NDP make bid to boost Speaker's power to intervene during QP

The Commons Speaker's traditionally laissez-faire policy on policing the political back-and-forth during the daily question period could be replaced with a markedly more hands-on approach, if the NDP gets its way. Kady O'Malley has the details.

'Canadians want question period to include answers,' NDP House Leader Peter Julian tells CBC News

Under a rule change proposed by the NDP, House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer would be given explicit authority to intervene during question period to cut off 'irrelevant' or 'repetitive' replies. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The House of Commons Speaker's traditionally laissez-faire policy on policing the political back-and-forth during the daily question period could soon be replaced with a markedly more hands-on approach. 

The New Democratic Party is preparing to put forward an opposition day motion that would explicitly authorize Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to crack down on irrelevant or repetitious replies.

Under the proposed rule change, Scheer would be empowered to call out ministers or parliamentary secretaries for off-topic replies — like, for instance, those provided by Paul Calandra in response to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's queries on the status of Canada's military operations in Iraq.

He would also be permitted to cut them off if they persist in not answering a particular question, and those who failed to to heed his warning, could find themselves named, shamed and reported to the House.

House flare-up sparked NDP move

The move comes just days after a flare-up in the Commons over Calandra's non-answers to Mulcair led the NDP leader to request that Scheer enforce the 'relevancy' rule, which is already on the books for House debate, but has traditionally not been used in question period.

When Scheer declined to do so, Mulcair questioned his neutrality, which resulted in Scheer cutting off the rest of his questions.

In a brief statement to the House the following day, Scheer reminded MPs that ultimately, it's up to the House of Commons, as a whole, to set the parameters of the speaker's power to intervene. 

It appears that the NDP took him at his word, and is willing to put that question to the House. 

"Canadians want question period to include answers," NDP House Leader Peter Julian told CBC News. 

"The Speaker has told MPs a number of times that he needs an invitation from Parliament to clean up the conduct of QP. We felt it was time to take up that challenge.‎"

Liberal spokeswoman Kate Purchase said that while the party will wait to see if the NDP formally moves the motion, they agree with the principles it espouses. 

"The [Conservative Party] has turned QP into a circus, and Canadians are tuning out," she told CBC News.

The motion is to be debated on Monday.

If passed, it would come into effect immediately.

Tearful Calandra apologizes for non-answer

On Friday, Calandra offered a tearful apology to the House for his behaviour on Tuesday.

"Clearly, I allowed the passion and anger at something I read to get in the way of appropriately answering the question to leader of the opposition," Calandra told the mostly empty Chamber.

"For that, I apologize to you and to this entire House, and to my constituents," he said.

Mulcair told CBC News Friday that he accepted Calandra's apology, but indicated that his party intends to proceed with its proposal to boost the Speaker's powers

"We'll be moving a motion next week that would allow the Speaker far more clearly to move in when answers are not relevant, and are repeat answers that have nothing to do with the topic," he noted.

"I hope that Paul Calandra and all of his colleagues will be voting for that motion."

The full text of the motion:

That Standing Order 11(2) be replaced with the following: The Speaker or the Chair of Committees of the Whole, after having called the attention of the House, or of the Committee, to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance, or repetition, including during responses to oral questions, may direct the Member to discontinue his or her intervention, and if then the Member still continues to speak, the Speaker shall name the Member or, if in Committee of the Whole, the Chair shall report the Member to the House.


Kady O'Malley covered Parliament Hill for CBC News until June, 2015.