Xtra
3 min

On reforming Question Period

A new poll shows that people are turned off by Question Period (even though they don’t pay attention to it). Fair enough – I would be too if you go by what you see on TV. Indeed, the suggestion has been made that decorum might be improved by taking out the cameras, since most people agree that their arrival was when things went downhill, as it suddenly became a forum for grandstanding and providing 10-second sound bites for the evening news. (Aaron Wherry at Maclean’s deconstructs that argument here.) And then there are those who think that maybe we should scrap it altogether.

The last suggestion I can’t agree with – despite the heckling and catcalls, it is important for there to be a place for the prime minister and cabinet to face the Commons and take tough questions on the issues of the day. But part of the problem is that what is shown on TV is only a piece of the larger picture. It’s more than just the aspect ratio – like seeing a movie in pan-and-scan rather than in widescreen. It’s like watching a performance at the Globe Theatre, but you only get to see a small window on something like YouTube. There is a whole world that goes on during Question Period that isn't shown on television, that you need to be there to see. Most of the media doesn’t bother to show up to see the show, and a lot of them are so tuned out that they take note of the first round and then tune out, or leave.

But the heckling and cross-talk can be more informative than the answers – or non-answers as the case is more often these days. And the fact that it is theatre needs to be understood and acknowledged for what it is. And yes, decorum could be improved, and part of that could be done by lengthening the rounds from 35 seconds to 45 or up to a minute. And restoring the job of picking who gets to ask the questions to the Speaker would probably also help, as good behaviour could be rewarded by being picked to ask questions rather than just going down a list. But it seems to me, as someone who rarely misses Question Period live in the House, that for a bunch of people who don’t experience it in its proper context to pronounce judgment upon it, based on a viewing experience that flattens it into two dimensions, smacks of the same kind of thoughtless and ham-handed tinkering of our political system that is making things worse and not better.

The Defence Committee met yesterday to discuss the purchase of the F-35 fighter jets, which Tony Clement defended by saying that signing on was the only way for our aerospace industry to bid on supply contract jobs for it, and that by committing to the project, at least one company has already received a contract. Err, except that we haven’t actually signed a contract yet. Add to that, the former deputy minister of military procurement says that this whole process has been flawed, and that the government isn’t exactly being truthful about things. This government, less than honest? Never!

Former PMO spokesperson Kory Teneycke has resigned as VP of Sun Media, saying his presence politicized the organization’s plans to become Fox News North. Not that I think that Sun/QMI’s role as official media arm of The Party will cease now that Teneycke is no longer in charge.

Apparently there is now a telemarketing department in the PMO.

Harper vows to scrap the long-gun registry. Then why not make it a government bill? Oh, right – because then the NDP could whip their vote, and it would die on the order paper every time you decide to prorogue Parliament. But this kind of tears away the fig leaf that this Private Member's Bill isn’t actually a government bill dressed as a lamb.

Harper is apparently also going to “consult with Canadians” about the economy. And then do what he wants anyway, because he’s the smartest man in the room (and an economist to boot), don’t you know.

The government is trying to keep certain Tamil refugee claimants from going free by saying that their identity papers could have been forged. But given that you can say that about any country, it’s not proof that they’re not who they say they are. So do they have any further information on these claimants that they’re not telling us? That is the question we should be asking.

Conservative MP Joy Smith says that we should outlaw prostitution in order to stop human trafficking. Because prohibition has always been a successful solution to any problem.

And notices went out that they’re holding photo ops of preparing the two chambers for the fall sitting. But I feel like I’ve seen this movie already…

PS – Yesterday’s post has vanished into the digital ether. We’re trying to recover it…

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