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Six ways to save Question Period

After sitting through the hooting, hollering and heckling that is Question Period for the past six years - and barely being able to hear debate in the process - Michael Chong wants to reform it.

His constituents want it, too, the Ontario Conservative MP says. The dysfunction of the 45-minute daily session is what he hears about more than any other issue.

"I've heard these concerns from Grade 5 students, from boardroom executives. I've heard them from teachers and from truck drivers," he told The Globe.

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"I would say that this is ... consistently the No. 1 complaint and concern I have heard from ordinary Canadians over the last six years."

So he's taken action. Mr. Chong has tabled a motion to reform Question Period. What's more, MPs from all parties were clamouring to second it -he had to turn away several after he quickly got the required 20 signatures.

So here is what he is proposing:

1. Strengthen the use of discipline by the Speaker.

2. Lengthen the amount of time given for questions and answers. Currently, everyone is given 35 seconds, which is not much time to discuss public policy. Mr. Chong thinks a minute or 90 seconds would be more appropriate.

3. Examine the convention that ministers respond to the questions directed at them.

4. Allocate half the questions each day for backbenchers. Currently, MPs who speak in Question Period are pre-selected by the four House leaders who provide the Speaker with a list just before the session starts. Mr. Chong wants the Speaker to be able to recognize MPs from the floor who catch his eye so that more MPs can speak.

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5. Consider a rotational schedule for cabinet ministers so that they don't have to be briefed every day; it takes ministers about three and a half hours to prepare for and attend Question Period. Usually only about eight ministers answer questions on any given day. There are 35 ministers who are sitting on their hands in the Commons. Mr. Chong wants to schedule themed days. For example, the Finance Minister would appear one day and the Foreign Affairs Minister would appear the next, giving MPs a chance to focus on specific issues. "It would do two things," Mr. Chong says. "Consider along with that the lengthening of time given to ask and answer questions, you would get much more in depth questions and much more in depth answers."

6. Once a week assign one 45-minute session for the Prime Minister's question day, similar to what is done in the British Parliament.

Mr. Chong's motion will be debated for two hours, beginning May 27. He expects it to be voted on in June. If the vote passes it will go into the Commons procedure committee, where the reforms will be considered and reported back to the House in six months.

"My sense is that QP is only about scoring points right now and there's in fact a growing divide between Canadians who are turning away from politics and a Parliament that is more and more partisan," he says.

"I think we need to bridge that gap. I think we can do so by reforming Parliament and gaining the respect of Canadians."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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