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A worker dusts the Speaker's chair on Sept. 16, 2010, as the House of Commons chamber is prepared for the resumption of Parliament in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
A worker dusts the Speaker's chair on Sept. 16, 2010, as the House of Commons chamber is prepared for the resumption of Parliament in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Parliamentary Decorum

How to fix Question Period Add to ...

With the House returning Monday, there is a quiet movement afoot to reform the way Parliament debates - and acts. The aim, as former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent argues, is to have Question Period be the country's "main public forum of debate" and to do this with passion and civility. The Globe asked former Parliamentarians for their ideas on how to improve the 45-minute daily session that is sometimes described as " Kabuki theatre."

Anne McLellan, former Liberal cabinet minister

THE PROBLEM - Government and opposition leaders spend time trying to think up the zinger that somehow gets them their 30 seconds of fame. That disproportionate impact has, in my opinion, a particularly negative impact on women and those women who we want to stand for office or go into politics. They watch Question Period and they are disgusted by what takes place.

THE SOLUTION - Mr. Speaker, I think you've got to be a whole lot more aggressive in terms of policing Question Period. There has to be more consideration given to whether MPs are asking real questions and to whether supplementary questions relate to the initial question.

Jay Hill, former Conservative house leader

THE PROBLEM - Question Period has become the most visible aspect of Parliament. Since 1997, television cameras have captured each 45-minute session with many news networks even occasionally broadcasting part of the proceedings live. This has undoubtedly changed the way Members of Parliament handle themselves while in the House.

THE SOLUTION - First, the House of Commons will need a tough disciplinarian for a Speaker. Second, the Speaker will need to have the support of all four House leaders, whips, and party leaders, with all parties committed to enforcing change. And finally the media will have to play a role in this as well. Instead of turning those who are thrown out of the House into some sort of folk heroes, they should be castigated as being immature and given a black mark on their career.

John Godfrey, former Liberal cabinet minister

THE PROBLEM - The problem with Question Period is that the tone is always set by government and if there's not respect for the whole process, it's reflected in Question Period and in committees and everything else that happens. So the government itself has to be responsive to serious questions.

THE SOLUTION - It is not possible to overcome the ill will of the government toward parliament and its institutions through some kind of reform and there are different ways of running minority governments. Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin ran it in a completely different way than the current government because he wanted to make it work and he wanted to stay in power and that is what makes all the difference.

Ed Broadbent, former leader of the New Democratic Party

THE PROBLEM - The real problem with the relevance of the House of Commons is that most Canadians don't see themselves reflected there. Mr. Harper's party obtained hundreds of thousands of votes in our three largest cities: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. He has not a single seat in the House of Commons from the cities. Where is the voice of urban Canada in the heart of the government? The Green Party got almost a million votes, no seat whatsoever. So do those Canadians who voted that way see themselves?

THE SOLUTION - If you look at the experience in continental Europe, the parties do co-operate more, there is more civility, because they know that there is not going to be something called a majority government, nor is there likely to be in the rest of this century. They know they are going to have to collaborate more, negotiations aren't a bad thing, and after elections they sometimes take weeks to put together a government. But there are either coalitions or signed agreements and people get more civility and more stability.

 

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