Wherry on the state of the commons

2011-02-22

in Canada, Politics

Aaron Wherry recently made a provocative claim in a long-form piece for Macleans.ca: The House of Commons is a sham.

It’s worth a look, though it is debatable how important the work happening in the commons room itself is, compared with the work that supports it: committees, studies, etc.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

. February 22, 2011 at 11:10 pm

“But then there is what you see when you linger around the chamber that Harrison and those first parliamentarians passed on to us, and the questions of purpose and meaning that follow. Except for perhaps a dozen MPs and the odd tourist group, the vast room sits empty for almost the entire day. Thousands and thousands of words are spoken to little obvious notice or consequence—the press gallery mostly ignoring the proceedings and almost all votes of any importance destined to break along party lines. Power has coalesced around the offices of party leaders. Decisions are made elsewhere and then imposed on this place, debate seemingly rendered moot. For all its hallowed tradition and sombre ritual, the floor of the House of Commons cannot now be said, except on a purely geographic level, to be at the centre of political life. But for all the modern laments about the emptiness of our politics, here would seem to be the yawning gap at the heart of it all.”

oleh February 23, 2011 at 3:37 am

I read the article. It gave me more insight into the lack of importance of Commons itself.

More disappointing for me was actually watching Question Period in person which I did on a Wednesday in November. As Wednesday is the day of party caucuses the partisanship was expected to be heightened. As on TV I was struck buy the low level of discussion. However, I was even more amazed by the childish behaviour of the other members. There was laughter, derision, inattention and gamesmanship. Hardly the making of serious and considered debate or reflection.

. March 1, 2011 at 10:06 pm

For an Opposition leader, it was too obvious a line of attack to pass up.

“I’m quite surprised and disappointed,” Tim Hudak said last week, when it emerged that Premier Dalton McGuinty would skip Question Period for two of the first three days after a legislative break longer than two months. “I think it shows tremendous disrespect for the families who pay the bills in this place.” With Mr. McGuinty forgoing the first two Question Periods this week as well, that criticism holds up. But the Progressive Conservative Leader might do well to avoid expressing it too vociferously, for the simple reason that it’s in his interest to spend at least as much time away from Queen’s Park himself.

Until his party’s platform launch, which is still months away, Mr. Hudak’s biggest task is to boost his name recognition. And the reality, cruel though it may be for those who toil there, is that the provincial legislature is a terrible venue in which to do so.

Few members of the general public, least of all those still unfamiliar with Mr. Hudak, even know that their cable package allows them to watch provincial Question Period. Journalists who cover it daily do their best to show interest, but rarely get any actual news out of it. Even many political staff hate it, because the time spent preparing for it is disproportionate to its relevance.

Being in the building might still be worth Mr. Hudak’s time if he were able to take full advantage of having representatives of most major media outlets under the same roof. But that would require him to make news that captures province-wide attention – something that won’t happen with any frequency until he starts discussing his platform planks.

In the meantime, being at Queen’s Park might actually be worse than useless. For much of his first year and a half on the job, the Liberals were so busy self-destructing that all Mr. Hudak had to do was stand back and offer pithy sound bites. But they’ve recently begun to get their act together, in part by striking a contrast between their policies and the Tories’ lack thereof.

. April 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm

There has been plenty of talk about civility in the House. Conservative MP Michael Chong even introduced a motion to reform Question Period, saying “If one thing has been made abundantly clear to me as a member of Parliament for the last number of years and to all of us in this House of Commons, it is that ordinary Canadians are disappointed with the level of behaviour in Question Period.” The motion passed but the government fell before a package of reform ideas could be put together.

Maybe in the next Parliament?

Don’t hold your breath. Play-acting outrage and hostility for the public is in the best interest of many politicians. It promotes a simplistic fiction that the world is black and white, that there is no room for compromise and that your politicians are in Ottawa doing battle for you. It tells the public that there is only one way to get things done -by yelling and arguing and banging desks.

It also manufactures a false sense of urgency about what does get done in Parliament -it implies the public is at risk or danger if it does not support the party doing battle on its behalf. It undermines the notion that co-operation and consensus are the best way to go about the (mostly) dull business of governing.

Keeping this fiction alive is costly to Canadians. That’s something voters might want to raise when the federal election campaign circus comes to their town in upcoming weeks.

. December 6, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Cabinet minister Peter Van Loan ended up shouting “F-ck” at New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen because Cullen had the audacity to question the minister’s political strategy.

Van Loan crossed the floor of the House of Commons, which regulations forbid, to take to task New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen by shoving his finger into his face.

Cullen had noticed that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was absent for the vote on his own budget, something that is not allowed under parliamentary rules. So Cullen asked Commons Speaker, Andrew Scheer, to invalidate the vote on the budget.

The absence of Flaherty reflected badly on Van Loan who is responsible for Government strategy in the Commons.

When Van Loan crossed the floor to go after Cullen, microphones were closed, and did not pick up a nasty word Van Loan used (which begins with the letter “f” and ends with the letter “k.”) But silent video cameras were still running and showed Van Loan’s hissy fit in full color and glory.

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