November 20, 2013

Smith on the Speaker and Question Period

EDMONTON, AB (November 20, 2013): Today, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith made the following statement in the Legislature regarding parliamentary traditions when it comes to the Speaker’s role and Question Period:

 Mr. Speaker, we have arrived at a critical crossroads here in this Legislature. As you know, and as Albertans are aware, this Legislature exists as a check on executive power. Legislation first must be debated and passed here before it is declared law. And the government must daily defend itself and the actions of others who they have appointed to the duly elected opposition in order to ensure transparency and accountability. It is the Speaker’s job to ensure the integrity of these functions. And I think the Speaker would agree that it is not the Speaker’s job to stifle them. We have a job to do too, Mr. Speaker, and it’s an important one. Just as the government is elected to lead, we have been elected to hold them to account. Far too often when we attempt to do our jobs, in this Legislature, we are unable to ask the government the questions that need to be asked. We understand that these questions are often uncomfortable. They often deal with scandal, impropriety and personal misconduct. But they simply must be asked. If the fact that hard questions cause government members to become “disordered” becomes an excuse to prevent hard questions, then the fundamental purpose of question period is lost. Parliamentary privilege has, for centuries, allowed elected members the latitude to hold the government, and those it has appointed, to account on the widest range of issues. Shutting down questions because they make the government uncomfortable, angry or unruly is not within our tradition. Ruling questions out of order because they deal with party finances, the conduct of government members or the actions of individuals appointed by government dominated committees is also not within our parliamentary tradition. From the Pacific scandal, to the sponsorship scandal, to the source of Mike Duffy’s expense repayments – these topics have always been in order during Question Period – and so they should be. Such matters must also be scrutinized in this House, Mr. Speaker. And we will scrutinize them, no matter what the consequences. Thank you. Smith also asked the following questions about strengthening Question Period standing orders to improve accountability: Q1: Mr. Speaker, I have a series of questions on improving accountability and increasing the value of Question Period. When she was running to be the leader of her party the Premier promised to be transformational and to do things differently in the legislature. For a variety of reasons, this session has seen the opposition getting to ask fewer questions of the Executive than ever before. I don’t think that’s what the Premier had in mind. Under the former Speaker, we got as high as 22 questions. Will the Premier ask her house leader to sit down with us and work on ways to get more questions asked in question period? S1: The Speaker is sometimes compared to a referee, standing between the teams to make sure that the rules are being followed. However in hockey, the game clock stops when the referee blows the whistle and becomes a focal point while he makes his calls. Would the Premier agree to endorse a change to the standing rules so that the clock would stop when the Speaker speaks, so we could actually have a true 50 minutes of question period? S2: Mr. Speaker, there are many precedents of legislatures dealing with scandals involving expenses and the actions of government appointees. From the Pacific scandal, to the sponsorship scandal, to the source of Mike Duffy’s expense repayments – these topics have always been in order. Would the Premier endorse changes to the standing rules to clarify that questions like these will be in order – or do they rather enjoy hiding behind the Speaker’s protection?


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