View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Reforming Question Periord – October 19, 2012

CFN – Anyone watching Question Period the last few days would be excused if they simply turned it off and walked away in disgust.

Basically the kids in the chamber are back to their old games- insults, evasive answers and slap downs. True it can get partisan blood going, but partisans are already committed to their own side’s position. I doubt too many in the public are getting much out of the daily slug fest.

With three years to the next fixed date election, do we really need to hear ad nauseum that the NDP wanted a carbon tax? Good grief, they have even built that response into most of the Prime Minister’s answers.

The NDP are becoming a bit more focused and organized, always a good thing in a democracy as their role is to hold the elected government to account and offer an alternative. However, Thomas Mulcair does need to spend some time taping and then reviewing his performance each day. He can be a great questioner, but doesn’t come across as such. Has anyone else noticed that when he uses the mini-podium, he constantly looks down, reads his script and he doesn’t look up at the camera? Looking and behaving like a potential prime minister is a good thing, but he needs some work on his presentation.

Why all the questions asking Gerry Ritz, the Minister of Agriculture, to resign? It’s a complete waste of time because the opposition have yet to prove that he did anything wrong. Nor have they been able to prove that based on information provided by the department to him, that he was personally slow to act on the XL meat file. It is always about when did you know and what did you know and when did you act? So far the opposition parties haven’t connected the dots and they are a long way from getting to Ritz.

Speaker Andrew Sheer is finally cracking the whip a bit, long overdue but certainly welcome. Perhaps it’s time for Scheer to look at the answers the government side is giving to specific questions. Perhaps it’s time for the Speaker to stand and cut off answers that don’t relate to the question. That alone would turn down the temperature in the House.

I do like the NDP tactic of singling out Tory MPs who have been reading the PMO attack lines in their Member’s Statements or SO 31s. By highlighting all the positive items in the Tory MP’s riding that they should have been using their time to comment on, the NDP offers a positive alternative to the PMO tactic. At the same time NDP Research will have some interesting material to provide to NDP candidates to use against Tory MPs when the next election does come around. Hopefully Tory MPs will put their constituents ahead of the daily tirade preferred by PMO.

By the way, what ever happened to Michael Chong’s attempt to reform Question Period? If this past week is an example, those reforms are needed more than ever.  Can you imagine the opposition having a choice as to which minister they got to question or simply one minister on the hot seat for a day? What would this week have been like if the Prime Minister simply turned up on one day and took the bulk of the questions? It would have been a much different Question Period.

If all parties supposedly supported a review of Question Period and consideration of Chong’s proposals, why aren’t they working on them now? Has the government side killed that discussion? If not, then let’s see some proposals that all sides can support.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.


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