The Quebec National Assembly’s attempt to restore some decorum and at the same time reduce the amount of time wasted by member’s applause in Question Period has merit. But will it work? Would it work in Ottawa? Is it overkill?

Question Period can get pretty noisy; just watch CPAC for a few minutes. The use of better high quality microphones at each desk has helped the viewing public to catch more details of what is said. However,  there are often times when the Speaker has to intervene or can barely be heard over the noise of senseless applause.

The use of phony standing ovations has gotten out of hand.

There is zero need for cabinet ministers and backbenchers to stand and applaud an answer to a question given by the Prime Minister or by any minister for that matter. It is done for three reasons.

First, it is done to make the PM look good should that clip be the one that appears on the nightly news. It is all about the optics.

Of course there are other reasons too.

The most important one is that standing ovations eat up time. With Question Period running for 45 minutes, every standing ovation eats up some of the precious time allocated for asking questions. Each standing ovation takes approximately 10-12 seconds, from the time the MPs stand, to the time they sit down and the Speaker gives the next questioner the go ahead to proceed. That one standing ovation has cut off approximately one third of the time allocated to a question which is approximately 35 seconds long.

In the leaders round, the Prime Minister will take the first questions asked by the other party leaders, usually five in total, three to the Leader of the Opposition and two for the leader of other party. Opposition leaders can ask more and frequently do. For instance the Leader of the Opposition can ask five and frequently does. If the government stands and applauds the PM’s answers to all 5 questions, they have wasted some pretty valuable question time.

Five questions multiplied by 12 seconds doesn’t seem like much, but that 60 seconds that is wasted actually cuts the number of opposition questions that day by two. Add in all the standing ovations for ministers responding to questions (even the soft ball ones from their own side) and it is quite easy to knock off 5 or more questions from the opposition’s time. When the government is under heavy attack on an issue this wasted time becomes very important.

There is another reason for the government side to use standing ovations. On occasion the applause is done to simply bolster the confidence of a minister under attack. In that case, MPs are reminded before Question Period that they need to make lots of noise to support their minister.

What always amused me about the past parliamentary session was the number of times opposition MPs stood to applaud the questions asked by their leader. That was just plain dumb. There is zero reason to do that as they are limiting the time they have to grill the government. If they stand and applaud for the same five questions referred to above, they have also cut off at least 2 potential questions. In other words combining the applause from both sides of the House and at least four, probably more, questions don’t get asked. I used to love when the opposition did this to themselves.

This can be controlled by the Speaker without a vote as was done in Quebec. All the Speaker has to do is warn the government side and if they persist in eating up time this way, add on additional time at the end of Question Period for the opposition to ask more questions. If the opposition parties insist on doing it, warn them once and the next time they do it, jump to the next questioner on the Speakers list. If your leader loses a question or two, that hurts.

Of course there are ways to get around limits on applause and standing ovations. If you look back at the Diefenbaker-Pearson era, MPs showed support by banging their hands on top of their wooden desk. It made quite a noise for a few seconds. Try doing that yourself and see how quickly you stop. It wouldn’t happen very often.

Whether it is done by a vote in the House or by the Speaker intervening, we need to see an end to standing ovations. It is a complete waste of time and in the end reducing the number of questions hurts the opposition’s right to hold the government to account and the public’s right to know the answers to questions that matter.



It is no secret that at the moment the Conservative campaign appears to be in trouble and there are plenty of calls for them to hit the reset button. Declining poll numbers are just one of many signs of that happening along with rumours of infighting and incompetence. Some of this will be true, much of it exaggerated as frustrated workers and staff clash.

My own experience is that it is around week four of pretty much every campaign that the cracks begin to show. And that is with a regular campaign, not a long distance marathon of 78 days.

At that point in time, the war room staff are surviving on as little as 3-4 hours of sleep a day, they are running on coffee, caffeine and carbohydrate loaded food. At the same time leaders are tired and cranky. Mistakes occur, obvious items such as the UK salmon or Crater Lake are missed and sometimes defining moments are misinterpreted or decisions are made to plow through, stay the course and hope it will go away- the refugee issue could be one of those moments.

We don’t know who is in each of the party war rooms, that information is kept pretty much away from the press, but generally the vast majority are young IE in their 20’s and early 30’s- staff from the Hill for the most part. You need these young, energetic people as the pace is exhausting.

For those who think a war room is 5-6 people, it is much more than that when you add in all the regional desks, candidate liaison people, rapid response, issue management, communication and tour staff. Usually there is also a core group of more senior people. In the 2005-06 election we had our own separate room which we jokingly called the old fart gang and stuck a name on the door for Fast Action Response Team. In effect senior experienced staff who added some adult supervision to what went on and who the leader and campaign manager could consult on the developing issues of the day.

Every leader, every campaign manager, every worker/staffer has strengths and weaknesses. The secret is how they are blended and mixed together to create a well-oiled machine. You don’t have to like the person you are working beside (although it helps), but you have to be able to work together and trust the other persons advice and views on an issue. You can’t have all “yes” people as that is a disaster waiting to happen and that extends from the bottom to the top. There has to be some who can speak truth to power regardless of the consequences if there is going to be balanced advice on an issue.

