Question Period Live

Just how unproductive is question period?

Your daily dose of political theatre

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.

The must-see moment

Some truth talk, off the bat: I’ve spent years watching question period and, every day, finding a moment worth savouring or another worth mocking. Genuine democratic exchanges do happen; awful embarrassments flourish. There is so much of everything and, taken together, I’m still not sure how to expertly define a productive question period.

Today, I tried to score parliamentarians on their efforts. Three points went to any MP who applauded their political foes. Only Pierre Poilievre, the jobs minister also responsible for the National Capital Commission, earned a three-pointer this afternoon. He expressed excitement at the prospect at working with NDP MP Nycole Turmel—not quite applause, but the closest anyone came, even if Poilievre meant it with a hint of sarcasm. Two points went to any MP who at least avoided a slur at the expense of an opponent’s personal conduct: Don’t get personal, gain two points. Many, including Poilievre, failed at that task.

This afternoon, ninety-five interventions filled the hour-plus that comprises members’ statements and question period. The cumulative scores, adjusted after each statement, question, and answer, clearly identify the rockiest exchanges (spoiler alert: they came during the Liberals’ opening round).

I didn’t dock points from the opposition for opposing, which is their job. I did dock points when NDP MP Peggy Nash said the government “has never taken the auto sector seriously,” which is an opinion, and maybe a fair one, but possibly not helpful in pursuit of the dream Parliament where ideas are sacrosanct and potshots are poisonous. It’s a personal attack without a name. I also docked points when any Tory mentioned the apparent pillar of Trudeau doctrine that “budgets balance themselves,” because that talking point is more rhetorical filler than serious defence of government business.

This scoring system has plenty of deficiencies: If avoiding personal attacks is necessary to a productive question period, it’s certainly not sufficient. Politicians find so many other ways to waste their own time. They might talk about policy, but does warning against the other guy’s intention to bankrupt the nation count as thoughtful policy criticism? Does fear-mongering a hypothetical count as policy criticism? Does the government’s continued opposition to a long-defeated Liberal government’s policies count as relevant information? Maybe there’s no simple answer to those questions.

Also, a scorecard that judges productivity primarily on the frequency of personal attacks doesn’t punish glaring mistruths, or vacant talking points that neither attack nor inform. A better scoring system adjusts for that nonsense. Stay tuned tomorrow for my revised, second attempt at a #QP productivity scorecard.

The recap

The context

I stare at #QP, question period’s hashtag, for an hour a day. The tweets are a real downer. Everybody bemoans partisanship, demands targeted questions and relevant answers. They hate heckling. They love calm voices. Were the #QP critics to get their way, nobody in the House of Commons would argue about anything. They’d all debate proposals on their merits, treat each other as people whose brains are useful to a common cause, and express passionately the productiveness of their collective efforts at responsible governance. In short: #QP’s haters want to take the fun out of everything.

But let’s play along. Let’s score MPs on their individual and collective efforts to engage in something constructive for an hour, and test the accuracy of all that fuss on #QP. Let’s measure, empirically, how awful and negative and personal and unhelpful all those parliamentarians really are during question period.

Here’s a scoring system, devised entirely by me without consulting anybody, that sorts the good guys from the bad guys:

+3 points: An MP applauds the work of another party.
+2 points: An MP asks and/or answers a question without shaming another colleague’s personal conduct.
+1 point: An MP reads a member’s statement before QP that’s unconcerned by another colleague’s personal conduct.
-1 point: An MP reads a member’s statement before QP that attacks another colleague’s personal conduct.
-2 points: An MP asks and/or answers a question that shames another colleague’s personal conduct.
-3 points: An MP suggests another MP intends to hurt Canadians in some way or another

I’ll tally it up afterwards. Check back here for results.