Feature

Canada: Giving our poor leaders bleeding ulcers

Here, the prime minister can be questioned five times a week, as can his cabinet members, who are given no time to prepare their answers, said William Johnson in The Globe and Mail.

William Johnson
The Globe and Mail

Torturing the prime minister is the Canadian national sport, said William Johnson. Whenever we feel like it, we batter our leader with accusatory questions, often trickily worded to trap him into misspeaking. True, we’re not the only country that has a “question period” in which the opposition confronts the prime minister. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair confessed in his recent memoir that facing his weekly question time was “the most nerve-racking, discombobulating, nail-biting, bowel-moving, terror-inspiring, courage-draining experience” in his entire tenure.

Yet Canada’s ordeal “is incomparably more grueling.” Here, the prime minister can be questioned five times a week, as can his cabinet members, who are given no time to prepare their answers. The ritual makes for great television. “It offers totally partisan and antagonistic theatrics, a game of cat and mouse, a cockfight, a shoot-out between gunslingers.” But it’s completely unfair to ministers, who can’t be expected to keep statistics in their heads or to know every arcane detail of policy. And it’s bad for our democracy, because it “fosters the culture of fear and evasion” that forces cabinet ministers to focus not on effective governance but on playing defense against the press.

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