Let's save Question Period - Macleans.ca

Let’s save Question Period


Here, again, is Frances Ryan’s look at Question Period reform. Here is the longer essay from which that article is derived. Lots in there, but the discussed changes are essentially as follows:

1. Extend the amount of time allotted to each question and answer.
2. Switch to a “roster” system, whereby the Prime Minister is available once a week, with separate ministers assigned to each day.
3. Limit the ability of party whips to determine who gets to ask questions and the use of supplementary questions.
4. Broaden the ability of government backbenchers to ask actual questions of minister.

Some of this mirrors what our Paul Wells proposed in June. Some of it refers directly to what Conservative MP Michael Chong argued in a previous issue of the CPR.

Now then, here, as an amalgam of all that plus a suggestion of my own, is what I think I’d do.

1. Keep QP to 45 minutes, but move it to 11am each day.
2. Allow a minute for each question and each answer.
3. Adopt the “roster” system. The Prime Minister will be made available each Wednesday. Each other day will be assigned a minister or set of ministers—divided such as national finance, social issues, industry and infrastructure, and international affairs.
4. Eliminate Members’ Statements entirely. Or at least move them to a different time of day. MPs have so many other outlets these days that surely they don’t need those 15 minutes each afternoon. If they insist, put the allotted time somewhere else. It has become a convenient and easily abused extension of QP. It needn’t be.

Whether party whips or the Speaker should decide the order of speakers seems not to matter terribly much. If anything, I’d suggest it’s better to leave the members in the House in control of said House. As for the role of government backbenchers, that would seem to have everything to do with the philosophy and attitude of the governing party and beyond the realm of legislated change.


Let’s save Question Period

  1. Perhaps, it would help though if the media would recognize their part in the debacle. It is the constant drive for pivotal moments and CEOs (career ending opportunities) that motivated politicians to clamp down on the possibility of an unscripted Question Period in the first place. And it's not as if it needs to be covered. We could just ignore it and not hurt the quality of life or government even a tiny bit.

    • Yeah, the media really is out of control. Like the time it revealed that Harper had plagiarized his pro-Iraq invasion speech from John Howard.

      Oh, wait…it didn't.

    • Understand that the people who are attracted to political journalism would rather be sports writers, except that all the good gigs are taken. There are few members of the national media who actually care enough about issues or public policy and how peoples lives may be affected. It's more fun (and less taxing) to dissect poll results.

      Strangely, one of the very few exceptions to this is our friend Andrew Coyne but, as luck would have it, he ends up on the wrong side of just about every issue. At least he cares.

    • The media are not in the altruism business. They feed a free market of consumers. In the same way we get the government we deserve, we get the media we deserve.

      "When you point your finger, one is pointing away from you while the other 3 point back at you

  2. I like points 1,2 and 4 from Ryan's list.

    Do our suggestions have to be legal? I would ban all consultants and special advisers from talking to a pol ever again. That way there were would be less inane questions and behaviour and pols might start behaving normally instead of the excitable way they behave now.

    • I would ban all consultants and special advisers from talking to a pol ever again. That way there were would be less inane questions and behaviour and pols might start behaving normally instead of the excitable way they behave now.

      You have much more faith in politicians than I do. With the actions/apparent intellect (or lack thereof) of some MPs, I would expect waaaay more inane questions and behavior.

      Q: Mr. Speaker, can the Prime Minister explain why he's such a doody head?
      R: Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the member opposite that I'm rubber while they are glue…

      Sadly as I read my lame attempt at a joke, I realize that QP is not far off that now as it is. Maybe you have a point…

  3. How about the gov't sets up a website where it takes your SIN, Name, and Date of Birth, and then allows you to choose any one MP. That choice remains until you log back in to change it.
    If at any point any MP becomes the choice of over 50% of Canadians, that MP is immediately recalled and the riding requires a by-election.

    More importantly, the number of votes against the MPs are available for the public to see.

    • My guess is that the first MP recalled would be Skippy Poilievre. Please, let it be so.

  4. Does no one believe in the power of electric shocks to curb undesirable behaviour?

    • Are they taking applications? Where do I apply?

      • You have to have your own cattle prod.

    • RCMP.

  5. all you have to do is get rid of the cameras – presto like a magic wand waved over the HOC all would be warm and fuzzy after all everyone can read the hansard

  6. Personally I like QP just the way it is. It's a time for opposition to hold the gov accountable. By removing the PM from the House so often he won't be accountable.

    • Excellent. The government and Evalina are both delighted that QP is the opposition's best chance to hold the government accountable.

  7. I'd like to see the practice of asking the exact same question in each of our two offical languages banned.

    Yeah, I realize it is done to provide footage for TV newscasts. I just think it is usually a waste of time.

  8. Ya, that's working swell so far.

  9. The common excuse for non-answers by Cons is "that's why it's called Question Period" ha, ha, ha . Well then, perhaps it should be changed to Question and Answer period so the kiddies really understand.

    • To be fair, knowing what's actually going on in your department does appear to be a pretty hefty benchmark for this crew…

  10. Like in a court of law, all questions should be answered as if MP is under oath. No answering a question, with a question! I like the Aussie Parliament where MPs can be put into the penelty box (ie barred for a month from participating in QP) for bad behaviour!

  11. Where's the recommendation that suggests the Speaker actually do his job?

    • We need a Speaker with teeth. The current Speaker is a good guy, but he's either unwilling or unable to keep the kids in line.

  12. No matter what changes are made in the interests of introducing proper decorum in QP, there will always be those individuals and parties that will try to get around them. When this discussion was held a while back, there was a suggestion to the effect of having a non-partisan person or panel name the worst QP offender each day. I still like that suggestion.

    • Just let a bunch of eight year-olds vote for the meanest bully. Within a month the government front bench would be empty.

  13. This is mildly O/T, but why can't the opposition parties be more steel-fisted in holding the government to account?

    Are there not mechanisms for forcing the resignation of a particular minister, rather than the whole Cabinet? Are there not mechanisms for expelling a Member from the House? Short of an Act of Attainder, I mean.

    In short, if the opposition parties really wanted answers, couldn't they force a given Minister to provide one — or else? Come to think of it, couldn't they change the Speaker so as to actually have the rules applied? Why won't the opposition parties do something?

    (FTR, these are not rhetorical questions. What's the emoticon for pounding on your desk like a zealous Catonian?)

    • Couldn't such a mechanism be misused by opportunists to eliminate their strongest opponents either in government or in opposition?

      • I don't know if such a mechanism exists, but, yes, if it did exist it could definitely be misused in a minority situation.

        • I believe motions of censure are what you are looking for.

      • I don't think an emoticon is that powerful. ;)

  14. Bah! Question Period is meaningless. Predictable partisan questions designed for "gotcha" journalism followed by predictable partisan answers (or non-answers, or even other questions) designed to minimize any possible electoral damage.

    I've said it before, QP is "The Show". All sizzle, no steak. If we really wanted to see government at work, we would televise Committee hearings, all the time.

  15. The beauty of our system is that the federal parliament, if interested in reform, has 10 other parliaments within the nation's borders that it can look to for ideas.

    They moved QP to the morning at QP (Queen's Park), and member's statements take place after QP at QP. Is QP at QP more effective that at PH(Parliament Hill)?

  16. Hi Aaron – Just a note to say I wrote this paper in December of 2008 so my paper actually came before Wells published his article in June, 2009.