A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Saturday, April 4, 2009

A matter of Confidence.

A few weeks ago I wrote the Speaker of the House thanking him for his recent attempt to reign in some of the partisan personal attacks being made by some MPs towards other of our elected representatives, and pointing out our general displeasure with this type of behaviour. Here in part is his quite full and clearly individual reply to my letter.

“ The behaviour which concerns you and clearly many other Canadians (as evidenced by the statistics cited in the Public Consultations on Canada's Democratic Institutions and Practices report in your email) occurs almost exclusively during the forty-five minute daily Question Period. The great majority of the House's business is, in fact, conducted with due decorum and consists primarily of reasoned, subject-oriented debate, most of which rarely finds its way to televised news broadcasts.

Because of the collegial character of the House of Commons and of the broad privileges enjoyed by its Members, particularly in the area of freedom of expression, no one - not even the Speaker - can act unilaterally to improve the level of discourse during Question Period.
I understand that many Canadians are frustrated by what may appear to be "inaction" on my part; however, the Speaker's role in presiding over debate is clearly defined and is restricted to ensuring that the rules of order and procedure are respected. This does not mean that nothing can be done to improve the level of decorum in the House, nor does it mean that I have no role to play in this process .

It is important to note that Statements by Members and Question Period are different proceedings, each with its own purpose and rules. During Statements by Members, Members who are not Ministers may address the House for a maximum of one minute on virtually any matter. It is understood that such statements will not include offensive remarks, defamatory comments or personal attacks. The Standing Orders of the House of Commons (S.O. 31) specifically empower the Speaker to "order a Member to resume his or her seat if, in the opinion of the Speaker, improper use is made of this Standing Order." It is on this basis that I and my fellow presiding officers have found it appropriate to intervene on a number of recent occasions during Statements by Members.

Question Period, however, is another matter altogether. It is in its very essence a confrontational dialogue in which the government is held to account for· its policies and performance. In order that Members may challenge the government without hindrance, they enjoy complete freedom of speech subject only to those limitations to which they themselves have corporately agreed. In enforcing these limitations, the Speaker must exercise great care not to interfere with the free interchange of questions and replies.

Of course, Canadians have every right to express their wish for improved decorum during Question Period. I wish that it were possible for me to bring this about on my own, but the reality is that any meaningful improvement would require a kind of co-operation that cannot be imposed. It is this state of affairs that has inspired my persistent ongoing efforts to build a consensus among individual MPs and their parties aimed at a more civilized culture of discourse in the House of Commons.”

I note that “Question Period, however, is another matter altogether.” and that “It is this state of affairs that has inspired my persistent ongoing efforts to build a consensus among individual MPs and their parties aimed at a more civilized culture of discourse in the House of Commons. “
Good luck with that Mr Milliken! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

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