That question is at the heart of the kerfuffle over the stress MPs endure working in the rarified air of Ottawa.
A friend of mine defines stress as the strain caused by resisting the urge to choke someone who richly deserves it.
I’m pretty sure that’s not the clinical definition, but it does describe some of the frustration experienced by MPs.
Lord knows the poor sods elected to high office certainly endure a steady barrage of incoming missives from political opponents and the perennially disaffected trolls who languish in social media swamps.
Adding to the stress is the herculean task of dealing with the competing demands of constituents, party brass and the endless line of special interest groups.
No doubt most elected folks work long hours for short pay in an environment that is neither friendly nor notably professional.
Every now and then there is a rallying cry from the backbenches for a better working environment.
Long, unpredictable hours are a reliable source of complaint. MPs recently endured a 20-hour marathon voting session. Apparently this is not good for their health.
Personally I believe the griping only confirms a suspicion that MPs are more delicate than their provincial counterparts. The Harris government sat continually for eleven days during the City of Toronto debate.
There is no doubt that the long periods away from family and community are not particularly helpful. MPs often have the relationship challenges familiar to long-distance truckers.
But the greatest stressors have to do with uncertainty.
Political career progression is at the whim of the dark wizards of the Prime Ministers Office (see Jody Wilson-Raybould et al.). Fall out of favour with the centre and a promising political career can collapse faster than a cardboard house in a rainstorm.
Every MP knows that, sooner or later, political tides will take their career aspirations out to sea.
There are many ways into politics, but only three ways out. Political life ultimately ends when an MP quits, dies or is defeated.
It is a curiosity of human behaviour that faced with inevitable defeat and subject to the whims of a dysfunctional organization, MPs still fret over career advancement.
Every media story is viewed from the perspective of furthering career prospects. Every potential cabinet shuffle causes vibrations in front and back benches alike.
The answer to reducing stress on MPs won’t be found in changing procedural rules or adopting the latest workplace theories.
Stress reduction begins with facing a couple of realities.
The first is that being an MP is a position, not a job. The House of Commons isn’t the employer of MPs.
If people want to enjoy paternity/maternity leave, stress leave, bereavement leave or even regular hours and work security they should apply to the public service bureaucracy.
Holding political office is a privilege bestowed on those who volunteer to spend long nights far from home, work crazy hours and take a lot of incoming missives. If that’s not your idea of a good time you are in the wrong business.
Secondly, there is no such thing as career advancement in politics. In the end every MP serves at the pleasure of his or her constituents.
Treated as a career, political life is dismal. But, as a momentary opportunity for public service, politics can be a wonderful opportunity to make the whole community better.
That’s something all candidates should consider as we creep along to the fall election.