Irwin Cotler, in praise of a parliamentarian

And in praise of order paper questions

As celebrated last night, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler has been voted Parliamentarian of the Year by his colleagues.

My brief summation of his contribution to this place is here. And Martin Patriquin’s profile of Cotler from 2012 is here.

We also asked Cotler to tell us about what Parliament and being a parliamentarian means to him.

In that piece, I make reference to a 79-part, 1,785-word order paper question that Cotler filed this spring. Order-paper questions are a generally under-appreciated aspect of House business and MP privilege; MPs have the right to file written questions with the government, to which the government is bound to respond with 45 days. Cotler has won some acclaim for his filing of such questions.

But, since filing my piece, I’ve learned that that particular ode to accountability is bested by Question No. 333, also filed by Cotler this spring. That question, “with regard to the government’s consultations about prostitution-related offences,” includes, by my count, 147 related questions and runs 2,247 words. Distinguishing between the separate questions required going through the alphabet nearly five times. (For the sake of comparison, here are the outstanding order paper questions that are currently awaiting responses.)

You might quibble around the edges—maybe Cotler and his office could have, say, cut that down to a mere 120 questions and kept it under 2,000 words—but it still might be worth framing the text of Question No. 333 and hanging it in the House lobby as a reminder of what the precious right and profound responsibility of the office of MP are supposed to be used for: questioning and testing and holding the government to account, pursuing to the greatest extent an understanding of how the government is conducting and directing the affairs of state. That is what an MP is for.

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