What I can’t understand is, if Peter Van Loan is going to take 29 questions — if it doesn’t matter which Liberal asks which question on which topic with whatever amount of preparation, cleverness, acuity, indignation, majesty, mockery, name it — why do the Liberals still even show up for Question Period?

If PVL and Pierre Poilièvre take the vast majority of questions, then the government is performing algebra by implication, and we can express the equation thusly:

(entire Liberal caucus, including dozens of former and aspirant ministers) = (PVL + Pierre Poilièvre)

I’m just a typist, but I don’t know why the Liberals would want to spend months on end reinforcing that equation. I’m pretty sure that if Stephen Harper were the Liberal leader (work with me here) and he saw the government handing almost all of every Question Period for months on end to two boyos from the middle ranks, then after about five days he would realize it wasn’t going to get better; pull almost his entire front bench out of QP; leave Martha Hall Findlay, Denis Coderre and Navdeep Bains behind to do what they could; and seek other venues to make his points. Send the Rhodes scholars and the leader and Ralph Goodale into debates on bills armed with stemwinders, or into committee meetings, or press theatres, or small towns, or op-ed columns or Youtube. Anyplace where they don’t have to compete for Van Loan’s dubious affections.

Today the Liberals demonstrated that each of them is worth 1/29th of PVL’s time.



  1. I don’t agree. Watching the National tonight I would say that three Liberals (Dion, Rae, and Goodale) had some decent prime time coverage with their questions.

  2. Just because the Tories are going to debase an important parliamentary function–and something that puts us above the American system, in that the executive actually has to (theoretically) answer questions–doesn’t mean the Liberals have to sink to their level.

    Every day, serious questions, and every day, serious non-answers. If only the electorate were actually paying attention to the fact that Van Loan is singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of an ancient Westminster right of the opposition to hold the government to account.

  3. What amazes me is that Harper’s ministers collude in this. What is the point of being a Minister of the Crown if all your policy comes from PMO and you don’t even get to represent the Goverment in the House *on your file*?

    Our Parliamentary system is badly broken, and the electorate couldn’t care less.

  4. What amazes me is that no one seems to be seeing the point. The Executive branch DOESN’T need to answer questions – Van Loan and Pollievre are proving that on a daily basis. So to try and point to this aspect of the Parliamentary system as “something that puts us above the American system” is wrong.

    As to the original point – not to beat a dead horse here, but you have to wonder about the leadership of this party. Seriously, a few episodes of “The West Wing” would at least give these guys a clue about strategy.

  5. So, if the Liberals didn’t show up to ask questions – everyone would be on their backs for not showing up.

    All it proves to me is – we’re paying salaries for the PM, cabinet ministers, bobblehead caucus to just sit there like blow-up dolls that clap and nod and move once in while to prove they are alive.

    I say, let’s buy blow up dolls to fill the seats and save lots of money.

  6. Why not ask Herb Gray what he thinks of it?

  7. This seems to be a common experience of all western democracies. The executive branch has figured out that it does not need to respond to elected assemblies, they can address the country at large directly and on their own terms.

    For a while, the mainstream media seemed to take on the role of the our representatives – asking the hard questions, making them answer – but now they can be ignored as well.

    I don’t see the answer to this, and the drift towards a presidential style system seems unstoppable.

  8. Dave’s pulling the old the-Liberals-did-it-in-government-so-there-should-be-no-debate routine. Dave, I haven’t questioned the Tories’ right to respond as they have. The Tories can treat QP any way they like, within the limits of the standing rules and the Speaker’s rulings, and having PVL take every question doesn’t come close to infringing on either. What I did do was wonder when the Liberals will wake up and respond.

    Cheap rote debating tricks that are too common on too many political blogs are actually quite rare on our comment boards so far, and I do hope they won’t start to proliferate.

  9. I am not sure how the liberals can respond to this. How do you force someone to stop ignoring you without making yourself look pretty stupid in the process?

    The only response they have is to bring this government down at the first opportunity. Their reluctance to do so is what has led to this.

  10. Well, no–I mean, technically the government only gets away with it because the Speaker is a wimp. If Milliken (or Parent, before him) actually had some cojones, they could start insisting that the government actually answer questions.

    It’s not perfect, but every time I see videos of Prime Minister’s Questions from Westminster, I feel a little embarrassed for Canada. People actually listen, people try to answer questions, something comes out of it. Even the Senate is better.

  11. No, I’m just wondering why this wasn’t nipped in the bud when it started. I’m sorry, I am cynical about the whole process itself, as it seems you are. Instead of asking about what the Liberals can do, why not examine why they are hamstrung in the first place? It seems to me that the soundbite driven reporting on parliamentary affairs begets this sort of conduct. Why bother being accountable if no one is bothering to hold you to account?

    As Bill mentions above, it is a small part of a larger issue. Power is so absolutely concentrated in the executive branch of Canadian government that the legistlative branch is very limited in what it can do. The fifth estate, however, is only limited by what effort it puts forth. I think we would all be much better off if journalists reported on what politicians do as opposed to what they say.

