
It made us rethink who was to blame, or if anybody at all could be blamed for the state of our politics.
Louise Cockram was one of those friends.
Louise and I met in a class we were both enrolled in at university in Halifax. We were both working on graduate degrees - mine in education, and hers in political science.
We talked about Samara's exit interviews and decided it would be worth doing a similar project here in Nova Scotia.
Louise: [Interview tape] "I’m Mark’s co-investigator on the project.
I’m in Ottawa now but I used to live in Nova Scotia, and I have roots in the maritimes. I’m a PHD student at Carleton, so I’m kind of like the academic advisor of the project, slash report writer and also editing some of the podcast."
Mark: That’s Louise introducing herself to one of the first people we spoke with about making this podcast.
Alison Loat: [Interview tape] "My name is Alison Loat and I wrote a book called Tragedy in the Commons, Former MPs Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy…
Mark: The voices of journalists you heard a few moments ago were some of the news personalities that covered the research that Alison and her co-author Michael MacMillan did with former MPs.
We started exploring the idea of creating this podcast in earnest, three years ago when we first spoke with Alison, who was the then-Executive Director of the charity, Samara.
Samara was still only about four years old at that time. The MP exit interviews were their very first project.
Alison: [Interview tape] "We were thinking of doing something to help provide executive support, and executive education, for lack of a better word to elected officials. In the process of thinking through that, somebody said 'Do we actually know what elected officials want and think? Has anyone ever asked them?"
"And so, that lead us to say, you know it might be useful to try and do that.
We then realized that current sitting elected officials are busy, they’re constrained by political demands, partisan demands and the like, and frankly haven’t had that space to reflect on what that experience was and how it could be better.
So that lead us to the idea of an exit interview, which is very common in other organizations, private and public, and a way to collect best practice and perspective on how an organization can improve.
We thought it was kind of a sad comment that they had never been done in what we thought of as one of the most important workplaces in the country - our parliament. So we set out to do that.
And I also thought it - frankly - thought that it was kind of a clever way to get us started.”
Mark: We thought it was clever too.
Alison and her co-author Michael ended up uncovering some previously undocumented, but fairly universal feelings and concerns among former MPs about how politics was and wasn't working.
Michael MacMillan: "They talked about politics and their career as if it was something that happened to them. As if they weren't there. They talked in a remarkably passive voice. As if they were the object and not the subject of the sentence.
It seems so weird. These were accomplished people, who had actually been community leaders, who've had successful careers in something else, who went to Ottowa with the greatest of intentions and they did accomplish things, of course.
And when they got there, they lost their capacity for individual agency and seeded that to the party and they resented it.
So we ask ourselves of course 'Well, if you felt that way, if you didn't like it why are you only telling us now? Why did you not do something about it when you were there?'"
Mark: That’s an excerpt from a talk Michael MacMillan gave in Halifax two years ago at the Springtide Better Politics Awards, where he gave a keynote address unpacking the findings from the book he and Alison wrote together.
You can hear Michael's full talk in an upcoming special episode of the podcast.
Another upcoming special episode will feature our full interview with Alison Loat, where she reflects on the impact Tragedy in the Commons has had on Canadian politics, and elaborate more on this particular thought.
Alison: [Interview tape] "Because any person here will say 'Oh I never wanted to do this, you know. Give me a break,'So the mayors actually diminish the profession or their calling in the eyes of the public which is just counterproductive.
Mark: Alright. Back to Nova Scotia… Back to Sandra…
Sandra: [Interview tape] "So why didn't you tell him that he should resign?"
JD: "Because it was easier just to leave."
Sandra: "And you wouldn't say that to him now?"
JD: "No, God no."
Sandra: "Why not?"
JD: "Well he’s kind of a sensitive sort, doesn’t like criticism so…"
(Female Voice): "Oh well my boss wasn't somebody I could talk to. He was not someone I could talk to (laughs)..."
Sandra: "So is there something you would say to me today, that you probably wouldn’t say to your boss while you were working there, that was relevant to the job."
(Female Voice): "Well I’m hedging a bit. There’s lots I could say about it, but I wouldn’t want to localize the things I would say, to that particular setting, to that particular boss."
