Fixing Question Period
Today, the Public Policy Forum is tackling the issue of Question-Period reform at an all-day conference in Ottawa. I'm moderating the morning panels, which feature speakers such as parliamentary expert Ned Franks, former government house leader Jay Hill, former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan and, significantly, Michael Chong -- the Conservative MP how spearheading a specific effort to fix that daily spectacle in the House of Commons. Yesterday, I wrote about a poll the PPF released in advance of today's event. Not surprisingly, I guess, it shows that people aren't that impressed with Question Period.
I say "not surprisingly" not to discount the poll or the event, but to underline a pointed question, which I hope today's conference addresses. If we all know that Question Period is a revolting display -- and we've known it for quite some time -- why does it keep going on the same way? The PMO, regardless of stripe, is capable of exercising great control over MPs. If this PMO, or previous ones, had been interested in making QP better, it did/does have the clout to do so. Ditto for the leadership of the other parties. Politicians do many seemingly pointless things, but the fact that they devote so many resources to Question Period, as it now dysfunctionally exists, indicates that they find some use for it. Someone must believe that this works; that all that noise and silliness has a purpose. And the fact that most of the panellists today are former parliamentarians, as opposed to current ones, may demonstrate that it's easier to talk about reform when you're not in the midst of the political circus.
I hope today's panellists quickly get past the discussion of how QP is stupid, and on to the thornier subject of why the stupidity persists. For years, decades even, earnest people have pined for better ways to spend those 45 minutes every afternoon while the House is in session. It seems time now to stop diagnosing the problem and start grappling with fixing it. And the first step in that process is to figure out whether all the actors -- government, opposition AND media -- are motivated to do the necessary repairs. I'm still not convinced we're there yet.