  12. Perhaps the Liberals should be slightly better students of this prime minister. What we know is that the prime minister publicly defends his ministers while they become a symbol of government extremism/incompetence/etc. but is simultaneously looking for ways to smuggle them out the back door. I think it would be very funny for Mr. Dion to stand up whenever Mr. Harper isn’t in the house, state that the non-answers of Mr. Van Loan and Poilievre are a threat to one of our fundamental democratic practices, then ask when Mr. Harper will sack them both and sit back to watch as they stumble through a non-answer.

    If they make these two farcical enough the PM may start changing the tone of his government at question period. One can only hope they start taking one step towards PMQs but that’s asking way too much.

  13. Bit of a tangent here (more math metaphors!), but I’m pretty sure that that ain’t algebra – just a plain old equation. Just saying.

  14. I’m Sorry I snipped at you, Dave.

    Ross, my authority is that unimpeachable source, the Wikipedia article on elementary algebra. Ahem:

    “In elementary algebra, an ‘expression’ may contain numbers, variables and arithmetical operations. These are usually written (by convention) with ‘higher-power’ terms on the left (see polynomial); a few examples are:

    x + 3,

    y^{2} + 2x – 3,

    z^{7} + a(b + x^{3}) + 42/y – pi.,

    “In more advanced algebra, an expression may also include elementary functions.

    “An ‘equation’ is the claim that two expressions are equal.”

    So the two expressions in my equation are (Liberal MP + all other Liberal MPs) and (two doofuses). My equation is the claim that the two expressions are equal.

  15. Siscoe saith: “The Executive branch DOESN’T need to answer questions – Van Loan and Pollievre are proving that on a daily basis. So to try and point to this aspect of the Parliamentary system as “something that puts us above the American system” is wrong.”

    It’s not obliged to in any written rule. It’s part of Parliamentary tradition that a minister would feel ashamed to show contempt for the House by dodging not one or two but ALL questions. But the declining quality of our MP’s has ensured that a) they feel no shame and b) there is no shame in mocking their collective authority. A potent combination, shamelessness-wise.

    I think Bill Simpson is right about the world’s drift toward telegenic, presidential-style systems. A government rules with the consent of the governed. If the governed evaluate government in terms of American Idol, tout est foutu.

  16. From same article. Ahem:

    “While in arithmetic only numbers and their arithmetical operations (such as +, −, ×, ÷) occur, in algebra one also uses symbols (such as x and y, or a and b) to denote numbers. These are called variables.”

    While an expression in an algebraic equation doesn’t need to have a variable (as you pointed out), if no expressions have variables, then haven’t we just kicked ourselves out of the algebra tent.

    This is absolutely crucial to the point you were making because…. well, cause.

  17. I work in Ottawa. Half an answer is an answer. Double-dog dare. So there.

  18. There are sure a lot of people who simply do not understand the nature of Question Period in Canada’s political system. Remove the CPAC cameras and anyone from the public and then have question period and see what you get because Ic an assure the experience would be unrecognizable. Question period (to MP’s) is about providing the media with some clips for the nightly news and has very little to do with answering questions in fact does anyone remember when Dion asked Harper a question and harper said Okay and Dion kept asking the same question – classic example I doubt anyone asking a question even listens for a real answer in fact we have a classic example right now where Stockwell answers a question and people just keep carrying on – you would think they would at least act like it was really about questions and answers!

  19. Maybe the Liberals should start asking logical, simple questions, that have factual and easily provided answers. It would then embarrass the Conservatives to always have Van Loan answer them.

  20. Actually MarkCh’s point is really important. In a situation where QP has become sound and fury signifying nothing, my proposal amounts to finally admitting it signifies nothing. MarkCh’s is at least as interesting: reduce the amount of sound and fury. Or let the Tories have a monopoly on it.
    The eternal comeback is that less indignation produces fewer clips for the evening news. But the ToryReformAlliance had excellent clips for a decade, and their strongest growth came under Preston Manning, who had the least patience for feigned apoplexy. Joe Clark used to leap half-way across the centre aisle in rage, and he got to be the last Progressive Conservative leader ever to fight an election.
    Really my only point is that changing circumstances provide, not the leaden obligation, but the positive opportunity for changing responses. It’s so obvious Stephane Dion hates Question Period. He’s miserable. Why then does he devote so many scarce resources to such a chore?

  21. Perhaps the Liberals asking the questions, when receiving one of PvP or PP’s garden-variety catalogued responses, should then toddle off to the said unresponsive minister’s riding, either in person, electronic media or view letter/email, and put that question to the MPs electorate – a letter to the editor.
    By talking directly to that MPs constituents and reminding them of their representative’s mannequin participation in the workings of government, perhaps they can draw these shy creatures from their lair. I can just hear that Hinterland Who’s Who flute music playing right now… introducing, MP for Chilliwack-Fraser Valley, Mr. Woodchuck Strahl.

  22. I think the opposition parties should start asking simple questions with simple answers. The current style of monologue with a question tacked on invites an answer tacked on to another monologue.

    I bet the media would welcome the chance to show a clip with a short cogent question followed by a ridiculous answer.

  23. THat would actually make sense. ANd we couldn’t have sense in our house of commons. Why it would be almost… democratic.

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