09/29/2014 12:43 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST

NDP Bid To Improve Question Period Thwarted By Conservatives

OTTAWA - Last week's controversial series of non-sequitur government answers prompted a renewed Opposition bid for parliamentary reform Monday — a motion the government quickly consigned to certain doom.

Even so, the New Democrat motion — designed to give the Speaker more power to block irrelevant answers — seemed to have at least a temporary impact on the Conservatives, who largely stayed on topic during the cut-and-thrust of the daily question period.

The New Democrats had been hoping to extend the Speaker's authority in the Commons over not just the relevance of the questions being asked during question period, but also the answers provided by the government.

Speaker Andrew Scheer said last week he was powerless to intervene when Tory MP Paul Calandra answered NDP questions about Canadian soldiers in Iraq by posing his own questions about the Opposition's Middle East policy.

"The most important part of Parliament isn't the question, it's the answer,'' NDP House leader Peter Julian said Monday in introducing the motion.

"For the Speaker to not have the ability to intervene on the relevance, or on repetition, of answers to extremely important questions that are being asked in the House of Commons is something that I think most Canadians find aggravating."

But the majority Conservatives argued the motion goes too far and engaged in a bit of procedural trickery Monday to all but ensure it never comes to a vote.

Government House leader Peter Van Loan said the proposal would hamper the government's ability to defend itself or question the opposition or compare the approaches of other parties.

He called Canada's question period the most accountable in the world.

"This NDP motion, which is a one-way street, seeks to fully constrain the government without applying any new standards at all to the opposition to elevate the level of question period," he said.

"This is simply unfair."

The Liberals have said they would support the motion.

The government's decision to effectively kill the motion proves the Conservatives realize that Canadians don't approve of their behaviour in the House, Julian said.

"We see obviously a government that is scared of voting against the NDP motion so instead of voting against it they try to throw in some procedural tricks hoping to hide it from the population," Julian said.

"They won't be able to do that."

Calandra issued a tearful apology Friday for his behaviour in the House — a decision apparently prompted by Conservative constituents and members of cabinet who were angered by the performance.

On Monday, the government appeared to turn over a new leaf, putting forth several cabinet ministers to answer questions — in some cases, quite directly.

NDP MP Megan Leslie asked when the question of Canada's military involvement in Iraq would come to a vote.

"I say very clearly, if there were to be a combat mission, we would seek to bring it before Parliament as a matter of confidence," replied Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

The NDP motion comes after all parties in the House agreed to support Conservative MP Michael Chong's so-called Reform Act, which seeks to provide individual MPs more power to turf their leaders, and to give grassroots riding organizations more say over who represents them.

But in order to win that support, Chong was forced to make its provisions far more flexible — even suggesting that parties could vote at the start of each Parliament as to whether they'd follow the new rules.

Chong's efforts underscore the challenges facing any one party that wants to make changes to the way Canada is governed: everyone has to agree on how to fix it.

In 2013, the New Democrats and the Liberals got into a political fight over how to make MPs expense reporting more transparent with the introduction of duelling motions on the issue.

It took until this year for all parties to come to an agreement and support another Liberal motion making more detailed reporting mandatory.


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