By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Globe consults academics who suggest party discipline is stricter in Canada than almost anywhere else.
“There may be some exceptions in those African dictatorships that are part of the Commonwealth and so on,” says Leslie Seidle, a research director with the Institute for Research on Public Policy, “but in the advanced parliamentary democracies, there is nowhere that has heavier, tighter party discipline than the Canadian House of Commons. People are kicked out of their party temporarily for what are really very minor matters.”
Richard Simeon, a professor emeritus of political science and law at the University of Toronto and a member of the university’s School of Public Policy and Governance, agrees. “We are worse than the Australians, and much worse than the British, in terms of giving MPs the ability to act and to somehow make a difference,” said Dr. Simeon.
The Globe also notes a recent intervention of the Speaker in New Zealand.
During a recent debate in that country’s legislature, Prime Minister John Key was asked by an opposition leader to explain why he had said the filming of the movie The Hobbit would create 3,000 jobs. When Mr. Key asserted that the film had increased tourism, the opposition leader objected and the Speaker stopped the Prime Minister from going further. “I appreciate the member’s concern,” he said. “He asked a question, but he did not ask for that information.” That’s a far cry from Canada, where responses from the government go unchecked even though they often have little bearing on what was asked.
I suggested something similar a week ago: the Speaker should have the authority to cut off a response that strays off topic. Here, for another example, is the Speaker in Britain both cutting off and admonishing Prime Minister David Cameron during a session of Prime Minister’s Question in June 2011.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 29, 2012 at 12:13 PM - 0 Comments
Speaker John Bercow reviews the history and present circumstance of Prime Minister’s Questions.
All of which leaves us with the PMQs seen in the last Parliament. We reached the point where almost nothing was deemed beyond the personal responsibility of the Prime Minister of the day, where the party leaders were responsible for a third of all the questions asked (and often more like 50 to 60% of the total time consumed) all set against a background of noise which makes the vuvuzela trumpets of the South African World Cup appear but distant whispers by comparison. If it is scrutiny at all, then it is scrutiny by screetch which is a very strange concept to my mind. The academic analysis does not make for enjoyable reading either. A survey by the Regulatory Policy Institute of all PMQs posed in 2009 concluded that the Prime Minister had answered only 56 per cent of all questions asked of him. If it seems harsh to cite Gordon Brown in this fashion then it should be observed that the same survey determined that only 56 per cent of the questions asked of him were actually genuine questions in the first place. What the detailed exercise revealed, depressingly, was that PMQs had become a litany of attacks, soundbites and planted questions from across the spectrum. It was emphatically not an act of scrutiny conducted in a civilised manner. And this is what the House of Commons has allowed to be placed in what I repeat is the shop window.
This assessment would seem to undermine the argument that the situation in Britain is vastly superior to our Question Period. I do think we would benefit from borrowing some of their approach—in line with Michael Chong’s proposed reforms—but we needn’t shame ourselves with the idea that what beleaguers QP is somehow entirely unique to our politics. I’d also like to see something like Speaker Bercow’s approach to intervention: consider his willingness to cut off the Prime Minister during a semi-famous session last June. Something that came up several times during the spring sitting was the “Thank you for asking about X, but I’d like to talk about about Y” approach to responding to questions. I’m not sure why that’s permitted. Ministers and government representatives aren’t obligated to answer the question that has been asked, but I’m not sure why, in not answering questions, members of the government should be allowed to use up the time set aside for questions of the government by pursuing their own points of debate.
(I would point here to the four principles of QP set out by Speaker Bosley in 1986: Time is scarce and should, therefore, be used as profitably as possible by as many as possible; The public in large numbers do watch, and the House, recognizing that Question Period is often an intense time, should be on its best possible behaviour; While there may be other purposes and ambitions involved in Question Period, its primary purpose must be the seeking of information from the government and calling the government to account for its actions; and Members should be given the greatest possible freedom in the putting of questions that is consistent with the other principles. And the five options for ministers in responding set out by Speaker Jerome in 1975: answer the question; defer their answer; take the question as notice; make a short explanation as to why they cannot furnish an answer at that time; or say nothing.)
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 30, 2012 at 12:38 PM - 0 Comments
David Cameron is to be required to make an urgent Commons statement about the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, a development that will infuriate No 10 and strengthen its suspicion of the Speaker, John Bercow. David Cameron will cut short an election tour to make the Commons statement on Monday afternoon, amid pressure on Hunt over his handling of News Corp’s bid to take full control of BSkyB.
So Mr. Cameron is made to go to the House of Commons and spends 50 minutes explaining himself, taking questions from 42 backbenchers in the process.
Our Mr. Harper doesn’t generally come to the House on Mondays. If he attends Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, he might face somewhere between 18 and 24 questions per week in total from the NDP and Liberal leaders.
During a regular session of Prime Minister’s Questions last year, Speaker Bercow twice cut off Mr. Cameron when he felt the Prime Minister’s answers had gone on long enough.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 11, 2010 at 2:23 PM - 21 Comments
Via the Globe’s Doug Saunders and Broken Social Scene’s Julie Penner, news that the new Speaker in the British House of Commons is vowing to shorten that Parliament’s summer break. Seems British MPs sat for “just” (JUST!) 143 days last year. Seems Mr. Speaker believes a greater demonstration of accountability is necessary.
He confirmed plans for the Commons to cut short its three-month summer recess by sitting in September. He said it was “extraordinary” to suggest that the annual party conferences should take priority over Parliament. “The public want visible proof that we are doing our main job, which is to work in Parliament,” he said.