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OPINION: Questions almost never answered

House Speaker Buck Watts follows the macebearer into the legislature to open the day’s proceedings.

(Guardian file photo)
House Speaker Buck Watts follows the macebearer into the legislature to open the day’s proceedings. (Guardian file photo) - The Guardian

Will “Question Period” ever become “Answer Period”?

BY KEVIN ARSENAULT

GUEST OPINION

Question Period in the P.E.I. Legislative Assembly is supposed to be an occasion when opposition MLAs hold the government to account while the public watches. But is the public watching? When it's streamed live online and broadcast on Eastlink, most Islanders are at work and can't watch. You can watch it in-person, but there's usually only a handful of people in attendance, and there's very limited seating. Each sitting is also recorded and archived online, but I doubt that many Islanders have ever visited that particular government webpage.

Governing MLAs no doubt also realize that very few Islanders are aware of what transpires in the Legislative Assembly, which may partly explain why they behave as they do. I believe Islanders need to know – and I'm not exaggerating – that the questions opposition MLAs ask Liberal MLAs during Question Period are almost never answered, so I made that a little easier.

On Nov. 28, 2017, I decided to watch Question Period online, and was shocked to witness Liberal MLAs refuse, one after another, to offer anything close to appropriate answers to questions from opposition MLAs; important questions of concern to all Islanders. So I downloaded a clip of one such exchange and posted it on Facebook (with a bit of commentary for context) titled: "Why don't you just answer the question?”

I received a tremendous amount of feedback from many equally shocked Islanders. I thought it might be a one-off, but after witnessing the very same thing happen the following day, I committed to posting one great question that wasn't answered by a governing MLA for each remaining day of the Fall Sitting in a series I dubbed “Great Question – No Answer.”

Although some of the 14 episodes received as many as 1,500 views, every voting Islander should watch at least a couple of these exchanges for themselves, so I've uploaded them to a website and created a "clickable" calendar index with links for each day from Nov. 28 – Dec. 20. Each link contains the names of the MLAs both asking and not answering questions, as well as the key issue the question attempted to address. Type https://kevinjarsenault.com/ to open the calendar, then click on a day... any day... and get ready to manually lift your jaw after it drops involuntarily from disbelief and disgust.

What will you see? Spoiler alert: governing MLAs smirking, heckling, pounding desks and interrupting opposition MLAs while attempting to ask their questions; then those same governing MLAs refusing to answer those questions. Certainly not the kind of behaviour we should be getting from elected representatives. New protocols must be established before the Spring Sitting, which empower the Speaker to end this childish and irresponsible tradition, which permits governing MLAs to repeatedly refuse to answer questions.

No doubt some Liberals will accuse me of being biased in my selection of questions and responses. Well, everything's on the record, so I'd simply challenge them to back up such an accusation with their own clips of great answers from governing Liberal MLAs to opposition MLA questions for each day I posted a no answer response: good luck hunting for those mythical creatures.

- Kevin J. Arsenault obtained his PhD in ethics from McGill University and lives in Fort Augustus

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