How to ask a question

Lawrence Martin offers some advice to the new official opposition.

The New Democrats need reform QP by limiting their questions to 50 words instead of 500. In that way the respondent is put on the spot. He or she can’t cherry pick an exit route. Moreover, valuable QP time is saved, allowing opposition members to pose many more queries. It sounds so obvious but so few opposition members get it. They need spend time in a courtroom watching a lawyer pick apart a defendant in rat-a-tat fashion. They need also do what the courtroom lawyer does; keep repeating the question until they get an answer.

The governing members have a huge advantage in QP because they get the last word on every question, which usually means the last putdown. Their bloodied opponents slump back in their chairs. But there is a way for the NDP to alleviate this problem as well. It’s by using the tactic of continuation. The next questioner in their lineup has to be astute enough to discard his or her preset query and pick up, if the occasion warrants it, where the previous interrogator left off. If the issue is important, stay on it until the answer is given.

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