Roundup: No more gimmicky rules

In her latest installment of her occasional “Dear Process Nerd” column series, Kady O’Malley takes on the subject of heckling, and offers a sympathetic answer about the frustration of MPs who can’t get a word in edgewise given the way in which debates and QP are structured to all but discourage actual debate. And she’s right – that is a very serious problem that we should address. The problem? The solutions that she offered were not solutions.

As is so often the case with people who are looking to reform the system to improve the obvious deficiencies, the instinct is always to implement some new gimmick, and my learned friend is no different in this regard. In this case, O’Malley notes that we should give MPs more time to meaningfully engage with legislation (go on…) but decides that the answer lies in rejigging the daily schedule for un-structured, open-interaction with things like quizzing specific ministers on subjects or Urgent Questions.

And this is the part where I heave a great sigh, because my learned friend as completely missed the mark.

When you identify a problem, you shouldn’t go looking for a new gimmick to try and counterbalance it – you should go looking for the source of the problem and solve it there. In this case, it’s the way in which we started regulating speaking times in Canada so that when we imposed maximum speaking times, we incentivised MPs to use up that whole time. That meant speeches that went up to 40 minutes, then twenty, and the ten minutes allotted for questions and comments wound up being just as rote and scripted more often than not because MPs no longer know how to debate. So why not just tackle that problem instead? Restore the old rules – abolish speaking times and speaking lists, have the Speaker gauge how long MPs should have to speak to a bill or motion based on the number of MPs who want to speak to it, and allow for interruptions for questions in a free-flowing manner, and above all, ban scripts so that MPs will be engaged in the subject matter, talking for probably eight to ten minutes, ensure that there is free-flowing debate throughout, and most of all, it eliminates the impetus to read speeches into the record. Just tacking on new rules and gimmicks has made the situation worse over the years. Strip that away. Get us back to the fundamentals. That will help bring about actual change.

Good reads:

  • At the UN General Assembly, Justin Trudeau spoke mostly about reconciliation with Indigenous people to show that Canada is getting its house in order.
  • Missing from Trudeau’s speech was anything about peacekeeping, trade, refugees, the Rohingya, North Korea, or the like. More from Terry Glavin on that here.
  • Andrew Scheer had to call up Catherine McKenna to apologise personally for the whole Gerry Ritz/”Climate Barbie” incident.
  • While the line on these tax changes is that it disadvantages those using the techniques to fund parental leaves, those benefits are already available.
  • John Manley says that the tax changes have prompted one wealthy businessman to abandon Canada. I’m…going to need some verification on that story.
  • The Privacy Commissioner released his annual report, and highlighted problems with MyDemocracy and problems with information sharing at the border.
  • The Royal Canadian Navy has given a new firm deadline of November 17th for warship designs. And they mean it this time. Really!
  • Commissioners from the MMIW Inquiry talked about some of their logistical challenges in getting adequate staff and computers from PCO.
  • Canada is sending bomb disposal experts to Iraq to train local security forces.
  • CBC got a copy of the IBM contract for the Phoenix pay system, but it’s been amended so many times they have no way to know the original scope of it.
  • The government has hired a head-hunter firm to help fill the vacant officer of parliament positions like the Official Languages Commissioner.
  • That issue where the legislation on making the PBO independent now has him making requests of ministers? Turns out that’s a good thing for accountability.
  • Paul Martin says that while his decision on not joining ballistic missile defence was right for the time, the situation may have changed enough now to reconsider.
  • John Geddes takes note of the other part of Trudeau’s UN speech, which was a challenge to Indigenous leaders in reforming their own governments.
  • Paul Wells has a cracker of a column that explores why Andrew Scheer’s job is no fun, and why his nascent leadership is already an omnishambles.

Odds and ends:

His Excellency David Johnston pens a farewell column for Maclean’s.

NWT Senator Nick Sibbeston will be retiring in November, a year before his mandatory date. Chalk up one more vacancy to be filled.