Sandra: "Why is that?"
(Female Voice): "I’m more interested in dealing with the broad scale issues:
What are the patterns? This is something that happens, it happens in a predictable way. Organizations typically don't respond well to it. So all bosses have their limitations. But I’m more interested in solutions that look at the bigger picture, and those solutions, I really can’t localize them most of the time to a particular boss doing the best they can under difficult circumstances when what’s going wrong is usually at a much broader level."
[podcast theme music kicks in, underneath Mark's voice]'
Mark: We all have things that we’re not willing to share at certain times and with certain people.
For some people it’s out of fear of what might happen if someone in the workplace can’t handle the truth - like the hotel employee whose boss is ‘kind of a sensitive sort.’ (Who for the record, is the same asshole that doesn’t listen to podcasts.)
For others, like that last woman, naming the problem could easily be interpreted as blaming the person at the top - which might not be helpful, or even fair.
Speaking truth to power is admirable, but it’s hard to do without hurting the person who holds it, or making the problem worse.
And sometimes it’s easier to say - leave the job, or wait for something better to come along than it is to speak up.
Exit interviews work because they lower the risk of truth-telling.
If working folk like these people were hesitant to share the hard truths about their jobs while they were still working at them…
is it any wonder that our elected representatives MPs, MLAs and councillors - who live life in the public eye - don’t share the whole story about their workplaces with us?
[background music ends]
Mark: So we were curious what X-MLAs would say if we invited them to an exit interview.
[Door knocking… Crows cawing]
We interviewed former MLAs in their living rooms, public libraries, in their gardens when the weather was nice... and some came by our offices in the North End of Halifax.
Female Voice: "Hi Mark. How are you?"
Mark: "Nice to meet you. Good! How are you doing?"
Female Voice : "I'm doing great!"
Mark: "... So basically, what we typically do is work through, ask you questions from before you were involved in politics, just to get a sense of what your work and life was like before then."
Francene Cosman: "You’ll have a big enough sheet I hope."
Mark: "Obviously the recorder's on so everything we talk about is on the record. But if you’re not interested in answering a certain question, or if you’d like to share and answer a question without the recorder on…"
Jamie Muir: "Yeah."
Howard Epstein: "Well you know political parties are not even mentioned in the constitution. They're kind of an invention, in a way... [stops sentence] birds? were we being dive-bombed by birds?"
Mark: [Narrating] We told MLAs if we were to use any of the remarks they shared off-the-record, we’d use a pseudonym, a made up name.
Very few people asked us to turn the recorder off. When an MLA asked us to turn the recorder off, it was because they had some juicy gossip they wanted to get off their chest… Most of it was super-specific to one person or one community or organization.
Nothing particularly worth reporting on.
We stuck to a loose set of questions, and there were certain questions we asked in every interview, but ultimately, we spent most of our time with each MLA focused on the things they had the most energy and interest in reflecting on with us.
Regardless of the questions we asked, or the specific topics and ideas that MLAs wanted to talk about, there were four themes that were woven through many of the conversations we had.
Louise is working on a series of written reports that will be published in parallel to the off script podcast. Each of those reports will focus on a single theme, and these themes will be woven throughout the podcast.
[music kicks in]
The first of the four themes is the the near-universal feeling of being lost and powerless in the face of whatever decisions were being made.
Mau Smith: "I'm thinking 9 out of 10 it was a fait accompli. You came in [to caucus] and were basically told that this was the way things are going to be. And you know, there were a couple of issues. Like I think the clear-cutting one, and one about the cuts to education where the ministers themselves didn't go along with what the plan was going to be from the central office. And they weren't' the minister any longer."
Louise: This idea that MLAs don’t feel that they have much of a say in the decision-making process in Nova Scotia, particularly back-bench MLAs, and cabinet ministers who don’t hold key positions like finance ministers, or minister of health...
(Male Voice): "Well you know, party discipline, it’s a very peculiar thing. Here’s the argument in favour of it, we’re all part of a team so you have to work together. But as one of my colleagues said, 'We’re not on the team, we’re on the bench. We are the people sitting on the bench,' And that’s not quite the same thing.
