Questions About Question Period

Election Season Installment 3:  Consider the “Question Period”, in which opposition members of Canada’s Parliament routinely have the opportunity to pose questions to the country’s ruling party government.  This is a feature of Canadian politics for which we in America do not have a very precise analog.   In concept the question period seems laudable, with the non-ruling parties being able to hold the government accountable by requiring the Prime Minister and the members of the ruling Cabinet to address questions on pressing issues of the day.

Americans are likely more familiar with the very similar practice in England of the Prime Minister’s Questions sessions in that country’s Parliament, from which the practice in Canada appears to derive.  I think we find it intriguing that the head of the executive branch of government would be held to account in so direct a manner.  In Canada questions and answers must also be directed in an almost stylized fashion to the Speaker of the House of Commons when, in fact, the comments are intended for the other officials sitting across the room.  All of this, of course, lends itself to vivid political theater.

Yet, that tendency toward theatricality may also be its Achilles heel.  Unlike the once-a-week sessions in England which are shorter in length (30 minutes), in Canada the Question Period occurs each day with more time (45 minutes) allotted to it.   You have to wonder how the ruling government gets any work done.  While not universally criticized, there appears to be wide sentiment in Canada that the practice has devolved to the point where it has become as much about scoring political points as dealing with the substance of governing.  It’s difficult for me to judge, though.  If anything, the political culture in the U.S. is defined in countless ways by a seeming overabundance of political posturing and, we would be fortunate, indeed, if all we had to deal with were the theatrics occasioned by something such as the Question Period.

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