This essay was written for Political Science 260B in Spring 2003.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau is Canada's most famous politician. Canadians interested in politics are not indifferent to Trudeau: he incited extreme feelings in both friends and foes. Compared to most Members of Parliament, Trudeau was, to say the least, unusual. His experience of Parliament Hill was also unusual. It is not surprising, then, that Trudeau's opinion on the relative importance of MPs -- that they are nobodies 15 minutes away from Parliament Hill -- is incorrect. This paper divides MPs into three groups: those in government, those in opposition, and those independent of parties. Government MPs are subdivided into five subgroups: Cabinet ministers, caucus officers, backbenchers, committee chairs, and parliamentary secretaries. Opposition MPs are subdivided into three subgroups: caucus officers, critics, and backbenchers. Independent MPs are not subdivided. Drawing heavily on David Docherty's Mr. Smith Goes To Ottawa: Life In The House Of Commons, this paper outlines the various parliamentary responsibilities of each of these groups, describes the role of an MP in his or her constituency, and argues that the concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office from Trudeau to Chrétien and the political realities of the party system in Canada mean that most MPs are -- and will remain for the foreseeable future -- much more important in their constituencies than they are on Parliament Hill.