NDP launch new bid to improve question period by giving Speaker more power

The New Democrats are seeking to get more out of question period by giving the Speaker the power to make sure Canadians get answers.

OTTAWA — The New Democrats are seeking to get more out of question period by giving the Speaker the power to make sure Canadians get answers.

They introduced a motion Monday that would give the Speaker the ability to decide if question period replies are repetitive or irrelevant, and even penalize MPs accordingly.

“The most important part of Parliament isn’t the question, it’s the answer,” said NDP House leader Peter Julian.

“For the Speaker to not have the ability to intervene on the relevance, or on repetition, of answers to extremely important questions that are being asked in the House of Commons is something that I think most Canadians find aggravating.”

But the majority Conservatives seem to feel the motion goes too far.

Government House leader Peter Van Loan said the proposal would hamper the government’s abilities to defend itself or question the opposition or compare other parties’ approaches.

“You’re saying that question period is only there for the government to lie prone while opposition members jump up and down and beat them,” Van Loan said during debate on the motion.

“Debate should be debate, it should be free-ranging, people should be able to have an exchange of views, not a one-sided exchange.”

The NDP’s motion was in response to repeated non-sequitur answers last week from Paul Calandra, the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, when asked questions about Canada’s military contribution in Iraq.

When the NDP pleaded for the Speaker to intervene, he said he didn’t have the ability to do so, but noted the House could change that.

Calandra later apologized after his non-answers sparked outrage even from his fellow Conservatives.

The motion follows all-party support for a Conservative backbench bill which sought to give individual MPs more power to turf their leaders and give riding organizations the ability to choose who represents them, not party officials at headquarters.

But in order to win that support, Michael Chong, the MP behind the bill, was forced to make its provisions far more flexible — even suggesting that parties could vote at the start of each Parliament as to whether they’d follow the new rules.

Chong’s efforts underscore the challenges facing any one party that wants to make changes to the way Canada is governed: everyone has to agree on how to fix it.

The New Democrats’ motion is expected to come up for a vote on Tuesday.

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