As It Happens

Harvard student creates website to track MPs voting habits

It's hard to find out how an MP voted on a particular bill in the House of Commons. There's no one-stop-shop to find the public information. But now, Shay Neufeld has started a website called votes.mp that lets voters search how any MP has voted in the past six years.
(Shay Neufeld)
Listen5:35

Ever wonder how a Member of Parliament voted on a particular bill in the House of Commons?

Although the information is public, finding the data and making sense of it can be difficult. Now, the process just got a lot easier, thanks to a website called votes.mp. The website provides a database where voters can search to find out how an MP has voted in the past six years. Shay Neufeld is the founder of the site. But he's not a political junkie -- he's a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Harvard University.

Neufeld is Canadian, and he started the website after listening to his friends and colleagues' concerns for his professional future back in Canada.

"The political climate in Canada has been not so great for scientists recently and I think that just sort of made me a little bit more engaged," Neufeld explains to As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

"What really sparked it was when Bill C-51 was all over the news and I kind of just wanted to go and see who voted for and against Bill C-51."  Bill C-51 is anti-terrorism legislation that became law last June.

But when Neufeld tried to pull up the records online he realized he had few options for research.

"I Googled it and I was sort of surprised not to find a lot of resources but I found one particularly good one called openparliament.ca"

Screenshot of the votes.mp home page. (votes.mp)

The openparliament.ca website allowed Neufeld to to click on individual bills and see the list of politicians who voted. But the data was overwhelming. Since each bill is voted on multiple times and subject to amendments, trying to find specific data was difficult. Neufeld's website compiles the records from openparliament.ca and presents the final voting data in a more digestible format.

"What you really want to know is when the bill was being put to a vote to become a law or not, what did the politician vote -- did they support it or did they not support it," Neufeld explains."When you have all of the votes in front of you it's a little bit hard to parse exactly what's going on."

Neufeld wants to model his site after what he sees in the United States. He says that in the U.S. there are a variety of independent websites that offer more manageable data.

"If I wanted to form an opinion about a U.S. politician it was a lot easier just by Googling them. There were several different tools."

Neufeld admits MPs typically vote along party lines and that the data is often predictable. But he insists, "I think that just because information isn't surprising doesn't mean that it shouldn't be made easily available for people to see."

Through parsing the data off the openparliament.ca website, Neufeld says he is able to track specific patterns that inform his own vote.

"One of the fun things that I've done going through the databases is seeing how often politicians don't show up to vote and I think that's also maybe a product of having a majority government where I think maybe the MPs think that their votes don't count."

Despite his time outside of the country, Neufeld is still eligible to vote in the October 19 election. He plans to support the Liberals.

"I'm interested in a change of government right now and I'll be voting in my hometown riding which is Vancouver Quadra and there, Joyce Murray has the best chance of changing the government so I'll be voting for her."