Every day that the House of Commons is in session we have Question Period. At it’s best, it’s a forum where MPs from around the country can ask questions of the government and bring attention to issues that need them. At it’s worst it’s….well…it’s bad; rhetorically torqued questions followed by nonsensical non-answers. The state of Question Period has been a long running issue in Canadian Politics, one that no one has managed to correct yet.
During the last election, the Liberals ran on being better in Question Period, promising to implement something akin to Question Period in the United Kingdom. Their proposal, which basically amounted to Question Period happening less often, but with the PM answering all question, died because the Liberals wanted to do it unilaterally. But in response to that, the PM decided to do something that didn’t require a change in the standing orders of the House of Commons; every Wednesday he would take every single question. So for a couple of years now this has become the routine, although it really hasn’t changed much as the PM basically spends the whole hour giving the same old kind of answers. A shame really.
When it comes to asking questions in Question Period, there are really two lanes an MP can choose; rhetorical and partisan without expecting an actual answer, or ask a sincere question in a respectful way, expecting to get some kind of actual response. Most times the players involved in this scene are able to read the room and understand which is which. In fact, I have actually advised MPs I’ve worked for to go to the person they are going to ask the question of before Question Period starts, so that they won’t be caught off guard and can give a serious answer to that serious question. It’s an approach that I’ve found usually gets good results.
That brings us to today’s Question Period and what took place. New Democrat MP Richard Cannings (South Okanagan-West Kootenay, BC) rose towards the end of the session to ask one of those serious questions (full disclosure: I used to work for Mr. Cannings and enjoyed my time in his office). Last year the BC community of Grand Forks was hit with terrible flooding. To give you an idea what happened, here is video from the flooding last year:
As you can see, this was very severe flooding that did huge damage to this small community, damage that they are still recovering from. The city applied for funding through the Federal Governments Natural Disaster Mitigation Program. They applied for $3 million in funding, which was for projects including a diking project for the east side of downtown, a storm sewer main, and a pump station for storm water. This is a project that would make a lot of sense to fund, especially for a Federal Government that ran on running deficits to build infrastructure projects, including those intended to help with climate change mitigation and adaption. This project seems like it would have come straight out of the application guide, right? Well a couple of weeks ago the City of Grand Forks got some news on their application:
Yep, they got rejected. They didn’t get this funding, funding that seems to have been made specifically for this kind of project. And this is despite the fact that the Federal government has been having trouble getting infrastructure money out the door and spent. So yeah, this warranted a serious question with a serious answer. So what happened in Question Period today? This:
I won’t repeat the words that I used when I saw that happen live because I’m trying to keep this blog PG rated, but seriously, what in the Hell kind of answer was that??? You get asked about rejecting infrastructure funding to help a community devastated by flooding last year and you answer with talking about helping flooded communities this year over 4000 kilometres away on the other side of the country? That loud grumbling you could hear in the background was more than warranted because that was an awful answer. It feels like the PM hear the word “flooding” and flipped into auto-reply mode, except someone put the wrong tap in the Teddy Ruxpin this time. Seriously, what the Hell??? That was just so bad.
That is a seriously bad moment in Question Period history, one that managed to have the Prime Minister of Canada duck, dodge, dive and not answer a serious question about helping a community recover from a natural disaster. I hope for his sake that someone in his staff grabbed him after Question Period, gave him the number of the Mayor of Grand Forks and got him to call and apologize for that spectacle. The PM was seriously off his game today and he should quickly correct this.
Our expectations for Question Period aren’t that high so when this Prime Minister promised to make it better, it really was a very low bar to get over. Yet today, with that answer, he tripped all over the bar and face planted firmly on the track. These past two years of “Wednesdays with Justin” has showed that having the Prime Minister answering all the questions in Question Period is no reform or improvement if all he spouts is the same old stuff as everyone else did. Jean Chrétien once famously said that “It’s Question Period, not Answer Period”; he was right when he said it and that’s still correct today. So maybe for the next attempt at reforming Question Period someone should focus more on the answers and less on the person who is giving them. Or at least that’s just my humble opinion, take it for what you will.