The Chong Plan

Keith Beardsley, a former aide to Stephen Harper, endorses two of Michael Chong’s recommendations for Question Period and explains the absurd degree of attention QP currently commands on Parliament Hill.

Few Canadians realize the amount of preparation involved for those 45 minutes of show time. Generally speaking, across the government, (and on the opposition side) the day starts with staff going through every conceivable news item in the early hours of the morning. Anything impacting on a minister or PMO is flagged and work started on finding out what does the minister need to know about the story and what are the answers required.

Sometime in the morning there will be a briefing session and QP issues will be discussed. Fine tuning of answers will take place and the daily QP briefing book prepared and updated. In total several hours work.

Around lunch time there will be a ministerial practice session with staff and then it’s off to the formal practice session at 1 PM with all other ministers and parliamentary secretaries present. At 2:15 when the Speaker rises and announces Oral Questions, its show time and bedlam is unleashed.




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The Chong Plan

  1. What I'm curious about is, if all this effort is spent in briefing ministers on the answers to the questions they might be receiving, why is it that they never answer anything?

  2. They're not practising how to answer, they're practicing how to avoid saying anything substantive at all while avoiding the questions.

  3. Perhaps it's time to revisit the decision to allow cameras in the chamber. The combination of lots of attention and zero responsibility has turned the whole bunch of them into embarassing cretins.

  4. There was a time, not that long ago, when MPs were not allowed to read notes in the house. When they stood up they had to know what they were talking about. Now they're reading or reciting, sometimes repeatedly, rehearsed texts. I just don't watch anymore. Only the Senate committee proceedings are worth watching, and they could become like the house in the near future. It was noted here in Maclean's that a senator answered a question by reciting an already public and lengthy text.

  5. Not to excuse the government non-answers, but the "rehearsal" happens just as much on the question side as it does on the answer side. Who could forget this exchange?

  6. Not to excuse the government non-answers, but the "rehearsal" happens just as much on the question side as it does on the answer side. Who could forget this exchange?

  7. Not to excuse the government non-answers, but the "rehearsal" happens just as much on the question side as it does on the answer side. Who could forget this exchange?

  8. Perhaps if parliamentarians spent a little more time listening to the questions, and a little less time rehearsing the answers, QP would be less of a circus.

  9. And after all that effort, it's the thing Canadians most hate about politics and govt. Grown adults yelling, swearing, lying, obscuring, and generally acting worse than kindergartners.

    No way to run a country.

  10. Do you know what would be easier?

    1st.
    Ministers would know their files, and if required, would provide the information requested AFTER Question period.

    2nd. Opposition MP's would ask REAL questions, as opposed to snarky preambles followed by ridiculous questions.

    The Speaker of the House would not only have the ability to fine disruptive MP's ($1000 bucks a pop) but to have them punted from the house, and not allowed in again until an apology is offered, ALONG with the fine. All monies collected in this way would go to the charity of choice, of the MP who was insulted.

    Wouldn't that make life easier?

    • A $1000 fine?

      At that rate, John Baird would soon be washing dishes in the parliamentary cafeteria, his salary couldn't possibly cover it and I doubt if he could tuen it down from "11" (for you Spinal Tap fans) fast enough

  11. A practice session? Are you kidding me? Practice what — reading from talking points, hurling insults, …?

  12. The obvious, but hopefully wrong, answer to that would be that the ministers and parliamentary secretaries who respond to the questions are completely incapable of offering appropriate responses off the cuff. So they rehearse stock answers, and come showtime, embed them in a "gut reaction" insult or condescending tone, as appropriate.

    On the other side of the house, questions are culled from editorials and contextualized with pre-written snark. I don't know if said snark is rehearsed (at least among the official opposition) as it's a rare sight to see an opposition member not reading from a pre-prepared text in QP.

  13. Well, OK, not answers, but "answers".

  14. [Hey, the form chopped off the rest of my message, which was...]

    But half the problem is the Opposition's as well. If Opposition members showed even the slightest bit of patience and long-term thinking (as they did, unusually, on the Afghan issue), QP as a tool for accountability would still improve significantly. Why ask ministers about what was in the news that morning? Why not ask basic, boring questions they should be able to answer but won't have prepped?

    Why not ask about what might be in the news next month, or what will never make the news at all? If it's a news day about cuts to farmers, ask a Minister why the Feds aren't buying the navy icebreakers they promised in various elections. If it's a news day about Rahim Jaffer, ask a Minister to explain how the government will measure the success of its crime agenda – with a wink to remind the Minister that her measure of success will be used against her in a year's time, so it had better not be too grand, or too modest.

    Prosecutors don't get far asking, "hey, did you kill the butler?" QP would improve if Opposition members asked unobvious questions about unobvious things and built a case over time. And in the process, the Opposition would make all those rehearsals seem as useless as they actually are.

  15. Question Period has to be viewed as an opportunity to brief the Canadian public rather than "gotcha" time for MP's. With that attitude in mind, the Opposition might generally stick to legitimate questions (rather than accusations) while the government might genuinely attempt to answer them (rather than obfuscations).

  16. I concur. Nonetheless, I have to wonder if the opposition members suffer from some greater form of stage fright and forget their questions, as they more often read from notes than their government counterparts.

    In case everyone hasn't already guessed, I'm a huge advocate of that arcane and ne'er enforced rule requiring members to speak without notes in QP.

  17. Best possible response to a question in QP is "I don't have that info, I'll have a look and happily answer that tomorrow".

    When that actually happens, and people actually return with an answer, a number, a statement of fact or intent, issues usually calm down.

    It used to happen a fair bit, and QP thus accomplished something: Bringing to the attention of the Parliament a matter of import.

  18. Agreed. Part of the problem is definitely the 'when did you stop beating your wife?' questions. Maybe it would be fair to have the answers submitted in the morning for screening on the basis of decorum, whether they are leading questions, etc.

  19. Yeah, you'd think it would be more edifying after rehearsal and everything. I'd hate to see them when they are reacting to something they didn't know was coming …

  20. There's a dozen legitimate targets for reform in Canada's coloring book version of Question Period, and my personal favorite is the absurd idea that anyone can sub in for another Minister, as though the accountability of individual ministers somehow costs extra. The use of John Baird to answer questions for several other ministers simply because he's more of a partisan than the others is, to me, a middle finger directed from the PMO and the House Leader's Office straight at voters and democrats.

  21. On the VERY RARE occasion years ago when I would flip over to CPAC just to see QP, or to linger on CPAC during channel-flipping because it was on replay, I would witness an exchange where an opposition member would ask a reasonable question with a specific data point or two requested. The respondent would rise, THANK THE HONOURABLE MEMBER FOR THE COURTESY OF SHARING THE QUESTION WELL AHEAD OF TIME, and provide, drum roll please, AN ACTUAL ANSWER.

    Wow, I thought. Why don't they do that all the time? That was in my dumb days when I thought the House of Commons had something to do with the operation of the federal government. I have grown wiser. QP is now an important reminder of the sort of jackasses we willingly sent to Ottawa to represent us.

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