Could the Speaker cut-off a response during Question Period?

An existential query for the House of Commons


Yesterday after Question Period, and after Paul Calandra had taken various questions as excuses to comment on and ask questions of opposition members, Elizabeth May stood on a point of order and suggested that perhaps the Speaker might intervene to rule such responses out of order. Government House leader Peter Van Loan objected and Speaker Andrew Scheer offered that “many speakers have found it not within their jurisdiction to speak to the quality of answers.”

I dare submit a Speaker might try to intervene and that he would have the grounds to do so.

In Britain, Speaker John Bercow has cut-off Prime Minister David Cameron—here he is cutting Mr. Cameron off two years ago and here he is cutting Mr. Cameron off just three weeks ago.

Speaker Bercow might be aided by Standing Order 42 of the British House of Commons (a tip of the hat to Radical Centrist from On Procedure and Politics for pointing this out to me).

The Speaker, or the chair, after having called the attention of the House, or of the committee, to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition either of his own arguments or of the arguments used by other Members in debate, may direct him to discontinue his speech.

It might be handy to have such a standing order here and perhaps MPs should look at adding such a stipulation, but in lieu of such an allowance, the Speaker might simply move to enforce the same standard he is supposed to apply to questions.

As the guide to practice and procedure explains, an MP rising to put a question to the government side should “ask a question that is within the administrative responsibility of the government or of the individual Minister addressed.”

In his response to Ms. May, Speaker Scheer acknowledged that “the Chair’s job is to try to ensure that questions touch on government business.” He has intervened somewhat in recent weeks. And I’m not sure why that same standard couldn’t be applied to responses.

Of course, that’s merely the parliamentary solution. During a Q&A segment on The National the other night, a viewer wondered why there was no redress when questions posed during QP go unanswered. So far as the Speaker is concerned, he shouldn’t be asked to judge whether a question has been properly answered. But that does not mean there is no avenue for redress. In that regard, the public is, or should be, the judge. If the answers provided during QP are insufficient, it is, or could be, for the public to punish and correct.


Could the Speaker cut-off a response during Question Period?

  1. Given the antics in question period, I wouldn’t be adverse to the Speaker cutting folks off when they go off on a tangent. It would make for a quiet question period.
    I would rather have serious questions be answered in as serious a manner as they do in Britain for the most part. It is far too partisan in Canada’s parliament to expect anything other than what we have now.
    I would like to see the Speaker start disallowing clearly partisan or ridiculous questions, and only allowing real questions. And I would like to see honest answers.
    ( won’t hold my breath)
    Enough of the games.

    • And on this, we agree!

      • This speaker’s power has been reduced by this government and his lack of experience. It was a feature day when Speaker Scheer told Mulcair that the HOC was not a venue to questions on the Conservative Party to which Mulcair replied sternly that the PMO is the ‘peoples office’ which does not belong to the Prime Minister or the Conservative Party. Paul Callandra has been criticized for his answers for the PM and some views are he should not be in that position. There is a sense that the Harper government has taken QP to another ‘low level’ which identifies with what the late James Travers said of the Conservative party about taking incivility to its greatest heights in Canadian history.

  2. “If the answers provided during QP are insufficient, it is, or could be, for the public to punish and correct.”

    Four-year election cycles, or letters to the MP or their EDA, or (at “best”) shaming amongst the media, hardly seem a timely response when something immediate is warranted. All the more when the scoundrels fear no threat not wielded by the one holding the pen over their nomination papers.

    • This is vital. For negative reinforcement to be effective, it must be applied immediately upon the bad behavior happening — not several years later during an election period when every other issue is also being judged.

  3. it’s like andrew scheer is too timid for the job or too frightened ….either way, he’s not doing canadian’s any favors

    • Scheer cowardice.

      • This comment needs more upvotes.

        C’mon people.

      • perfectly put Marquis…………….

        • (S)he really hit the Marquis mark…

  4. They should see if they can trade speakers with the next Student parliament, I’m sure that a Grade 12 student couldn’t do any worse

  5. Just don’t ask Justin Trudeau to bring this up. Matters of parliamentary procedure make his head hurt.

    • Or frizzle his lovely curls.

      • Don’t get your hopes up. He’s straight.

  6. Let’s face it the Speaker is really only bound by tradition and should just get a grip. Resisting the impulse to interfere in the conduct of healthy debate is a good idea if the other conditions assumed by tradition are working. If tradition is failing however, he needs to act.

    I would submit that tradition has been left in the dust by the current government and mostly in response by the Opposition. For instance:

    – Routinely the Minister responsible fails to rise on direct questions about his or her portfolio.
    – The government systematically fails to answer even quite innocuous questions
    – Answers rarely include any information but usually include strident partisan attacks
    – Ministers “answer” questions by asking questions about the Opposition that would be out of order if asked by anyone else
    – Answers are deliberately off topic and frequently repetitive

    Opposition behaviour can be addressed too, but it has to start with the government’s behaviour because it’s the government that controls the agenda. For instance, efforts to address speechifying and slanderous questions would have credibility if the Speaker addressed the above, but he seems deaf to the crumbling of the institution around him.

    As a result order, honour and tradition have left the building. All that’s stopping Speaker Scheer from acting is his own failure to fully accept his role as a non-partisan and effective speaker. He can’t stay in 1932 if everyone else has moved on.

  7. Methinks the “speaker” is just a little too green behind the gills to be in the position he is. Not quite yet mature enough.

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