Roundup: Not a real QP fix

Earlier in the week, the NDP put a motion on the Order Paper that they plan to use for a future Supply Day. The text of it, presented in the NDP House Leader Murray Rankin’s name reads as thus:

May 9, 2017 — Mr. Rankin (Victoria) — That Standing Order 11(2) be replaced with the following: “The Speaker or the Chair of Committees of the Whole, after having called the attention of the House, or of the Committee, to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance, or repetition, including during responses to oral questions, may direct the Member to discontinue his or her intervention, and if then the Member still continues to speak, the Speaker shall name the Member or, if in Committee of the Whole, the Chair shall report the Member to the House.”

As Kady O’Malley points out, this would actually be a binding Supply Day motion, as it involves the Commons moving changes to its own rules, and the effect of which is to give the Speaker much more power to police answers given by enhancing the orders around irrelevant or repetitive answers. And on paper, it sounds great. I’m just not sure that this will work in practice.

For starters, this is attacking a mere fraction of the actual problem that we face in the House of Commons. It’s not just the answers that are lacking – it’s the questions (which are as repetitive and irrelevant as the answers), and in many cases, they’re not actually questions, but meandering speeches disguised as rhetorical questions, or non sequitur accusations for which there can be no answer. Empowering the Speaker alone will not solve the problem – the whole ecosystem in the House of Commons needs to change, which means banning scripts, loosening up the clock, and doing away with the established speaking lists. The rigid structure and scripted nature is now all about creating a buffet of media clips, and simply empowering the Speaker to compel answers by means of naming and shaming is not going to fix the underlying problems.

The second problem is that this is something that can very quickly be abused. In fact, you can guarantee that if this were implemented that the very first series of questions that the Opposition would ask would be a trap for the Prime Minister – as much of a trap as their constant questions on Wednesday about the Ethics Commissioner investigation were. That Trudeau refused to step into said trap was a political calculation that has endeared nobody in the whole sordid affair, and everyone came off looking petty. Compelling the PM to walk into traps on a daily basis will quickly become a major problem.

A third major concern is that enforcement of this rule change is going to cause all manner of problems if the opposition doesn’t see the Speaker enforcing this to their liking. Accusations of favouritism or partisanship will soon flow, and there will be tears and recriminations. Nobody will win. So while I appreciate the sentiment of this motion, and would agree with it to a very limited degree, until we get the bigger and more important changes, this simply becomes a bigger problem than the one they’re trying to solve.

Good reads:

  • After touring more flood zones, Justin Trudeau says that we must “rebuild better” because climate change will mean more events like this.
  • The US Trade Representative has been confirmed by their Senate, while Donald Trump has changed is talk of NAFTA “tweaks” to “massive” changes.
  • Chrystia Freeland met with her Russian and American counterparts at the Arctic Council meeting, and is talking a lot about the Paris Accord on climate change.
  • Jody Wilson-Raybould says mandatory roadside breath testing won’t violate the Charter. I’m not sure that legal opinion is widely shared.
  • An internal government report conducted by KPMG warns that the Infrastructure Bank could face resistance to tolls, and could actually slow some projects.
  • Amarjeet Sohi talks to Paul Wells to convince him of the Bank’s value and dispute some of the fears being spread about it.
  • Jane Philpott has signalled that she will accept some of the Senate amendments to the safe injection sites bill.
  • DND has been trying to bury reports around the 17 missed missile targets in the Iraq mission that might have resulted in civilian casualties.
  • A strategic paper prepared by defence officials calls for an exit strategy to be in place before a peacekeeping mission is undertaken.
  • A senior advisor from the Privy Council Office will head CSIS.
  • Senator Grant Mitchell (the government “liaison”) has signalled that he’ll use time allocation to get the trans bill through before summer.
  • The Conservative leadership campaign is turning into infighting over social media memes. Because of course it is.
  • Andrew Scheer pitches that he’s free of much of the Harper-era baggage as he served as Speaker during the majority years.
  • Scheer, incidentally, didn’t attend the March for Life rally on the Hill yesterday with Trost and Lemieux, but did send a statement that attacked Trudeau.
  • Stephen Harper will skip the Conservative convention where the new party leader is announced.
  • This week’s Ask Kady Anything looks primarily at minority governments, given the BC election results.

Odds and ends:

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau will be on the lawn of Parliament Hill today as part of a Parks Canada “learn to camp” event to drum up interest in the barbaric practice.