Nothing Wrong With A Prime Minister's Question Period"

It is unfortunate that the Liberals have tried to ram the changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons down everyone’s throats. Change is definitely needed and some of the changes which come out of the work done by Michael Chong have merit.

For instance designating one day as a Prime Minister’s day for Question Period deserves serious consideration.

Unlike the pathetic surprise attempt by the Liberals to stand Trudeau up to take all of the questions last week, an appointed day with a well prepared and well researched opposition would be an entirely different matter.

Having spent over ten years as the political staffer in charge of Question Period (Both in opposition and government) I doubt having the one day set aside for the Prime Minister will hurt accountability.

To begin with, Prime Ministers are rarely in the House on Mondays and Fridays and for good reason; as a lot of MPs use those days as travel days or constituency days. This really narrows the days available to directly question a Prime Minister down to just three days.

Nor should a Prime Minister’s Question Period bring about a reduction in the number of questions that a Prime Minister answers. Taking the above three days, the Leader of the Opposition usually asks three questions in the opening or “Leader’s Round” and occasionally they will ask two additional ones. The next party leader will get two and a potential two more. If you look back over the last decade or two you will see that it is rare that the leaders ask their maximum number of questions each day. That gives the party leaders 5-9 questions daily a week multiplied by three days or a maximum of 27 questions. Yesterday saw a total of 33 opposition questions asked as well as a few planted ones from the Liberals.

Take away the planted questions (which should be done for every day, thereby forcing ministers to make announcements in the House) and if anything the PM will get more questions in the one day than he now gets for the entire week. A well-researched opposition can easily keep a Prime Minister on the hot seat for an entire Question Period.

The unofficial practice of Harper was to take the questions from all party leaders in the opening Leaders Round. After that the questions went to ministers. Recent Liberal Governments did not even stick to that procedure and PM’s sometimes ducked questions from opposition leaders as well.

As for Friday Question Period, please do away with it and spare us the pain of listening to poorly prepared questions and answers being read from prepared notes into the record. One change that no one is suggesting for the Standing Orders but which is most definitely needed is the banning or use of notes and smart phones to read out questions or answers. Treat them as props. If you can’t ask a question or answer one without reading it, you shouldn’t be there. This would also reduce the carefully crafted “10 second clips” that are built in to questions when they are read out.

If the 45 minutes set aside for Friday QP were divided up amongst the other four days that would add roughly 11 minutes of questioning a day. If you have ever been on the government side giving the opposition another 11 minutes or roughly 5 -7 more questions a day would be pure hell. That would also give the PM’s question day up to 38 questions. Holding the PM accountable won’t suffer.

As for the other days, having minister’s accountable and in their seats would work just fine.

We started the practice in the early 2000s of asking every question to the PM even if that question came from a backbencher. We did it because the media bought it and there were plenty of TV clips at night with our MP asking an empty Prime Minister’s chair a question and the cameras then showing a minister answering, leaving the impression to the public that the PM ducked the question.

Work out a mechanism so that the opposition can insist that a specific minister be present when issues explode into the public domain and accountability won’t be hurt. In the end it is a better fit for the opposition as they can go after weak ministers and they don’t have to divide questions up over several ministers as well as the Prime Minister. Instead they can put a minister on the hot seat and keep them there.

While the media won’t get to cover a Prime Minister reciting talk points as answers three times a week, there will be plenty for them to cover when the opposition has an extra 27 questions a week to use on ministers who don’t know their files.

The changes the Liberals are pushing for the Standing Orders do have serious ramifications for the ability of opposition parties to hold the government to account or delay potentially poor legislation. However, don’t be fooled by claims that Question Period will suffer and accountability suffer if there is a designated Prime Minister’s Question Period each week.





A Missed Opportunity

There are times when it is best to put partisanship aside. The ceremony at Vimy Ridge was one of those moments. It is a shame and a little perplexing that Prime Minister Trudeau didn’t extend an invitation to the opposition leaders to join him there.

This was a missed opportunity. Trudeau had a chance to show Canadians that just as young men from all across Canada came together in 1917, so could our politicians put aside their differences if only for a short period of time.

A simple invite to join him on his flight would have offered an opportunity to build good will when the house is divided on needed changes to the Standing Orders and give all of the party leaders an opportunity to talk and get to know each other away from the glare of the cameras and their daily performance in Question Period.

While we were celebrating this historical milestone where the Canadian Corp united to achieve a significant victory in our history, Trudeau missed his opportunity to bring all of the leaders together.

Hiding behind the excuse that they extended an invitation for the parties to send a representative is not good enough. Someone in his office should have known the correct procedure to follow. One has to wonder why there was such a deliberate snub. Was it intentional or just incompetence?



The Mudslinging Begins

I see that the fun and games have begun in earnest as Tory leadership candidates insult each other and toss accusations of cheating around. All of this coming after O’Leary went public and accused someone of rigging the leadership election.

I can’t say that I am surprised that someone has tried to circumvent the rules. I have been involved in too many elections and too many leadership contests to be blind to the fact that this type of behavior goes on. I should add that it would be a rare thing for any party leader or leadership candidate to have any first-hand knowledge of this stuff.

Sadly none of the candidates that have expressed their outrage have also considered the damage that they are doing to the party brand.

O’Leary was not the only candidate whose organization had contacted party headquarters with complaints about what was going on. At various times, Leitch, Alexander and Scheer had also raised concerns, including the possibility that someone was cheating. With that number of complaints there is no doubt the party would have investigated the situation. There was no need for O’Leary’s to go off half-cocked to try to discredit the system. It sounds a bit too much like the claims that millions of illegals voted in the last US election. Unless of course O’Leary had an ulterior motive and we will see how that plays out in the weeks ahead. There was also no need for Bernier to attack O’Leary; mudslinging when it involves your own side is just plain foolish, tarnishes your party’s brand and both sides usually lose in the process and in the public’s eye.

