David Cameron speaks during PMQs

Clarifying PMQs

Dale Smith has an interesting post dissecting proposals for reform of Question Period in the Canadian House of Commons as put forward by the Liberal Party. He raises some valid points, but also makes a notable error, which I will endeavour to correct here. Smith writes: Part of what’s been the beauty of our QP as we have structured it is that the PM can be called upon to answer any question on any day, with no advance notice. That’s not the way it works in Westminster, where the PM is given questions in advance. This isn’t 100% accurate. Most of the time, the UK Prime Minister does not know in advance what questions will be put to him or […]


Baby steps on parliamentary reform

The Liberal Party of Canada released a plan for political and parliamentary reform this week and many, if not most political commentators seemed quite enthusiastic about much of what the party proposed. I must admit that I was somewhat underwhelmed. The proposals for parliamentary reform were at best minor tinkering. Maclean’s Aaron Wherry provides a much more comprehensive overview of parliamentary and political reforms that have been, or could be, proposed. It’s much more interesting. The Liberals’ proposals for parliamentary reform address Question Period, Committees, prorogation and omnibus bills, free votes and changes to financial procedures. I’m going to focus on only on the first four. Question Period The Liberals propose to restore relevance to Question Period by establishing a […]

Topical questions might seem a bit odd to Canadians but I will attempt to explain. Essentially, every MP interested in asking a topical question submits the same question: “If he/she will make a statement on his/her departmental responsibilities.”

On questions on notice

The Hill Times has an interesting article describing how the current Canadian Cabinet prepares for the daily Question Period. One former staffer, Chad Rogers, states: “Look at Westminster, our mother system. They’re given notice of every question that’s asked in advance so the ministers can be prepared for it. There’s no such thing in ours. It’s a surprise every day when the clock hits 2:15 p.m.” This isn’t correct. It is true that MPs in the UK must table questions for ministers a few days in advance; however, not all questions that will be asked of ministers are known to them in advance. As I have explained over and over again (apologies for boring regular readers), at Westminster, each ministry […]


On helping the Speaker clean up Question Period

The CBC’s parliamentary reporter, Kady O’Malley, has put forward a few suggestions on how to encourage the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons to take on a more activist role during Question Period. Her first suggestion is that once elected Speaker, the Speaker should resign both caucus and party. Currently, the Speaker does resign from caucus, but he or she does not resign from their political party. While they do tend to stay away from purely political party events, Kady’s new rule would require that they go further, avoiding all partisan activity including attending party conferences and local federal funding announcements, which currently is not the case. In the UK, the Speaker of House of Commons resigns from his […]

In the UK, while 2-3 supplementaries is the norm, if the subject of a question is one on which the government is vulnerable, the Speaker is free to decide to allow several more supplementary questions, including often hostile ones from the government’s own side – which would never happen in Canada.

Question or Answer Period?

Recently in the Canadian House of Commons, the Leader of the Official Opposition vented his frustration over the repeated non-answers to questions he was receiving from the Government side during Question Period on the Speaker. After first pleading for the Speaker to enforce the House’s rules on relevancy and repetition, he then openly questioned the Speaker’s impartiality. This caused the Speaker to deny the Leader of the Opposition his final two questions in the rotation. The next day, before Question Period began, the Speaker delivered a statement to the House in which he explained that the rules on relevancy and repetition did not apply to Question Period, and that the numerous rulings in the past had clearly established that it […]

On stage-managed oral questions

The British daily, The Telegraph, has revealed a series of emails from the Prime Minister’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to government backbenchers suggesting questions they could ask the PM during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). Luckily, most backbenchers refused to play along. Canadians are well aware that party whips fully control Question Period in the Canadian House of Commons. They not only control which members of their caucus will ask questions by providing a list to the Speaker of which members to call, and in what order, but they also control what those members will ask by providing them with the question. This is why it is extremely rare to hear any MP ask a question specific to their […]