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The easiest way to make the House of Commons less (or more) relevant

What if we had a place where ministers could make announcements?


 

NDP MP Jean Crowder asked a fairly straightforward question of the government side on Friday.

Mr. Speaker, the minister told the CANSEC defence industry conference that the Conservatives would be reviewing their final fighter jet options in the next few weeks. This is yet another clue that the Conservatives will wait until after the House of Commons rises for the summer before they announce whether or not they will buy the F-35s. This project has been a disaster for long enough.

Will the Conservatives let this House know their plans before running away in June?

Bernard Trottier, the relevant parliamentary secretary, would offer only that a decision would be announced in “due course.”

You could ask the same question of a decision on the Northern Gateway pipeline—due June 17—or the announcement of a new Supreme Court justice (or, for that matter, an explanation of how Supreme Court justices will be chosen in the future).

In a perfect parliamentary world, such things wouldn’t just be announced while the House was sitting, but actually announced in the House.

As it is, the House isn’t really regarded as a place for government announcements. Presumably, I assume, because when a minister speaks in the House you’re not allowed to decorate him or her with colour co-ordinated backdrops and placards bearing the desired three-word phrase for the day. Also, of course, if you announce something in the House, you leave open the possibility that members of the opposition will stand up and ask you questions or convey criticism of what you’ve said or done.

Another comparison with the Mother Parliament is instructive—see herehere and here. The Brits seem, strangely, to have not yet abandoned the idea that the House of Commons should be regarded with some importance. In fact, there seems to be some feeling that the House is due the first announcement.

For awhile there, the Finance Minister presented an economic statement to Parliament each fall—either to the House or the finance committee—but the Conservatives abandoned that after 2008, preferring to speak at chamber of commerce luncheons far away from Ottawa. There is still time set aside each day for “statements by ministers” but mostly it goes unused, except when a minister wants to mark a special commemoration. Only really the spring budget is ever actually announced to the House before being announced somewhere else.

For all the discussion around and about the complicated systems of incentives and powers that weaken our Parliament and the various proposals for fixing matters, here is a very simple thing: ministers making their announcements in the House of Commons. It could be adopted tomorrow. And it could even be pitched as saving taxpayers the expense of placards, backdrops and plane rides for ministers to be photographed around those placards and backdrops.


 

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