Over the course of three question periods this week, opposition MPs put 109 questions to the government. So what did they ask about and what does that tell us about each party’s preoccupations and how they use question period?
A Parliament can last as long as four years and field thousands of questions, so the first 109 queries probably don’t constitute a representative sample. The issues that were current this week may fade from relevance. New issues will arise. But you can still make some observations about how everyone is approaching the most-watched 45 minutes of every sitting day.
Seventy-four of those 109 questions were asked by Conservatives, the Official Opposition with 119 seats. Just a handful of topics accounted for most of those questions.
The Conservatives asked 24 questions about inflation, 17 questions about American tariffs on softwood lumber, 11 questions about labour shortages and six questions about COVID-19.
That distribution of questions can be traced back to the fact that the Conservatives tend to like to give special focus to one topic each day. So inflation was the topic du jour on Wednesday (accounting for 17 questions that day), softwood lumber was their preoccupation on Thursday (13 questions). Following confirmation of a new coronavirus variant in southern Africa, COVID-19 got most of the attention on Friday.
Of the NDP’s 15 questions, six concerned climate change.
The Greens — who do not have enough members to constitute an official party in the House of Commons — got one question. Elizabeth May used it to ask about climate policy.
A lot of these questions are on-brand for the MPs asking them. The Conservatives have tended to focus on so-called “pocketbook” issues. The BQ takes every opportunity to dwell on federal-provincial tensions — in this case, over health care funding.
(Liberal MPs also get to ask three questions each day. But since questions from the governing party’s backbenchers tend to be less than challenging — ministers typically are asked to stand and expound on the government’s greatness — I’m excluding them from this analysis.)
Are MPs asking the right questions?
But here’s a harder question to answer. When broken down by subject matter, do these 109 questions offer an accurate reflection of either the public’s greatest concerns or the most important issues facing this country?
In a way, that might be an unfair question to ask.
If question period was ever solely about soliciting information and explanation, those days are long past. But the 45 minutes set aside for “oral questions” each day are still about holding the government to account and pitting opposing views against each other.
Trudeau has failed to stand up to the United States for Canadian workers. <br><br>While he was busy with photo ops in the US, the Americans decided to double tariffs on Canadian softwood. <a href=”https://t.co/j74T9Y3oam”>pic.twitter.com/j74T9Y3oam</a>
Question period has other uses, of course. It generates soundbites for newscasts and clips that can be pushed on social media. MPs want to rile up their own supporters and show constituents that they’re being represented. Opposition parties naturally direct their questions to where they think the government is most vulnerable.
The Conservatives justifiably think the government is vulnerable on inflation. New Democrats think they can score points over fossil fuel subsidies. Question period can’t be separated from the larger media-political ecosystem in which it exists.
Which is not to say that question period shouldn’t ever be judged by how well it reflects the public’s concerns. All of the issues raised in QP this week were certainly relevant. But it might seem odd that the flooding in British Columbia was not a focus (the disaster was the subject of an emergency debate in the House on Wednesday night).
American journalist James Fallows, a former adviser to President Jimmy Carter, has noted that the questions presidents get asked at citizen town halls are very different from the questions asked at news conferences with the Washington press corps.
Members of the public tend to ask about the “what” of governance, Fallows says, while journalists tend to ask about “how” and “who.”
That doesn’t mean reporters are wrong to ask the questions they ask. There’s a place for both town halls and news conferences — and for question period. Each forum serves a purpose and each can complement the others.
But journalists probably could benefit from imagining the sorts of questions their audiences would ask. The same is probably true of parliamentarians.
Parliament Hill is too often derided as a “bubble.” Most of what happens in the bubble has value and purpose. But the institution of Parliament also benefits most when it is most relevant.
Canada has ordered family members of diplomatic staff stationed in Ukraine to leave the country, The Globe and Mail has learned.
The move was made a day after the United States, Britain, Germany and Australia announced similar steps, amid fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin could soon order an invasion of Ukraine.
