On September 16, 2010, the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, in partnership with the Public Policy Forum, hosted a conference to discuss ways of improving the tenor and tone of debate in Canada’s Parliament. Many politicians, pundits, public servants and members of the public have lamented the somewhat dysfunctional nature of debate in Parliament, with critical commentary especially directed to the committee system and question period. This conference explored these two issues through panel discussion; as well as a luncheon conversation featuring the Hon. Ed Broadbent. The focus was on making Parliament – especially minority parliaments – more functional and hence more relevant for Canadians. Panelists included the Hon. Michael Chong, M.P., the Hon. Jay Hill, M.P., Francine Lalonde, M.P., the Hon. John Godfrey, the Hon. Anne McLellan, the Hon. Monte Solberg and Queens Professor Emeritus C.E.S. Franks.
Leading up to the conference, the Public Policy Forum and Pollara conducted a poll on Canadians' attitudes to Parliament and Question Period. Based on the results of the conference, a list of the top 10 ideas to improve Question Period and the work of Parliamentary committees was produced.
1. Give the Speaker, as presiding officer, the authority to decide who gets to ask questions during Question Period
2. The Speaker must have (and use!) authority to maintain order and decorum.
3. More time should be allowed for questions and more substantive answers. A good place to start is a 1-minute time limit.
4. Devote one day of the week for questions to the Prime Minister, and assign ministers to specific days.
5. Media can play a part by reconsidering their role in covering the House and Question Period, and look at means to encourage positive changes in tenor and tone of Question Period, and other Parliamentary proceedings.
6. Question Period should focus on accountability - i.e. any member should be able to question the government, and the Minister should answer only that question (or related query).
7. Members should be encouraged to ask questions derived from the concerns of their constituents, not just canned questions along partisan lines.
8. Committee chairs and members should be appointed for the life of the Parliament (committees function better with stable membership).
9. Reduce or eliminate the role of Parliamentary Secretaries in committees. They politicize the committee process.
10. Re-engage committees more in reviewing the spending estimates of governments, so that meaningful program review can occur.
The Library of Parliament also produced a summary of this conference and the parallel conference organized by the Canadian Study of Parliament Group.