There are normally 308 members of parliament in the Canadian House of Commons. They are elected in a general election, which is usually called every four or five years, or in a by-election when a seat in the House of Commons becomes empty due to resignation or death.
Representing Constituents in Parliament
Members of parliament represent the regional and local concerns of the constituents in their ridings (also called electoral districts) in the House of Commons. Members of parliament solve problems for constituents on a wide variety of federal government matters - from checking on individual problems with federal government departments to providing information on federal government programs and policies. Members of parliament also maintain a high profile in their ridings and take part in local events and official functions there.
While it is public servants and cabinet ministers who have direct responsibility for drafting new legislation, members of parliament can influence legislation through debates in the House of Commons and during all-party committee meetings to examine legislation. Even though members of parliament are expected to "toe the party line," both substantive and fine-tuning amendments to legislation are often made at committee stage. Votes on legislation in the House of Commons are usually a formality following party lines, but can be of significant strategic importance during a minority government. Members of parliament can also introduce legislation of their own, called "private members bills," however it is rare that a private members bill passes.
Watchdogs on Government
Canadian members of parliament can influence federal government policy by participating in House of Commons committees which review federal government department activities and spending, as well as legislation. Government members of parliament also raise policy issues in caucus meetings of members of parliament of their own party and can lobby cabinet ministers. Members of parliament in opposition parties use the daily Question Period in the House of Commons to raise issues of concern and bring them to the attention of the public.
A member of parliament usually supports a political party and plays a role in the operation of the party. A few members of parliament may sit as independents and do not have party responsibilities.
Members of parliament maintain two offices with corresponding staff - one on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and one in the constituency. Cabinet ministers also maintain an office and staff in the departments for which they are responsible.