Roundup: The Speaker’s clock

The CBC has a video segment released today talking to Commons Speaker Geoff Regan about the countdown clock in the Commons when it comes to things like Question Period, and how he enforces the 35-second rule for questions and answers.

While it’s a nice video explanation, and demonstrates that Regan will allow a few seconds’ grace when necessary, it does go to demonstrate part of what isn’t functioning with the way we’re doing things like Question Period – or even regular debate, for that matter. By enforcing strict clocks, we’ve incentivised a culture of filling that space rather than it being an upper limit. Even in QP, where it’s a simple yes-of-no question, the temptation to fill all 35 seconds with canned talking points usually wins out (though the three-word yes-or-no Mr. Speaker replies do occasionally happen and make my day). Also, the 35 second clock encourages ministers to read replies in order to ensure that they stay within the limit rather than going over – and that tends to lead to a greater reliance on talking points than substantive answers.

As I’ve written about several times, I think this video is a demonstration as to why we need to loosen the clock. I’ve also witnessed in Senate QP where there is no defined clock, where you can get far more substantive questions and answers (though the Senate Speaker does need to reign them in a bit – some senators will speechify during a question, and sometimes the visiting minister will ramble). But loosening the clock and empowering the Speaker to better manage that time – along with a ban on scripts – will go a long way to improving the flow of debate in the Commons, rather than the farce that we have today.

Good reads:

  • Justin Trudeau will make it to the Calgary Stampede after all. Crisis averted!
  • Trudeau will also meet with VP Mike Pence while he’s meeting with US governors.
  • One of the commissioners of the MMIW inquiry stepped down, but the rest of the commission insists they’re still going ahead.
  • Marie-Claude Bibeau is trying to convince her American counterparts not to slash their foreign aid like they’ve threatened to.
  • The Canadian Forces’ first female Judge Advocate General discusses changing attitudes and the military justice review.
  • The planned move of JTF2’s home base from Ottawa to Trenton is apparently stalled after costs tripled. Look surprised, everyone!
  • Maclean’s has a great long-read about illegal border crossings, spending 24 hours at several border communities around the country.
  • One of Omar Khadr’s former fellow Guantanamo detainees, repatriated by the UK, talks about the settlement, apology, and their time at the facility.
  • A lobby group has been asked to stop saying it will organize monthly meetings with Catherine McKenna’s chief of staff for a $10,000 annual fee.
  • The NDP held a leadership debate in Saskatchewan, which was about as edifying as all of their previous debates.
  • Paul Wells writes about Jagmeet Singh’s Quebec problem now that former NDP MPs are going on the record with their discomfort.
  • Kady O’Malley looks at the phenomenon of summertime cabinet shuffle speculation.
  • Susan Delacourt wonders if Trudeau’s international travel isn’t leaving him vulnerable at home.
  • Colby Cosh picks apart the way in which people cling to their positions on Omar Khadr in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
  • My column wonders how much we really believe in the rule of law if our politicians stoke the mob demanding that people’s Charter rights be violated.

Odds and ends:

Here’s a look at MPs’ hospitality expenses (but just promise that you won’t devolve into a bout of cheap outrage).

I was on 570 News yesterday to talk about my Maclean’s op-ed on open nominations.