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More than 60 per cent of Canadians support idea of prime minister’s Question Period, half are in favour of electronic voting in the House: poll

By Ally Foster      

Both changes are proposed ideas for reforming the Standing Orders—the rules that govern how the House of Commons functions—put forward by the Liberal government and protested heavily by some opposition members.

Liberal MP Scott Simms introduced a motion at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, asking the group to complete a review of possible changes to the Standing Orders by June 2. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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More than 60 per cent of Canadians polled are in favour of creating a prime minister’s Question Period, while 50 per cent support the idea of introducing electronic voting in the House of Commons—both of which are ideas for reforming the Standing Orders that have been put forward by the Liberal government.

In a Forum Research telephone survey conducted between April 21-24, 1,479 adult Canadians were asked for their opinions on possible changes to the rules that govern how the House of Commons functions.

Liberal MP Scott Simms (Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame, N.L.) introduced a motion on March 10 at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, asking the group to complete a review of possible changes to the Standing Orders by June 2.

The motion has led to an ongoing filibuster of the committee by opposition members who want the Liberal-majority committee to agree that all-party consent be required for recommendations to change the Standing Orders.

The motion from Mr. Simms came just after a Liberal discussion paper was released by Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.) which proposed a series of reforms to how Parliament functions. Among those changes are the suggestions of introducing electronic voting, and the creation of a Question Period that would allow MPs to direct questions solely at the prime minister.

Overall, 61 per cent of Canadians polled support the suggestion of a prime minister’s Question Period, with 17 per cent opposing, and 22 per cent responding that they “don’t know.”

Support for the special Question Period was highest among those aged 35-44 (65 per cent); those who make between $60-80,000 a year and $80-100,000 a year (tied at 66 per cent each); residents of Alberta (64 per cent) and Manitoba/Saskatchewan (63 per cent); and those who identify as supporting the NDP (71 per cent).

On April 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), fielded every question in the House of Commons during Question Period to showcase what the change could look like.

Some opposition members were not impressed by the demonstration.

Conservative MP Mark Strahl (Chilliwack — Hope, B.C.), told The Hill Times in an interview that Mr. Trudeau’s new approach to Question Period proves the government “does not have to change the Standing Orders…the prime minister has the ability to take every question in Question Period every day that he’s there. This is not a necessary change.”

He added that his “fear” is, “if they do change the Standing Orders to have a prime minister’s Question Period as a designated day, that the prime minister will not make himself available any other day, so you’re left with the prime minister in the House for one Question Period a week, which is 45 minutes, and we think he should be there for more than 45 minutes to answer questions.”

Mr. Strahl agrees that the notion that Mr. Trudeau would only attend Question Period once per-week under this new proposed change is speculation at this point, but added that he can’t see why the Liberal government would try to change the rules unless it was to allow the prime minister to be absent more than he currently is.

Of those surveyed who identified as Conservative Party supporters, 67 per cent said they were in favour of a prime minister’s Question Period.

Mr. Strahl responded to these numbers, saying, “People want the prime minister to be held accountable, and if they hear that the prime minister is going to take all of the questions on one day, the initial reaction might be, ‘this is a good thing’… but if that is at the expense of other opportunities to question him—if it turns into one hour a week instead of several days a week—then you’d see that support plummet.”

On the topic of electronic voting, there was less enthusiasm among those surveyed. Fifty per cent of respondents were supportive of the idea of introducing electronic voting in the House of Commons, while 33 per cent were against the suggestion, and 17 per cent didn’t provide an opinion.

Mr. Simms said in a previous interview with The Hill Times that the current system of MPs individually standing to provide their vote took “too long” and was “cumbersome,” and said he wants an electronic option to vote—either from MPs’ desks, or within a designated spot in the House—to be considered.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.), his party’s democratic reform critic, told The Hill Times earlier this month that he doesn’t like the idea of axing a “tradition” in the House of Commons by having MPs simply push a button at their desk.

Mr. Cullen said e-voting wouldn’t save a great deal of time, and added that the introduction of a digital element would pose “questions of security.”

Mr. Strahl, who was first elected in 2011, agreed, telling The Hill Times, “I think there is great value to members of Parliament having to stand and be counted. I think the physical act of being present in the chamber with your colleagues and taking a stand on an issue—standing up for your constituents to vote—is actually more than just symbolic.”

He added that having “been in the House for a number of contentious votes, you can see that it actually does affect the outcome of votes for individuals to have to stand with their group of peers and publicly have their name called out ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’ If you allow people to just press a button and their name is spit out on a list after the fact, it’s easier to escape accountability.”

Among those Canadians polled, the most support for electronic voting came from Quebec (54 per cent) and Ontario (52 per cent), while the province of Alberta saw the least support for the idea (43 per cent).

Support for the proposal also increased among those with higher levels of formal education. Those with the least amount of schooling—secondary school or less—were the least likely to be on-board with the idea (31 per cent); those with some college or university were more open to the idea (49 per cent); respondents who had completed college or university were more in favour (53 per cent); and those who had post-graduate degrees were the most supportive (62 per cent).

Respondents who identified as voting for the Liberals were more enthusiastic about the idea (62 per cent) than other party supporters; 43 per cent of Conservative respondents were in favour, and 49 per cent of those who are aligned with the NDP were supportive. Those groups who say they vote for the Green Party or the Bloc Québécois both indicated 54 per cent approval for electronic voting.

The idea of e-voting was less-popular with the youngest cohort of respondents, aged 18-34 (50 per cent), than it was with middle-aged voters, aged 45-54, which saw 57 per cent support.

Along with electronic voting and a prime minister’s Question Period, the Liberal discussion paper also suggests changes related to private members’ business, eliminating Friday sittings, the House of Commons’ calendar, rules around time allocation, routine proceedings, prorogation, omnibus bills, as well as how committees are managed and formed.

The House Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is paused while MPs are in their ridings for break weeks, but will resume—filibuster and all—on Tuesday, May 2 at 9 a.m.

Mr. Strahl told The Hill Times his party is already building its roster of speakers to take the floor at Committee.

Results of this Forum Research survey based on the total sample are considered accurate plus or minus 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

news@hilltimes.com

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