Wednesday, March 23, 2016

REFORMING QUESTION PERIOD

I was reminded yesterday, by a politician, that the daily opportunity for opposition parties to question the premier and ministers is called Question Period for a reason. 

Direct, candid answers are rare. In an ideal world Question Period would serve it's role of holding the government accountable. 

Instead the government deflects, ignores, waxes polemic and ignores questions.  It really is question period - not answer period. A gladiatorial exercise in majority domination.  

Is it the government's role to give a non-answer and frustrate the opposition. To try and turn a question into an opportunity to brag about a government accomplishment or point out an opposition shortcomings. 

Has question period just become a fairly scripted, routine  dog and pony show that accomplishes very little except provide politicians with a little screen time on the evening news! Has it lost its sense of purpose? 

I think the opportunity for a period of time each day for the government to be held accountable without the aid of a public relations professional is laudable. 

Question Period is a fundamental exercise in democracy. The opposition has a responsibility to seek information from the government and to hold it accountable on its policies and administration of public affairs.

The real challenge facing our legislators is to find a way to unlock the potential of Question Period. To think outside the box of how it has always been done and seek improvements.

We could start by extending the period of time dedicated to oral questions, or adding another QP to the daily proceedings. 

Perhaps the rules could be changed to allow for longer questions and answers. Let's face it the time allotted for an intelligent  question and serious answer is too short.

The Speaker has to reign in the decorum by discouraging bantering, insults, clapping and pounding on desks. The ruckus does nothing for the reputation of our democratic institution. It is the House of Assembly not a colosseum! 

The focus should be on the question and the answers - not running down the clock or partisan theatrics. These changes would reduce arrogance and grandstanding. 

Perhaps, we could borrow a page from Westminster where the leader of the government answers answers a full round of questions once or twice a week.

Question Period is fundamental to the governance of our province and the functioning  of democracy. 

It is essential that the opposition is allowed to hold the executive to account. We just need to improve it to ensure it becomes a question and answer period.

I'll pay some attention another parliamentary avenue open to the opposition for eliciting answers - placing questions on the Order Paper - in a future post.


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