Dear Speaker 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 three times and instead repeatedly launched a profanity-laden attack on a member of one of the opposition parties.
When asked to do so, you refused to do anything to ensure Mr. Calandra answered the question.
The next day, you issued a ruling claiming you have no power to ensure government Cabinet ministers and politicians deal with the subjects raised in questions from opposition MPs – you went further to claim that you have 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, you do ensure that all statements in the House, including answers to questions, are truthful and respectful.
I call on you to enforce the additional rule in 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.”
As I am sure you know, this rule is set out in the “Replies to Oral Questions” section of the House of Commons rule book that you cited in your ruling concerning Mr. Calandra’s answers.
It is true, as that section says, that government Cabinet ministers and politicians are not required to provide full answers to oral questions – various forms of non-answers are allowed in part because they may not have the answer at hand. You are therefore not responsible for the quality or content of replies to oral questions in this way. This is for the obvious reason that you, as Speaker, could not enforce a rule that required full answers – you 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. You are clearly responsible for ensuring that replies to oral questions comply with this rule.
As a result, I call on you 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 he was asked (and not provoke disorder with his answers);
- To state publicly that you 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 you 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.
So please, Speaker Scheer, come clean and clean up Question Period by making it clear with a public statement that you should have enforced all the rules that applied to Paul Calandra’s replies last week, and that in the future in all cases you will enforce all the rules that apply to Question Period answers.
Canadians expect and deserve no less from you.