Global Affairs has issued a statement confirming the move: “Due to the ongoing Russian military buildup and destabilizing activities in and around Ukraine, we have decided to temporarily withdraw Canadian embassy staff’s children under 18 years of age and family members accompanying them.”
TRUCKERS ON THE ROAD – A group of truckers has garnered millions in fundraising dollars from droves of supporters as it drives across the country to protest vaccine mandates, despite the vast majority of big-riggers having been jabbed. Story here.
O’TOOLE OKAY WITH CAUCUS EMBRACE OF BATTERS – Erin O’Toole says he has no problem with Tory MPs from Saskatchewan confirming Senator Denise Batters as a member of theirprovincial Conservative caucus, even though Mr. O’Toole previously removed Ms. Batters from the national caucus after she publicly challenged his leadership of the party. Story here.
CHAHAL TO PAY FINE – MP George Chahal of Calgary says he has paid a $500 fine after taking an opponent’s pamphlet from a front door and replacing it with his own during last year’s election. Story here. Details of the Elections Canada notice of violation are here.
ONTARIO CLOSE TO CHILD-CARE DEAL: PREMIER – Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the province is “very, very close” to a child-care deal with the federal government. Story here.
QUEBEC LIBERALS PREPPING FOR ELECTION – The Quebec Liberals have “the knife between their teeth” to win the October election, Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade says. Story here from CTV.
FORMER B.C. LEGISLATURE CLERK ON TRIAL – A special prosecutor says the former clerk of the British Columbia legislature claimed expenses ranging from malt whisky to cufflinks on the public purse. Story here from The Province.
THIS AND THAT
The House of Commons has adjourned until Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. ET.
TORIES CALL FOR MORE UKRAINE SUPPORT – Conservative critics are calling on the federal Liberal government to take immediate action to support Ukraine against Russia, with proposals that include providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, and extending Operation Unifier, which has about 200 Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed to Ukraine to provide tactical-level training to the country’s security forces. They made the call in a statement from foreign affairs critic Michael Chong, opposition deputy whip James Bezan and public services critic Pierre Paul-Hus.
THE DECIBEL – In Tuesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, Kelly Grant, The Globe’s national health care reporter, talks about her in-depth look at health care in Nunavut and the challenges its residents face accessing it. While there, she found that the lack of elder care in the territory was one of the most common complaints and one of the hardest issues to solve. The Decibel is here.
PRIME MINISTER’S DAY
Private meetings and the Prime Minister attended a virtual cabinet retreat. Tuesday is the second day of the three-day retreat.
No schedules released for other party leaders.
John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail)on the bill coming due for the federal Liberal government: “For almost two years, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by spending money at levels never seen in peacetime, to protect workers, businesses and the health care system. That spending was necessary. But this year the bill comes due. And it won’t be pretty. The federal deficit skyrocketed from less than 1 per cent of GDP in fiscal 2018-19, before the pandemic, to 15 per cent in fiscal 2020-21. The consolidated federal and provincial books showed a $326-billion deficit in 2020. Within the Group of Seven, we have gone from having one of the best debt-to-GDP ratios to middle of the pack: behind Germany, roughly on par with France and Britain, but ahead of the U.S., Italy and Japan. Outside the G7 our debt-to-GDP ratio lags Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Indonesia, Ireland, Latvia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam, to name just a few.”
André Picard (The Globe and Mail)on why ‘I’m done with COVID’ is easier said than done: “Uttering “I’m done with COVID” as a mantra won’t stop the virus from spreading and mutating. It won’t end the threat of infection, especially to frail elders and other medically fragile citizens. It won’t free up surgical suites and hospital beds for hip replacements and treatment of cancer patients. It won’t get sick workers suddenly back on the job, diligently teaching children or stacking store shelves. “I’m done with COVID” is the equivalent of offering “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting. It’s a bromide, not a remedy.”
