They fight, they ridicule, they spew vitriol. They're Canada's politicians!
“Behaviour in Question Period currently is abhorrent,” Conservative MP Michael Chong said before the doors of the Commons back in May, when motion M-517 was still in First Reading. “The level of decorum and behaviour needs to be elevated, and that’s what my motion is all about.”
I couldn’t agree more with his assessment.
But who tunes in to Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC), Canada's only privately-owned, commercial free, not for profit, bilingual licensed television service, to hear the drone of the committee room, or to see the gaunt bodies of the smattering of senators who happened to stumble in on a given Tuesday?
What theatre! How it ignites the people! And on top of all that, it provides the very best political soundbytes for the evening news, as MPs channel their inner twelve-year-olds.
But the fact is Parliament is not supposed to be theatre. Question Period was designed to hold the government accountable and lawmakers should not stoop to the level of schoolchildren.
Yes, Question Period is in dire need of some of the reforms that Mr. Chong proposed back in May.
His main suggestions are common-sense approaches to keeping the “kids” in line. One of his main contentions is that 35 seconds, the time currently allotted per question and answer, is too short to be effective. I would have to agree. Instead of delving into complex issues, parliamentarians often answer their own questions, leaving the interrogated minister no choice but to rise and respond with “liar”, “dishonourable”, or a combination of the two.
To further increase accountability, Chong proposes that Wednesday Question Periods be dedicated exclusively for questions to the Prime Minister, which would force him to defend his government only once a week, as opposed to the traditional four days a week.
But Prime Minister Harper’s attendance hovers around fifty percent, so Wednesdays would, in the reformed Question Period, be the political climax of the week as the government’s top dog tries to dodge the continuous barrage against his policy. And besides, who wouldn’t want to listen to Stephen Harper drone for 45 minutes?
Wait, we have to do that every year anyway with the Harper election schedule. Finally, Mr. Chong calls on the Speaker of the House, Peter Milliken, to rule with a firmer fist when it comes to the jeering, cat-calling, booing, and other theatrics of the House.
Am I the only one laughing when the Honourable Speaker rises from his chair, screaming “order, order” fruitlessly while the members of the House continue to chatter amongst themselves?
All we need now are paper airplanes, spitballs, and notes forged by our nation's leaders asking to be excused for underwater basketweaving tournaments.
But now that motion M-517 is headed to committee, MPs will be able to consider making changes. It would not be wise for any MP to oppose these common-sense approaches to restoring the dignity of the House. The motion’s defeat would lie in the fine print; a rotation amongst Cabinet members, a requirement for half of all questioners to be party backbenchers, among some other tweaks.
But if M-517, actually passes in Third Reading and reforms Parliament’s only watchable segment, count me in as one who will mourn the loss of Question Period's rude, slanderous, undignified glory.
Even though every reasoning cell in my brain knows it is good for our government, good for our country, and good for democracy for Question Period to be toned down, made less personal, and a discussion of issues rather than personalities, I will still be loath to see it go.
Where would the parliamentary “pitbull”, Government House Leader John Baird be without Question Period for him to air his YouTube-sensation-worthy tirades? Where would we be able to hear clever shots at Michael Ignatieff’s second home in Provence, while he is in the midst of attacking Harper’s financial excesses?
In return for better government, losing our political theatre may be a very small price to pay. But the fact is, without it, we may never be treated to this hilarity again.