That was, I think, Jim Boudreau from the Eastern Shore or Guysborough. And he was right. That was really the position of most of the caucus. We were on the bench, we weren't so much part of the team. We weren't out there skating and passing the puck and getting the chance to score and actually participating. We were just off in the sidelines there."
Louise: One of the MLAs we spoke to really characterized well when he said that MLAs are treated as objects, not subjects. And what he meant by that was that MLAs don’t really have much agency in the decision making process.
Mark Parent: "Back bench is the worst place to be, in my opinion. Backbench, it's really like you're a child, you know, you've got to be seen and not heard. Clap when you're supposed to clap and really limited influence unless you're willing to speak out like I did. But then the price is you're not going to get into cabinet, so..."
Louise: The second theme is dysfunction, speaks to the tone of debate in the house. Particularly during question period.
Percy Paris: "I hated the tone of the house. When you go in there, that's the atmosphere - it's very hostile. And just the way that the house is designed - with the referee in the middle being the speaker. The government on one side and you got the opposition and the third party on the opposite side, looking at one another. So it's designed to be confrontational."
Danny Graham: "I didn't see the legislature necessarily as the primary vehicle through which change happens. It had the potential to be that, but it wasn't a place of meaningful debate. It was a place of tactical maneuvering for political advantage more often than it was anything else."
Louise: Many MLAs told us that their colleagues, and themselves - behaved in ways that they would never even think of behaving in another workplace.
Michelle Raymond: "When there is tension, when an election is approaching, when someone smells blood, it can get to be not very nice. You know the heckling, the physical presence and... the heckling can be personal and just - there can be times when it just goes over the edge, and you just don't know when that's going to be."
Ramona Jennex: "As a teacher, what teachers generally do when there's an uproar is you just wait until the tone, until it settles a bit. So I had to learn to talk over a great deal of noise - and I found it... I found that distracting, a little bit problematic - I still had to, it was something that I didn't get used to doing.”
Louise: There was something about the legislature - especially during question period - that made MLAs behave in a certain way...
Michelle Raymond: "Well, I thoroughly enjoyed question period - or at least I enjoyed it when I was asking questions, (laughs) or able to answer questions. I really did enjoy that."
Louise: [Interview tape] "And did you feel it was an effective kind of forum for discussion and kind of deciding the best types of policy?"
George Archibald: "No."
George Archibald: "Keeps ya honest is all it does. You know, the government, if you're doing something that you know, shoot if we do that it's gonna show up in public accounts, so it will do that. So it does keep you honest. But as far as accomplishing anything you know it really doesn't. Look at the the Bluenose."
Mark: It’s worth underscoring that the kind of behavior we heard about isn’t just behaviour that happened in the past.
As far as anyone paying attention can tell, it’s just as concerning today… maybe worse.
This is a clip from Question Period on October 21st of this year, 2016:
Sterling Belliveau: “Unfortunately this government has ignored post-secondary education's biggest detractors: high tuition fees and student debts.”
Mark: [Narrating] The person asking the question is Sterling Belliveau, the MLA for Queens-Shelburne, and the leader of the NDP in the House of Assembly.
Sterling Belliveau: “Only the New Democratic Party has made a plan to make university and college more affordable in Nova Scotia. For example, the New Democratic Party will soon introduce legislation that will eliminate tuition at Nova Scotia Community College. This would address a major funding gap for community college students where they ask support and programs to address student debts. So I ask the Premier, will he take the first step to making post-secondary education more affordable by supporting NDP's effort to eliminate tuition at the Nova Scotia community colleges?"
Mark: A question period is - as some of you know - the time when opposition MLAs ask questions to the Premier and Cabinet Ministers.
It’s one of the few times you’re likely to find every sitting MLA in the House.
This is concerning, when you know what we heard from former MLAs: that most of them regard this time as the House of Assembly at its worst.
The question you just heard and the answer that follows perfectly captures the first thing that MLAs were talking about.
SM: “What the honourable member has not told the House or Nova Scotians is how he's going to pay for that. The last time they were in power, they cut $65 million out of classrooms across this province. Is that where you're going to find the money?”