Deanna Horton and Roy Norton (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Canada can do more to support the U.S. in their special relationship: ”Canada’s brand in the U.S. is strong. We are naturally suited to leading collaborative efforts on initiatives that could resonate with Americans. The question is whether we have what it takes to expend, on a priority (and continuing) basis, the efforts necessary to make a difference? Maybe it’s time for Canada, in a concerted fashion, to try to sell the U.S. administration, Congress, state governments, business and labour leaders, think tanks and other influencers on big-picture solutions to both bilateral irritants and common challenges. Forging an understanding among Americans of the value of collaboration is both a worthwhile and viable goal.”
Germany’s upcoming decision on whether to certify the controversial Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 pipeline is rapidly emerging as a key element in high-stakes diplomatic efforts to dissuade Moscow from invading Ukraine.
Delaying or cancelling the $11 billion project would have a significant impact on the Russian economy, depriving it of $3 billion US in annual revenue.
It also could serve to divide Ukraine’s allies as Russia continues to increase the pressure on the former Soviet bloc state.
Nord Stream 2 gives the new government of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “some leverage” over Moscow, said Matthew Schmidt, an associate professor and national security expert at the University of New Haven, Connecticut.
“They can exert leverage in a way that works in concert with the rest of NATO,” he said. “If they do it in a way that doesn’t work in concert with NATO, then that could be a problem. They could put NATO in a bind.”
During a recent meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Scholz hinted that his country could reconsider the project “if there is a military intervention against Ukraine.”
But the German government is under enormous pressure to relieve soaring natural gas prices — and Nord Stream 2 could end up heating up to 26 million homes in the country.
Playing the ‘pipeline card’
Holding out approval until there’s a peaceful resolution to the standoff over Ukraine would allow Russia to walk away with a win, said Schmidt. He said the U.S. did much the same thing to end the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when it withdrew its missiles from Turkey.
Schmidt said he believes Germany will hold on to the “pipeline card until the very end.”
In the meantime, Nord Stream 2 remains a source of division and irritation among Germany’s allies.
The pipeline is at the centre of a longstanding disagreement between the United States and Germany. Almost four years ago, then-U.S. president Donald Trump opened up a NATO leaders’ summit by attacking the project, warning it would make Germany a “captive” to Russian economic interests.
Nord Stream 2 was pulled back to the centre of allied politics earlier this month when Republicans in Washington pushed a bill that would have imposed sanctions on businesses involved in the project — despite President Joe Biden’s warning that such sanctions would have harmed relations with Germany at a critical juncture. Senate Democrats defeated the bill.
Ukraine stands to lose significant transit revenue when an existing Russian pipeline crossing its territory is shut down to make way for Nord Stream 2. Kyiv lobbied the U.S. Senate to impose the sanctions, while Germany argued against them.
Germany also has irritated Ukraine by blocking the sale of some defensive weapons to the government in Kyiv, which has been desperately canvassing the international arms market for high-tech systems to counter a possible invasion.
Schmidt said no one should be surprised at Berlin’s caution because the country’s export licensing policy places stringent conditions on the end uses of military equipment.
Great power politics is back on a scale not seen since the Cold War, said Roland Paris, a University of Ottawa professor of international affairs and former adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Putin ‘turned up the heat’
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “stress-testing the NATO alliance” looking for any division, real or perceived, among allies.
“Putin is flexible and opportunistic. He’s turned up the heat to see what happens,” said Paris. “If he can succeed in weakening the political unity of the NATO alliance, that will be a major accomplishment for him.”
Germany, he said, is “working out” how to deal with the threat of Russia using its energy supply as a weapon.
“There have been voices in Germany that have said Nord Stream 2 should continue regardless” of the crisis, Paris said.
NATO allies have been calling for unity as they confront a massive buildup of Russian troops on three sides of Ukraine, and as Moscow continues to demand that the alliance roll back the deployment of NATO troops in Eastern Europe.
Russia’s demands — including its insistence on an outright rejection of Ukraine’s bid to join NATO — have been shot down by the United States and its allies. Recently, Washington put up to 8,500 U.S. soldiers on heightened alert for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe.
Paris said now is the time for Ukraine’s allies to send reinforcements. He scoffed at Moscow’s claim that sending additional forces represents an escalation of the crisis.
