Could the Speaker cut-off a response during Question Period? - Macleans.ca

Could the Speaker cut-off a response during Question Period?

An existential query for the House of Commons

by

Yesterday after Question Period, and after Paul Calandra had taken various questions as excuses to comment on and ask questions of opposition members, Elizabeth May stood on a point of order and suggested that perhaps the Speaker might intervene to rule such responses out of order. Government House leader Peter Van Loan objected and Speaker Andrew Scheer offered that “many speakers have found it not within their jurisdiction to speak to the quality of answers.”

I dare submit a Speaker might try to intervene and that he would have the grounds to do so.

In Britain, Speaker John Bercow has cut-off Prime Minister David Cameron—here he is cutting Mr. Cameron off two years ago and here he is cutting Mr. Cameron off just three weeks ago.

Speaker Bercow might be aided by Standing Order 42 of the British House of Commons (a tip of the hat to Radical Centrist from On Procedure and Politics for pointing this out to me).

The Speaker, or the chair, after having called the attention of the House, or of the committee, to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition either of his own arguments or of the arguments used by other Members in debate, may direct him to discontinue his speech.

It might be handy to have such a standing order here and perhaps MPs should look at adding such a stipulation, but in lieu of such an allowance, the Speaker might simply move to enforce the same standard he is supposed to apply to questions.

As the guide to practice and procedure explains, an MP rising to put a question to the government side should “ask a question that is within the administrative responsibility of the government or of the individual Minister addressed.”

In his response to Ms. May, Speaker Scheer acknowledged that “the Chair’s job is to try to ensure that questions touch on government business.” He has intervened somewhat in recent weeks. And I’m not sure why that same standard couldn’t be applied to responses.

Of course, that’s merely the parliamentary solution. During a Q&A segment on The National the other night, a viewer wondered why there was no redress when questions posed during QP go unanswered. So far as the Speaker is concerned, he shouldn’t be asked to judge whether a question has been properly answered. But that does not mean there is no avenue for redress. In that regard, the public is, or should be, the judge. If the answers provided during QP are insufficient, it is, or could be, for the public to punish and correct.