Mark: The question began with a statement that said 'Only our side can fix this issue. Your side is wrong.'
And the answer, is basically 'No it’s your side that’s wrong. You had your chance. You didn't fix it.'
It’s time to move on to the next question. And it's the Leader of the Official Opposition Jamie Baillie's turn to ask a question. But instead of getting to ask his question, this is what happens on the house:
KM: “The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.”
(Male Voice): “We’re just having fun.”
“What it’s not all terrible. It’s not all terrible.”
“You need to say your part.”
Mark: It’s unclear who that speaker is, but it’s pretty clear what they’re saying, that it’s coming from the government side, and that the remark is directed at Mr. Belliveau.
‘We’re just having fun. It’s not all terrible!’
On the same day, a few moments later, the following exchange happens between the NDP education critic and the education minister.
The critic begins by pointing out that in the Minister’s biography on the government’s website she's included that she has been a principal and supervisor, but not a teacher which she was. She closes with this - related? - question.
(Female Voice): “My question for the minister is, does she agree that her government's business model for education means that teachers are forced to spend more time doing data collection than taking care of the diverse needs of students and doing what teachers do best, teach!”
Mark: That’s Lenore Zann, NDP Education Critic, MLA for Truro, Bible Hill... it's a long name.
And here’s Education Minister, Karen Casey’s full response:
Karen Casey: "In response to the question, I'm really proud to say that I'm a teacher. You don't become a principal until you've been a teacher, and I would think people would understand that.
However, having said that, I do want to say that we have, we will continue to listen. I think our budgets for the last three years have demonstrated that. For four years there were budget cuts by the NDP. The member speaking sat on her hands and did nothing but support those budgets."
Lenore Zann: "Spin, spin"
Karen Casey: "Mr. Speaker, when teachers were protesting they went to her office -"
Lenore Zann: "Spin, spin"
SPEAKER: "Order, please..."
Mark: [Narrating] So it’s a bit harder to hear what is happening here, but Lenore Zann is saying: ‘Spin, spin, spin…” as the Minister responds to the question.
Lenore Zann: "Spin, spin.."
SPEAKER: "Order, please. The honourable Minister of Education has the floor."
Karen Casey: "It’s my understanding, Mr. Speaker…"
Lenore Zann: "65 Million ... (inaudible)"
SPEAKER: "Order, please. The honourable Minister of Education has the floor."
Karen Casey: "Mr. Speaker It’s my understanding -"
Lenore Zann: "(inaudible)... community services (inaudible)"
SPEAKER: "Order, please. The honourable Minister of Education has the floor."
Karen Casey: "Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding when teachers were protesting those cuts under the NDP Government and they went to the member opposite's office, she had not reported to work that day."
Lenore Zann: "That’s not true… "
SPEAKER: "The honourable member for Pictou Centre!"
Lenore Zann: (inaudible disruption)
PD: "Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education"
Lenore Zann: "You were here too."
Mark: It’s worth understanding that this kind of dialogue - the kind MLAs remembered for years after they left politics - did not come from one particular party, or single person in the assemblies of which they were a part.
The kind of dialogue just heard the former MLAs described to us is a truly a multi-partisan creation.
If you spend enough time listening to the legislature, and reading the transcripts of the debates, you’ll find examples that will paint members of each party as both the target of this type of behavior, and the instigator.
Alexa MacDonough: “And I remember, I’ve got so many funny anecdotes, you know where this man comes to the door and pushes his wife aside - basically - and said that I don’t believe in women being in politics.”
Mark: The third theme we hear a lot about in our conversations, was one of exclusion:
Louise: … which speaks to two groups: female MLAs and MLAs from the African Nova Scotian community who have made gains in electoral representation, over the past twenty years, but are still severely underrepresented in the house.
Alexa: "Well excuse me Sir you’re entitled to your views, but I wonder why? “Well I think she should be at home looking after her kids.”
Louise: We heard that there was kind of a background of sexism and racism in the house - well actually during an MLAs career, right from their participation in the campaign up to serving in the house as well.
Mark: [Interview tape] "When you were running, did you experience any racism during the campaign?"
