FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, October 2, 2014
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has launched a Come Clean Speaker Scheer letter-writing campaign calling on the House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to clean up Question Period by enforcing all the rules (See the campaign at: http://ComeClean.ca/scheer)
Last week, Conservative MP Paul Calandra, answering questions in the House of Commons for Prime Minister Harper and other Cabinet ministers, refused to answer a simple question from Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair three times and instead repeatedly launched a profanity-laden attack on a member of the NDP.
When asked to do so, Speaker Scheer refused to do anything to ensure Mr. Calandra answered the question.
The next day, Speaker Scheer issued a ruling claiming he has no power to ensure government Cabinet ministers and politicians deal with the subjects raised in questions from opposition MPs. Speaker Scheer went further to claim that, based on the House of Commons rule book and past Speaker rulings, he has no responsibility for the content of answers to questions asked in Question Period.
However, in fact under the rules in the House of Commons’ rule book, the Speaker does have responsibility for the content of all statements in the House, including answers to questions. The Speaker ensures all statements and answers are truthful and respectful. MPs can’t lie, call someone a liar, heckle or otherwise provoke disorder, and the Speaker enforces all these rules concerning the content of all MPs statements.
There is an additional rule in the “Replies to Oral Questions” subsection of the House of Commons’ rule book that says that answers in Question Period “are to be as brief as possible, to deal with the subject matter raised and to be phrased in language that does not provoke disorder in the House.”
It is true, as that section says, that government Cabinet ministers and politicians are not required to provided full answers to oral questions – various forms of non-answers are allowed in part because they may not have the answer at hand. And that section says that the Speaker is therefore not responsible for the quality or content of replies to oral questions in this way. This is for the obvious reason that the Speaker could not enforce a rule that required full answers – s/he would have to be an instant expert in every area asked about in order to enforce such a rule. That would be impossible.
However, that section contains the other rule that answers must deal with the subject of the question. The Speaker is clearly responsible for ensuring that replies to oral questions comply with this rule concerning the subject, not the content, of replies. A reply can’t ignore the subject matter of a question, or change the subject – let alone question the questioner about a different subject as Calandra did when replying to Mulcair’s questions.
For no good reason, Speaker Scheer ignored that rule when responding to the Calandra-Mulcair situation. Democracy Watch’s Come Clean Speaker Scheer is calling on Speaker Scheer:
- To state publicly that there is an enforceable rule in the House of Commons rule book that required Paul Calandra to provide an answer that dealt with the subject of the questions Calandra was asked (and not provoke disorder with his answers);
- To state publicly that he could have, and should have, required Paul Calandra to comply with the rule by answering the questions posed to him in a respectful way that addressed the issue raised by the questions, and;
- To state publicly that he will enforce this rule in the future in all cases.
If government Cabinet ministers and politicians are not required to answer questions in Question Period, but instead can use that time to launch attacks on unrelated subjects, a key way of holding the Prime Minister and the government accountable will be lost, and Question Period will continue to be debased and degraded.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch