Cornwall ON – As mentioned previously MP Michael Chong has taken on the daunting task of trying to reform Question Period. One proposal which will be very controversial is the suggestion that the Prime Minister only show up one day a week, on Wednesday. The catch is that he would answer all questions for the full allocated time. Not a bad idea as any PM’s schedule is packed and sitting in Question Period for the full 45 minutes everyday is a waste of time.
In practice a Prime Minister answers about three minutes of questions each day they are in the House. And for the other 42 minutes they sit and watch. The Opposition will try to goad him into rising and taking additional questions with the hope that he can be provoked into a misstep in his reply. Paul Martin was one PM who fell into this trap a number of times. But is this a productive use of any Prime Minister’s time? That is what MPs on the Procedures and House Affairs Committee should be thinking about?
Even when the PM is obviously not in the House, this doesn’t stop MPs from asking a question that is clearly designed for the Prime Minister to answer. Liberals guilty of doing this over the last 5 days of Question Period include Ignatieff, McGuinty, Easter, and Zarac. Perhaps the Speaker can find a way to suggest to them that they direct their questions appropriately.
Some of the best questioners in the House are the Bloc. Other MPs should pay more attention to them. All of their questions are well researched. They rarely ask one without having documentation and facts to back up their question. They follow Joe Clark’s Question Period rule, never ask a question unless you know the answer first.
For the Liberals, pay more attention to Bob Rae and how he phrases and asks his questions. They are well thought out, to the point and don’t leave much wiggle room for anyone answering.
Chong also suggests that ministers be required to be present on a rotating schedule two days a week. I can’t see the opposition parties accepting that as it makes it very difficult to sustain any type of attack on a particular minister. It could work if a mechanism was built in that would allow them to add one minister’s name to the schedule each day. This way if a scandal was brewing they could get at that minister every day as they do now.
And while Members Statements or SO 31s precede Question Period, its time for the Speaker to put his foot down on the Conservatives use of SO 31s to make personal political attacks on the Leader of the Opposition. This is not what they were designed for and these types of attacks certainly help set the tone for what is to follow in Question Period. To illustrate, Ignatieff gave a very good tribute to the armed forces on VE day, he received applause from all parties. Then up pops Conservative MP Earl Deeshan to deliver another attack on Ignatieff. This was low class and totally unnecessary.
Along with the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, five other people can change the tone in Question Period: The Speaker, Ignatieff, Harper, Duceppe and Layton. They are the ones who can change MPs behaviour in the House.
A sixth person, Michael Chong, has decided not to be part of the silent majority of MPs who want QP changed. He has taken a public stand and suggested changes that you may not agree with, but at least his motion if adopted will force MPs to look at changing QP for the better. He deserves the support of the public and the media.
Write your MP and ask them to support Chong’s motion. If it’s a free vote it just might pass. And while you are at it, why don’t you write Michel Chong and let him know that you appreciate his efforts to try to reform Question Period. Email him at ChongM@parl.gc.ca
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Good points, Keith, thank you–especially on using SO31s for partisan attack, and the five who can help change the tone, above all the PM…perhaps also the House Leaders? And, yes, Michael Chong deserves large credit and support for his initiative.