Wayne Adams: [laughs] "Absolutely, absolutely, real degrees, even for county council. Oh yeah, "Why in the name of God am I going to vote for you? Vote for you today and you'll rob me tomorrow, bang."
‘Have a good day!’ (laughs)
Mark: "Wow. And you would get those sorts of responses even up into the provincial campaign?"
Wayne: "Oh yes. The provincial campaign - they were more blatant, actually. "
Yvonne Atwell: "Sometimes we would just tease the opposition and all of the women would sit in the front row just for fun, stuff like that. (laughs) Because the men could be pretty mean, actually.
So for me, personally I didn't like going into the cafeteria to eat, because nobody would sit with me. The only person to ever come and sit with me from the opposition was John Hamm. He would come if I was there by myself. If there was nobody else from my party - which is really kind of silly - but he would come and sit and we'd chat and that sort of thing but the others wouldn't, right? Sometimes they would make unhanded racist remarks, right?
But I wasn't prepared for that. To me, I thought that people were above that sort of thing because these are people who somebody voted for. They weren't above that, that's for sure. No, yeah, stuff like that, so you could feel it. You know, sometimes people across the aisle would try to stare you down.
They wouldn't hassle me a lot openly but you could see that they were talking to each other and you know, they did that with all of us basically but I just found it, you know that the staring at me, I didn't know what that was about."
Mark: "And was that just at you, or would they do it to other members?"
Yvonne: "Well, I noticed a few of them that would just do it to me..."
Lousie: And you could say, oh well, these incidents were - Nova Scotia politics is incredibly personal - these incidents were probably just a part of the contrast of politics in Nova Scotia, but the point is that these incidents were remembered by MLAs as racist and sexist.
Mark: So when we talk about exclusion, there’s the exclusion at the interpersonal level - the one that the people who face it feel when they take their place in the legislature.
But there is also a kind of exclusion that happens by virtue of not being included in the legislature at all, or being severely underrepresented.
You know who these groups are. They’re the same groups that are consistently underrepresented in the halls of power and discriminated against in many places across Nova Scotia.
- Mi’kmaq and other indigenous people.
- People of color
- Immigrants and new Canadians.
- People living with disabilities and
- Members of the LGBTQ community
The final theme we looked at was the disconnect between what happens in public spaces, and what happens in private spaces in Nova Scotia politics.
[Playful music interjects]
Graham Steele (at live event) “Because I think the government and politics is a mystery for most people. We know that what goes on in the legislature is just for show. The real decisions are being made somewhere else. They're being made in other rooms — the Premier’s office, the cabinet room, their ministers’ offices. They’re being made in office buildings around downtown Halifax. And what all of those rooms have in common is that you’re not allowed inside. Right? All the important decisions are being made somewhere else that you can’t see.”
Louise: We managed to delve into and get some insight into some of the places that are black boxes to Nova Scotians... trying to look at these spaces, like cabinet, caucus and the Premier's office that we as Nova Scotians don't usually get to see but we managed to get some insight into.
Mau Smith: "I think in the cabinet it was basically 'Well, don't rock my boat and I won't rock your boat" kind of thing. Do you know what I mean? 'I need to get this through. My deputy's telling me this has to be done. The department wants this by yesterday and you're asking me questions.'
'Well if you have read your goddamn stuff you'd know that that was a question that someone should ask you.'"
Rodney MacDonald: "If it’s anything about cabinet, it’s not a vote. You don’t vote in cabinet."
Mark: [Interview tape] "Really?"
Rodney MacDonald: "No - you don't vote in cabinet."
Mark: "How does it work?"
Rodney: "It’s consensus."
Mark: "So one minister stands up and says?"
Rodney: "Well, you agree, the government agrees. And people often ask 'Why does a minister come out of the cabinet room and say 'Why does everybody agree?'
Well the reason why is that the process is that you leave that room with coming into an agreement."
Graham Steele (Interview Tape): "Which means that a lot of stuff is there because the law requires that it go to cabinet. People have no idea - a lot of the cabinet agenda is pure formality. Something that has to go to cabinet, be approved by cabinet. And the cabinet ministers don't read it, they don't understand it, they couldn't care less. It is a requirement that they go through the cabinet. And that would describe the vast majority of stuff on a cabinet agenda."
