A license to swat them away

In the closing moments of an excellent At Issues panel on CBC’s The National last night, National Post columnist Andrew Coyne explained why traditional Question Period theatrics are so feckless when a real scandal envelopes government.

[If the Opposition] would slow down and ask short simple questions, rather these kind of multiple-part grandstanding theatrics, but they don’t seem to be capable of that.

What sort of short questions, host Peter Mansbridge asked.

[S]imple questions of fact that put ministers on the record, where you can then compare what they say on the record with what they say later. It’s more in the nature of the way a lawyer asks questions in court.

It’s hard for them to resist, unfortunately, going for the big windup, you know, the big preamble beforehand, the big stream of accusations. And as we saw with John Baird, anybody who’s got any experience with those is very adept at just swatting them away. It gives him license, frankly, to give non-answers when you don’t ask real questions.

This is obvious to anyone who watches any question period in any Canadian legislature. Why don’t opposition MPs get it, and change their tactics? Perhaps because short, simple, lawyerly questions that build an embarrassing step-by-step case against a government policy or practice do not make onto the nightly television news.

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