Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
On October 18, you took the opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to make quite a detailed statement on the matter of order and decorum in the House. In that statement you indicated that “order and decorum are signs of respect for each other and for the institution”. You further stated that the lack of order and decorum were most prominent during daily question period.
On that day, Mr. Speaker, you raised a number of concerns, from incendiary language to reference to the absence of members to heckling and personal attacks. One matter that was not discussed was the need to maintain question period for what it is: a tool for opposition parties and for individual members to hold the government to account.
As House of Commons Procedure and Practice states:
...time is set aside almost exclusively for the opposition parties to confront the government and hold it accountable for its actions, and to highlight the perceived inadequacies of the government.
Speaker Bosley, in 1986, outlined a number of principles, including stating that:
While there may be other purposes and ambitions involved in Question Period, its primary purpose must be the seeking of information from the government and calling the government to account for its actions.
The book continues in stating that when recognized in question period, a member should, “ask a question, be brief, seek information and ask a question that is within the administrative responsibility of the government or of the individual Minister addressed.” This is a key point, Mr. Speaker, as I am sure you will understand.
Clearly, the primary purpose of question period is to hold the government to account.
However, we have seen question period used in recent days and weeks, not to hold the government to account but to ask questions of individual members, in some cases government backbenchers and in other cases members from other opposition parties. As was previously the case, I would submit that such tactics should be considered out of order and not allowed.
I will quote extensively from some of the decisions that have been rendered by a previous Speaker who is now the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle.
In that regard, here is what the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, when he was the Speaker, had to say in his January 28, 2014, ruling, and I quote:
It is for similar reasons that questions that concern...the actions...of other members, risk being ruled out of order....[A]s Speaker Milliken stated in a ruling on June 14, 2010, found in Debates at page 3778, “...the use of [...] preambles to questions to attack other members does not provide those targeted with an opportunity to respond or deal directly with such attacks.” Thus, unless a link to the administrative responsibilities of the government can be established early in the question to justify them, such questions can be and indeed have been ruled out of order by successive Speakers.
In the same ruling, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, who knows the House well, also said:
...we have witnessed a growing trend: we hear preambles to questions that go on at some length to criticize the position, statements, or actions of other parties, Members from other parties, and in some cases even private citizens before concluding with a brief question about the Government’s policies.
What we have, therefore, is an example of a hybrid question, one in which the preamble is on a subject that has nothing to do with the administrative responsibility of the Government but which concludes in the final five or ten seconds with a query that in a technical sense manages to relate to the Government’s administrative responsibilities.
...since members have very little time to pose their questions and the Chair has even less time to make decisions about their admissibility, it would be helpful if the link to the administrative responsibility of the government were made as quickly as possible.
Accordingly, these kinds of questions will continue to risk being ruled out of order and members should take care to establish the link to government responsibility as quickly as possible.
That was said by the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle when he was Speaker of the House.
The MP for Regina—Qu'Appelle, as Speaker, concluded with this:
In conclusion, I will continue to rule questions out of order that do not establish a direct link to the administrative responsibilities of the government. In the same sense, so-called hybrid questions will also continue to risk being ruled out of order when this link is not quickly demonstrated. Members should take care when formulating their questions and establish this link as soon as possible in posing their questions to ensure that the Chair does not rule what may be a legitimate question out of order.
On March 24, 2014, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle cut off two questions by the official opposition. I was in the House at the time. In response to a point of order raised by myself as House leader of the official opposition, he ruled:
...I raised the concern about questions that had no obvious link to government business, and informed members that they would run the risk of having their questions cut off unless that link was established early on in the question.
At the time I stood up to stop the members, I had not heard that link. If they feel they have a link to government business, I look forward with eagerness to their attempt to establish that, but as I heard it, there was no such link to the direct administrative responsibility of government. As relevant as it might be to public interest or to members, there has to be that established link to the administrative role of government.
Mr. Speaker, I do want to take this opportunity to commend you for your efforts to address matters of order and decorum. New Democrats are pledged to work together with you on this matter. We would, however, like to implore you, as part of this work, to ensure that question period remains a tool for keeping the government accountable. Parliamentarians, and Parliament as a whole, are not well served if that mandate expands, as we have seen this week, to matters that are definitely not within the administrative purview of the government.
I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider this point of order and to use the tools the House has equipped you with to ensure that the kinds of questions we have heard this week, which are clearly out of order, are ruled as such before the question is finished.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your attention.