[background music plays]
Mark: So those are the themes - powerlessness, dysfunction, exclusion and the public and private divide. Of course, there are other things that came up in our interviews too.
For now, let me draw you a road map.
It's a map of the life-cycle of an MLA, and it also serves as a guide for where we’re going with this podcast.
The road map starts just before the MLA enters electoral politics. And it ends sometime after that - when the exit interview took place.
Now, no two members of the Legislature experience elected office in the same way, but the signposts along the way are fairly common...
- They all decide to seek their party’s nomination
- They all win the nomination.
- They all get elected in the general election
Then there’s a fork in the road:
Some of the people who are elected make it into government, and some people don’t.
For those that make it into government, there’s another fork. Some of them make it into cabinet - and become a minister of something, and some people don’t.
Back to the first fork in the road:
If your party doesn’t win, you sit on the opposition side of the house, and you become a critic for something.
Maybe you repeat the cycle if you run and in another election and win.
Maybe you end up on the opposite side of the house,
… or maybe you stay right where you are, for the rest of your time as an MLA.
But one exception to this experience is that of the party leader - which we’ll explore separately from all of this.
Then eventually, everyone leaves politics.
Some make that choice on their own, while for others it’s a decision that gets made for them - by us, the voters.
That’s it, end of road map.
For the xMLAs we spoke with - that’s what they call themselves, by the way - there’s an association, they meet in the legislature a few times a year...
So for those MLAs, anywhere from a few months, to many years after they left politics, they got a phone call or an email from myself or Louise, asking them to sit down for an ‘exit interview’ about their time in public life.
In each episode of this podcast, we’ll explore one part of the life and experience of an MLA - starting at the beginning and working our way to the end of that road map.
Every now and then we’ll step out of that timeline, and dedicate an episode to explore a topic, or question that doesn’t easily fit anywhere on the map but is still important.
Over the course of the next year, we’ll share the private stories about public life in Nova Scotia.
We hope you’ll join us along the way.
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Mark: Thank you for tuning into the first episode of the Off Script podcast.
If you liked what you've heard make sure to subscribe in iTunes or wherever it is that you keep your podcasts.
You can stream all of our podcasts from Off Script
Do us another favor and share it with friends you think might be interested.
Off Script is produced by Springtide, and this podcast is one of a handful of projects we’re working on to help Nova Scotians learn about and better engage with our politics.
In last week’s podcast, we went way off script by talking about the American presidential election.
We also told you about an event we were planning to talk about where we go from here - as Nova Scotians and Canadians - in the aftermath of an election that despite happening in another country has impacted many of us.
If you’re in Halifax next Thursday, November 24th, we invite you to join us for “Making Sense of Political Heartbreak: A Civic Dialogue”, starts at 6:30PM at the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Center on Gottingen Street. It’ll be a participatory conversation, that will be kicked off by a few speakers.
It's going to be hosted by Sera Thompson who uses the Deep Democracy method of holding conversation - a challenging, uncomfortable and transformative way of working through tough topics.
We hope you’ll join us, and ask that you RSVP at our website, SpringtideCollective.ca
This episode Off Script was written and produced by Louise Cockram, Sandra Hannebohm, and me, Mark Coffin, and many volunteer transcribers.
The theme music you’ve heard in this podcast comes from Josh Spacek at NeedleDrop.co; and the other music you heard comes from Kevin MacLeod at Incompetech.
We extend our thanks to Jeremy Akerman and the Nova Scotia association of XMLAs for their help in connecting us with former MLAs, and all those MLAs who participated in interviews for the project.
Off Script is made possible with funding we got from the Democracy 250 youth engagement legacy trust. That funding got us started but in order to keep it going and keep producing better, longer, higher quality podcasts we need support from people like you.
You can go to the website to make a contribution. We're talking small amounts - $3, $5, $8 a month, whatever you can afford or what you think this is worth.
Anybody who donates more than $25 in the run of the year is eligible for a tax receipt because, Springtide Collective is a charity.
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