Lisa Raitt’s announcement today that people should be thrown out if caught cheating is another example of what is not needed. While allowing her to get into the limelight, I have to wonder why? If you are above the fray, why jump into the middle of it? You do yourself no favours and I can say with some degree of accuracy that no campaign can give a 100% guarantee that no one in their entire organization has not done anything wrong. Raitt’s comments got her publicity but what happens now if someone comes forward and they can offer some proof of cheating by her organization. Unless you know without a doubt that nothing is going on, you always have to be prepared for these comments to come back and bite you.

The bigger issue remains that these public accusations diminish the Conservative brand. A public fight over cheating simply reminds the media and the public of other recent issues that the party had put behind it. It also allows the Liberals to escape the media focus on illegals crossing the border, the lead up to the budget and issues involving trade and how they will deal with Donald Trump.

All of this over something that the party would have investigated anyways.


A Helping Hand For Those That Really Need It


For those who don’t know the definition of a refugee and for the media types who keep confusing the public with one day referring to people as refugees and the next claimants, etc., the UN definition of a legitimate refugee under the UN 1951 Refugee Convention adopted (in Article 1.A.2) is the following:

"refugee" to apply to any person who:  "owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."

This is the one that Canada recognizes and abides by. Note it does not say you are a refugee because you want to find work in another country. It does not say you are a refugee because you want a better life for yourself or your family, nor does it say you are a refugee if you would like to use our social support network or medical programs.

It is there to help people who meet that UN standard, to encourage us to show compassion to those in real need of safety and our help. Canada has always been very generous in doing so.

Back in the 1980s the wait time to process a refugee claimant was five years, often longer. Legitimate refugee claimants had to wait years so that a backlog that had quite a few phony claimants in it could be processed. This put a huge strain on our support systems and was very unfair to legitimate claimants.

In the mid-1980s, it became obvious that many of the claimants reaching Canada had already passed through a safe country where they could have made a claim and been accepted as a refugee or they had already been accepted by another country, yet they were landing here. That was when the safe third country concept was looked at.

When we look at what is happening along our borders today the questions become:

1. Is this person a first time refugee claimant who has not been processed and accepted in another country, if so, if they are trying to enter Canada from the USA, why have they not applied in the USA which is a safe country? Thinking that you do not like the President or maybe he might want to prevent your travel plans does not make you a refugee, see the above definition.

2. Is it simply someone looking for work or a better life? Sorry we don’t need you at this time, make a legitimate application to immigrate to Canada and stop trying to jump the queue. By making a false claim you are using up our resources that should be available to those fleeing for their lives. Immigrating to Canada or working here is not a right, it is a privledge.

3. If they have been processed and accepted elsewhere as a refugee, why are they here? They already have a safe haven and yes the USA is still a safe haven.

Unfortunately there is a loophole in our law. If you cross at a regular border post, you will be turned back. Cross somewhere else along our long undefended border and you can make a claim for refugee status even if you are a complete phony or if you have already been accepted elsewhere. By doing nothing to control the flow or to change the legislation to treat everyone the same as if they crossed at a legitimate border station, the Liberals are shining a spotlight on a way around our rules. We are seen as a country with weak enforcement and a porous border.

That can offer encouragement to some who already have refugee status elsewhere, but regard Canada as the Promised Land to give it a try and get into our system as well. It also offers the potential to all of those looking for work who now know the loophole they need to use and the way to get here so that they can make a false claim. They know that they will be entered into the system and have a chance to work until their claim is heard. When they are called for their hearing they will have plenty of time to disappear and join the estimated 44,000 people that our border agency can’t find. By doing nothing Goodale will also encourage the predators that prey on those looking for a new life, even if it means crossing illegally and becoming one of the estimated 500,000 undocumented people in our country. These smugglers often charge thousands of dollars for their services and lives are often put at risk when using their services.

So for Minister Goodale who prefers sarcastic comments about legitimate opposition demands for action, your side is screwing up big time, now it is time to fix the problem. Enough of the talk points get to work before the trickle becomes a flood and scarce resources available for legitimate refugees are wasted on false claimants. Canadians have always extended a helping hand to refugees in need; you are putting that generosity at risk the longer you allow people to abuse the system.


Skipping A Debate Isn't The Answer

I see where Kevin O’Leary has decided he is more important than the CPC leadership debates as he has passed up the next debate and decided not to attend it. According to one media report I saw; he will instead hold a competing “fireside chat”. The real question is why?

When you sign on to a process you sign on, you don’t wimp out because the process doesn’t match your preferences or what you see as your strengths. I doubt that there has ever been a leadership candidate who loved the entire process, especially debate formats and that includes many other leadership contests not just this one.

I have read where the penalty for not participating is a $10,000 fine. Shame on him for deciding that paying a $10,000 fine with money raised from his donors was the lesser of the evils to debating his opponents. These opponents will be under the same rules and disadvantages as he would have been if he dared to show up.

The question now becomes why? Was he afraid of a bilingual debate, one that would expose his one glaring weakness? Was he afraid that he was policy weak in areas other than the economy? Was he afraid that he wouldn’t be the “star” and centre of attention with an opportunity to bask in the limelight?

Party members and the voting public will never know because like a petulant child O’Leary has taken his ball and gone home- shame on him.

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