-provide an answerThe following exchange between Dion and Harper, from yesterday's hansard (today brought much the same):
-defer an answer
-explain briefly why an answer cannot be provided at that time
Dion: "Mr. Speaker, does the Prime Minister still have confidence in his Minister of National Defence, yes or no?"
Harper:" Mr. Speaker, I have said repeatedly that it is the Leader of the Opposition in whom I lack confidence.
What leads me to that conclusion today would be reading a copy of a letter I received from Ed Morgan, the national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, noting that his colleague, Elizabeth May, has diminished the Holocaust, used the Nazi analogy that is demagogic and inappropriate, while belittling Canadians of faith.
The Leader of the Opposition hitched his wagon to this individual. I hope he will distance himself from those kinds of remarks."
Dion: "Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister should be able to say if, yes or no, he has confidence in his Minister of National Defence. The entire nation wants to hear the answer.
The last time the minister was allowed to speak was in an elevator. Now the Minister of Public Safety is inventing policy in an elevator. Maybe we should get the Prime Minister in an elevator to get an answer from him."
Harper: "Mr. Speaker, all ministers serve the government with distinction. He will know that the Minister of National Defence has served his country with distinction for virtually his entire adult life, including in a uniform in the Canadian Forces.
I think the Leader of the Opposition should be able to say that he believes that diminishing the Holocaust and using Nazi analogies are inappropriate. I would like to again give him a chance to distance himself from these remarks by his colleague, the leader of the Green Party."
Dion: "Mr. Speaker, to speak about the credentials of the minister is not enough. Does the Prime Minister still have confidence in his Minister of National Defence, yes or no?
I suggest that the Prime Minister should no longer have confidence in his Minister of National Defence. He was wrong about the Red Cross, wrong about the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, wrong about the alleged new agreement with the Afghan government and wrong about the treatment of prisoners.
Will the Prime Minister fire his Minister of National Defence and give our soldiers a better minister?"
Harper: "Mr. Speaker, obviously I have confidence in the Minister of National Defence, someone who has served as a member of the Canadian Forces.
It is no small matter to diminish the Holocaust or use Nazi analogies, as the leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, has done. The Canadian Jewish Congress has denounced this. I hope the Leader of the Opposition will"
Where does it say in the guidelines that a Minister can interject a completely different topic, that is irrelevant to the question?
The pattern, again on Friday:
Layton: "Mr. Speaker, incredibly, it seems as though the Prime Minister remains in full denial on the situation of detainees in Kandahar. I will ask him about some other detainees.
Since 2003, Canada has been sending warships to the Arabian Sea to participate in the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom. We learn now, due to documents that we have obtained, that the government signed, on October 12, an agreement regarding the transfer of prisoners taken during these operations. We tried to find out what the terms of the agreement are but the Department of National Defence has blackened out all the terms.
Where are the detainees going, Guantanamo?
Harper: "Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I have anything to add to this subject at the moment, but I would hardly want today to pass without a rare chance for me to quote Buzz Hargrove on the good work that the Minister of the Environment is doing.
Buzz Hargrove said:
I believe [the minister] tried incredibly hard to find balance between the economy, the concern working people have for their jobs and the environmental concerns that concern every Canadian. I think he took a major step forward today that will deal with some of the environmental concerns that will not throw tens of thousands of Canadians out of work."
Layton asks a question on detainees, Harper ignores the question and is allowed to change the topic entirely, in what amounts to free propaganda. The rules say the Minister isn't obliged to answer the question, but it surely doesn't say the Minister can insert whatever he wants, on a topic that has no relationship to the nature of the question.
Question Period is the opposition's opportunity to ask the government questions. QP is not a forum for the government to ask Stephane Dion about Elizabeth May's comments, particularly when there is no context for the retort. Apparently, the PMO can cobble together anything, and the government merely submits it whenever they choose.
If the Minister chooses to not answer the question, then he can "say nothing". When Harper told Layton "I have nothing to add", then the Speaker has the right to cutoff the subsequent irrelevant commentary.
Clearly, we need new rules for Question Period that allow the Speaker greater discretion, within a tightened procedure. The alternative is too subject Canadians to this embarrassing farce of a parliament, that reflects badly on our entire system.