After being in campaign mode for these many days every party will know which of their war room staff can measure up and survive the long exhausting trip to the finish line. There will be some rotation as fresh blood is brought in and tired and exhausted staff relieved. That is usually done quietly and is rarely played out in the media.

The real campaign is just beginning; the push to the finish line is on. All of the parties will have saved key issues that are designed to embarrass their opponents for this moment in the campaign. We used to call them bombs or channel changers. Well researched attack items that were often held back for months and designed to derail our opponent’s campaign and get them off message. We will see who has the best research team in the next few weeks.

You would be foolish to count the Conservatives as out of the game for first place.  Harper is an experienced campaigner, he knows how to pace himself and as the pace picks up and the pressure and media scrutiny of the Liberals and NDP mount they will make mistakes. Just as the refugee crisis seemingly came out of nowhere (even though present for years) we have plenty of time of other major issues to develop that can derail any one of the campaigns.

Unless you have been there, you can’t imagine what the staff in all of the party war rooms is going through. Their dedication and work will never be recognized as the accolades go to the leaders, but they are an essential part of every election campaign. A tip of the hat to all of them.


CTV Question Period

Enjoyed doing CTV Question Period today with Bob Fife. Here is a link.


Stay Out of the Story

One of the first rules in political issues management is to never be part of the story.

Issues management works in the background, monitoring the news, briefing key staff on unfolding events, offering up counter-attack points and coordinating with communications staff as needed. The aim is to present your boss, in this case the Prime Minister, in the best light to the media and public.

This brings us to the Duffy trial. Why would anyone send the present Director of Issues Management, Nick Koolsbergen, to sit and watch the trial in person? Yes, I know he is supposed to be on leave for the campaign, but if all you wanted to do was watch, listen in an adjoining room and then write a briefing note or report back to the campaign, why be there in person?

Every word was pretty much available from several different reporters who were tweeting the questions and answers as the trial progressed. It could have and should have been followed from inside their campaign office. Doing it that way they would have received all the information they needed without becoming part of the story themselves and without offering the media yet another chance to go at the PM from a different angle on the Duffy trial.

To make matters worse, Koolsbergen was seen talking to one of the witnesses on a break. Really guys? It doesn’t matter that you worked together at one time or that you could be friends. Did no one stop and think about how this might look on the TV screens of the nation?

This little chit chat has given new legs to the story and considering much of the trial has been about scripting people with what they are to say to the media, did they not think the media and through them the public IE voters would be wondering just what was said and if there wasn’t some scripting going on?

Sometimes you just shake your head at how they operate. Is no one there thinking about potential repercussions or perceptions? Who is asking the “what if” questions? Such as what if you are seen talking to a witness, how will the media react or if seen talking to a witness, could the PM get questions on that or if seen would it reflect negatively on the campaign etc.

Remember, your job is to stay out of the story. Becoming the issue in the story doesn’t help your boss and only opens him up to further attacks, the exact opposite of what your job is all about.



According to media reports, which first appeared on the 20th, the Green Party’s anticipated candidate in Peterborough-Kawartha plans to ask his supporters to vote for the NDP. Both the Globe and Mail and HuffPostCanada indicate that all of this is supposed to happen once it is too late to take the candidate’s name off of the ballot. In the meantime the plan appears to be to attend debates while pointing out how it’s better to vote NDP because “some” of their positions are similar.

Either you represent your party or you don’t? A lot of voters are away or won’t catch these stories; they will believe they have a legitimate Green candidate. If this is allowed to happen, isn’t this deceiving and misleading voters?

This story has been out there since August 20th. It is now the 23rd and so far the Green Party is still looking into it. Are they that slow to act or does the leadership agree with the position taken in Peterborough?

This type of nonsense hurts the party not only in Peterborough, but across the country as many voters will now wonder what their Green candidate might end up doing or for that matter what Ms. May might suggest in the dying days of the campaign.

With many polls suggesting the possibility of a minority government, shouldn’t the Greens be trying to elect a rump of MPs who can possibly hold the balance of power in parliament and the influence that would give them? No one expects them to win huge numbers in this election, but they do represent a legitimate option. Their ultimate aim this time around should be full party status in the House of Commons. The extra resources and exposure would place them in a better position leading up to the election after this one.

It is rather defeatist at this early stage to suggest your voters go elsewhere. Who would have predicted the Orange Wave in Quebec last election? There are a lot of undecided Canadian voters and Ms. May gave a credible performance in the leader’s debate that impressed many of them.

It is understandable that from a PR point of view May doesn’t want to get involved in removing a candidate or blocking their nomination, understandable that she wants to appear to be different to other leaders out there. But the reality is that she needs party officials who will take action.

It is now four days and counting to see what Ms. May and the officials in the party will do in Peterborough-Kawartha. What gives?