Why did we chose to interview MLAs?
The Off-Script team was interested in why MLAs make the decisions they do, the context behind some of the things many Nova Scotians find objectionable, like heckling in the House and the lack of collaboration between parties. We were also interested in decision-making spaces like cabinet, caucus and the premier’s office that are like black boxes, researchers and members of the public have no idea what goes on there. We had other questions too: why does the tone of the House seem so toxic? What are the experiences of women and racialized minorities in the House. Are backbenchers as restricted by party discipline in Nova Scotia as they are in Ottawa?
The impetus for this project was also based on public disengagement with the legislature. The Nova Scotia legislature is one of the most important public spaces in Nova Scotia. The legislature is where bills are debated, scrutinized and passed, where billions of dollars of public money is approved for expenditure and where jurisdictionally appropriate community needs across Nova Scotia are represented and addressed. Yet Springtide’s 2013 Nova Scotia Youth survey showed that only 51% of youth surveyed have “a fair amount” or “a great deal” of confidence in the work of the legislature. We also learned through Springtide’s Make Democracy Better project, our series of Nova Scotia-wide engagement sessions, that Nova Scotians want reform in the legislature.These proposed reforms include committee improvement, an increase in free votes (less party discipline) and seating changes in the legislature to make the debate less adversarial.
Who better to answer these questions than the MLAs who served in the legislature?. That’s why in the summer of 2015 we conducted exit interviews with 35 former MLAs to get a better idea of how the legislature works, how decisions are made at the provincial level in Nova Scotia and the highlights and challenges of serving as an MLA.
Exit interviews are a common practise in many workplaces when an employee leaves a job.
Employers use them to get their honest feedback about the job, and the workplace, including the things that might be uncomfortable to share if the employee had to show up to work the next day:
We asked former MLAs about what they liked, and... what they hated about their jobs
what they felt were good at, what they felt totally unprepared for,
Their proudest moments, and their biggest regrets, and
suggestions for improving their workplace.
Now we’d like to share what we’ve learned with Nova Scotians.