I approached the government and opposition in April with a motion to ban applause during Question Period. Quebec’s National Assembly banned applause last fall, and the change in tone before and after the applause ban is evident. Even on the most heated days, Question Period in Quebec is rarely the unwatchable mess of heckling and partisan jabs that features so prominently in B.C. politics.
Here in B.C., the Speaker has reprimanded MLAs multiple times this spring for their poor behaviour, and banning applause would be a small step forward to improve decorum. Unfortunately, neither the government nor opposition are interested in improving the quality of our legislative proceedings. I was told by my colleagues that the behaviour of elected officials was not a substantive issue of public concern; that nobody watches Question Period anyway; and that it is MLAs’ “right” to applaud. I couldn’t disagree more.
The government House Leader said last week that we should not be dictating how MLAs behave in the legislature – let them clap! But of course, we already police MLAs’ behaviour with an exhaustive set of rules and expectations.
Ontario’s Integrity Commissioners have called Question Period “a public embarrassment” that “denigrates the institution of the Assembly.” In B.C., MLAs’ conduct is no better. I often receive comments from guests who watch the proceedings from the public gallery for the first time. One guest who recently visited the legislature for Question Period in February said:
“My teenage son was with me and we were both appalled by the behaviour on the floor! The heckling, chatter and desk pounding made it more about theatrics than good governance.”
She’s right, of course. Question Period is theatre, and scoring political points is more important than meaningful exchange. MLAs raise their voices and trumpet government programs on the expectation their colleagues will burst forth with scripted applause. Clapping also wastes time. About 100 questions will go unasked this spring, because MLAs chose to fill that time with applause. We will spend seven entire Question Periods on applause this spring, or around three-and-a-half hours.
The behaviour we see in Question Period every week undermines the institution of parliament. We spend 30 minutes a day giving people every reason to tune out B.C. politics. Should we be surprised that they’ve taken us up on it?
Time Spent on Applause during Question Period
Week of March 7th: 18 minutes, 46 seconds
Week of April 4th total: 16 minutes, 2 seconds
Week of April 11th total: 17 minutes and 43 seconds
Week of April 25th: 17 minutes, 20 seconds
Week of May 2nd: 17 minutes, 19 seconds