Questions and answers — a timeless and perfect pairing. But at the House of Assembly, Qs and As don't always match up.
In the legislature, answers sometimes turn into long-winded, irrelevant spiels.
And questions are sometimes so blatantly political, it hurts.
What it's all about
Question period is supposed to be a time when the opposition asks government about provincial doings — when the public gets real answers from the people running the place they live.
And sometimes that happens, but not always.
I think the viewing public … experiences a lot of frustration with bafflegab answers in the House. - Ches Crosbie
This week, MHAs unanimously voted to try to make themselves ask more relevant questions and give more relevant answers.
They ordered a jurisdictional review of question periods to see if other governments have a better way to conduct Q&A.
Make QP great again
What could that look like? Maybe the Speaker — the guy at the front of the House trying to keep everyone in line — will be able to interject if an answer goes off track or a question is clearly framed for political gain. Maybe it's something else.
The standing orders committee is going to see how question periods run elsewhere and how they police politicking. If they find effective methods, politicians here might adopt them.
"I think the viewing public … experiences a lot of frustration with bafflegab answers in the House and I'm sure you do too," PC Leader Ches Crosbie, who brought forward a private member's resolution to make MHAs behave.
"It was a burr under my saddle and something I think that needs to be looked at to improve the functioning of democracy in the House," he said. "We'll see where we get to with it."
Inside the legislature
As the leader of the Official Opposition, Crosbie has a vested interested in getting answers. Is he totally virtuous in this attempt to get them? That's up to you.
This is my third sitting covering the House and I've watched all parties get on with nonsense. There's been more than one political question from Crosbie's Tories. Just like there's been more than one non-answer from Ball's Liberals.
The press gallery is just a few metres above the politicians and still I have to bring a set of headphones to plug into an amplified mic feed in order to hear what MHAs are saying over jeers from their colleagues.
Admittedly, three sittings isn't all that long as a legislative reporter. But it doesn't take much time to determine it doesn't have to be the way that it is.
Sure, Ottawa is worse. But Ottawa doesn't have to be the bar. Maybe it has gotten better. But it could get better again.
Wait, the questions can be problematic too
After the PCs asked the standing committee to review ways of making answers more to the point, the NDP said questions should go under the same review.
"If we're going to look at improving question period, let's look at the whole thing. Let's look at how questions are asked, and what type of questions are asked, so we can maybe remove the political rhetoric and the political theatre," said newly minted NDP MHA Jim Dinn.
"I know that's strange coming from someone in politics as such, but I think if we're going to make it productive, let's look at the whole thing not just a piecemeal approach."
So, the review will encompass the pairing. Questions and answers. Are other legislatures doing a better job keeping conversation on track? If so, how? The analysis will come in the fall, and possible changes to the standing orders of the House could be voted on after that.
In the meantime, politicians know they can do better.
"Some of the answers sometimes can — as you know — can get a little vague and sometimes they can become a little political," admitted Premier Dwight Ball.
He said opposition members have other options to get answers. They can table questions, and get "pages and pages of information."
But he still thinks reforming QP — the questions and the answers — is a good idea.
"I think there's a solution to this both ways," he said.
Why is this even a thing?
Really, elected officials could just all promise, in the spirit of collaboration, to actually get to the bottom of things with real questions and real answers.
The solution could be an unwritten thing.
But if this process is what it takes, so be it.
And to the politicians: Here's to fairness in question and answer, and to upholding the sanctity of the position the people have put you in.