How to ask a question - Macleans.ca
 

How to ask a question


 

Lawrence Martin offers some advice to the new official opposition.

The New Democrats need reform QP by limiting their questions to 50 words instead of 500. In that way the respondent is put on the spot. He or she can’t cherry pick an exit route. Moreover, valuable QP time is saved, allowing opposition members to pose many more queries. It sounds so obvious but so few opposition members get it. They need spend time in a courtroom watching a lawyer pick apart a defendant in rat-a-tat fashion. They need also do what the courtroom lawyer does; keep repeating the question until they get an answer.

The governing members have a huge advantage in QP because they get the last word on every question, which usually means the last putdown. Their bloodied opponents slump back in their chairs. But there is a way for the NDP to alleviate this problem as well. It’s by using the tactic of continuation. The next questioner in their lineup has to be astute enough to discard his or her preset query and pick up, if the occasion warrants it, where the previous interrogator left off. If the issue is important, stay on it until the answer is given.


 

How to ask a question

  1. You would think this would be basic, but apparently not.

  2. Oh Aaron, have a lovely weekend!

    Don’t even know what to say about this fellow!!

  3. “The New Democrats need reform QP by limiting their questions to 50 words instead of 500. In that way the respondent is put on the spot. It sounds so obvious but so few opposition members get it.”

    Doesn’t sound obvious to me. I agree that some questions can be rather windy but I don’t believe shortening them will make damn bit of difference to answers that are given. Maybe pols could ask better questions and stop worrying about how long they are.

    Is it really the length of questions that allows pols to answer with sophistry or non-answers?  I have seen no evidence that length of question makes pols answer honestly or not. 

    And I agree with Lemire, have a good weekend Wherry and everyone else for that matter.

  4. That is good advice, but it is very unlikely to be followed. Even the lawyers in the Commons appear to forget the purpose of asking a question and fall back on making a speech first, with a question or questions tacked on at the end, if at all.  And there is seldom any follow-up from member to member asking about issues.  Not that any government has ever been prone to volunteer substantive answers in QP.  The British are somewhat more interesting in their Prime Minister’s answer session, but I’m not sure they find it a lot more illuminating.
    As for decorum, Preson Manning tried that and was loudly jeered by the press corps. I doubt they will be any kinder to the NDP if they try it.

  5. Unfortunately, the government members are usually keen on having someone other than the person posed the question rise in response, when they will take the opportunity to talk about something completely unrelated to the question. It’s nuts.

  6. One nice thing would be an agreement in the house to allow the speaker to enforce a couple basic rules:

    – no no-win or leading questions like ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’ from the opposition
    – the government agrees to provide a response that addresses the subject of the question to the speaker’s satisfaction, or will decline to respond. No using the response time to go off on a tangent or totally unrelated topic

    Both of these changes together should be a reasonable compromise for the government and the opposition.

    • I like both of those, and would add that if the minister in charge of the file is in the room at the time, they should be the one to rise unless there is a very compelling reason they couldn’t do so (like a broken leg or something like that)

  7. Sure. Shorten the question.

    The Tories, you can be damn sure, are not going to give up any of the time they are entitled to take by way of “answer”.

    The Class of 93 Reformers tried this in 1994. For about a week. They stopped then for the same reason it’s a dumb idea now.