“It’s a bit rich, [Russia] having invaded a sovereign country, and now to have over 100,000 troops poised to invade [Ukraine] and then saying NATO reinforcements are somehow the source of a provocation,” said Paris, referring to the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea.
We didn’t ask to save the world. But the reality is our planet is at an “all hands on deck” stage if we want a climate-safe future, so young people like us are stepping up.
To tip the scales in humanity’s favour, the ideas and energy of youth are needed at the decision-making table — in other words, in politics. According to a recent IPSOS survey,Canadian youth consider themselves to be most capable of making progress on climate change in the next five years (79 per cent), markedly higher than their confidence in their parents’ generation (55 per cent). Yet youth dissatisfaction and distrust of politics in Canada is high, as evidenced every time we have an election.
Elections Canada reports that voters aged 18 to 24 were the least likely to turn out in the 2019 federal election. Average turnout for this age group hovered just over 50 per cent compared to older demographic brackets, which all surpassed 60 per cent. Though the numbers are still being crunched, we know youth turnout dropped even further for the 2021 election due to the cancellation of campus voting programs.
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It’s not just voting: less than 30 per cent of young Canadians reported having been in touch with political parties or candidates in the 2019 campaign, and youth are running for office at lower rates. In fact, new research into candidate demographics for federal elections from 2008 to 2019 shows that, where age data was available, more than 80 per cent of candidates were over 35.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. While youth are not a monolithic group, many of us feel the system has excluded and failed us, prioritizing the growth of an economy dependent on fossil fuels while ignoring the science of climate change. We aren’t fooled when politicians throw around the latest buzzwords, take half-measures and don’t back up their commitments with clear pathways forward.
It’s no wonder why some youth don’t participate on election day. Beyond not seeing ourselves represented at the ballot box — in age or diversity — each election brings countless promises to fix an unsustainable system that are too often whittled down, tossed aside or forgotten in favour of short-term priorities that help win the next election.
To gain the know-how needed to push for change, we’re both working in politics through GreenPAC’s Parliamentary Internship for the Environment Program, though our routes to getting here are very different.
What people are reading
(Owen studied environmental policy in university, and after graduating, felt the best way to bring about better policy was to get involved directly. Camilla’s background and future career aspirations are in corporate environmental sustainability, but what she’s learning now will help her create the collaborations that are so critical to transitioning society towards a sustainable future.)
While new on the Hill, we’re quickly realizing that many of the factors that keep youth out of politics, like entry barriers and lack of representation, also helped create the climate crisis.
We’re learning first-hand that even MPs with the vision and ambition to drive environmental change face real obstacles in their path. These barriers aren’t going to break themselves down, which is one reason why our program holds an annual FLIP Summit (Future Leaders in Politics) — to shine a light on these barriers and help youth push back through a better understanding of these obstacles.
GreenPAC’s 2.0 FLIP Summit, held this past Saturday, dug into issues like the connections between our voting system and climate progress; how candidate nomination races can be untransparent and undemocratic; and how Indigenous solutions and the right to self-determination can get overlooked as climate policy gets made.
Opinion: By getting involved, youth can play a role in coming up with a better version of politics — one that stops excluding, disempowering and putting up walls against climate progress, write @CamillaStanley & @o_wilson99. #cdnpoli
We also heard from FLIP 2.0 speakers that the importance of youth involvement in politics cannot be overstated. Guest speaker Lisa Raitt, former deputy CPC leader, noted that it wasn’t the youngest party members who voted down the CPC’s resolution last year to acknowledge the reality of climate change — and that if more young people had been engaged, the outcome might have been different.
Alison Gu, Burnaby’s youngest ever city councillor (and alumna of our program), told attendees: Young people aren’t confined by the ways things have always been done.
By getting involved, youth can play a role in coming up with a better version of politics — one that stops excluding, disempowering and putting up walls against climate progress. As Amita Kuttner, interim leader of the Green Party of Canada told us after noting that change must come from the inside: “As a young person, as a queer person, as a trans person, as a racialized person, these systems were surely not built for me … so we change them. It is possible.”
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