The quantifiable rise of partisanship

Fifteen minutes a day to say what you want
The chamber of the House of Commons is seen during Question Period Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Among the concerns Jay Hill, the former government whip, noted at the Manning conference last weekend was the use of members’ statements—the minute-long statements that are delivered by MPs during a 15-minute period each day before Question Period—for partisan purposes.

We’ve been over this before, but, as luck would have it, there is new research from Kelly Blidook that attempts to quantify the trends in partisan sentiment of such statements between 2001 and 2012.

As can be seen above, the proportion of statements that include a mention of a party other than that of the statement’s giver has increased notably since the beginning of the millenium. The peak of almost 37% occurred in 2008, though the overall increase – from about 13% in 2001 to about 29% in 2012 is still a rather large increase in attention to rival parties in these statements.

Another interesting point should be made with regard to how each party engages in this behaviour. The Conservative Party tends to have the highest proportion (as well as the largest number of such statements, as its number of statements exceeds that of smaller parties with similar proportions). However, while the NDP had fewer members and therefore a smaller number of total statements, the proportion of statements that the NDP committed to mentioning other parties was comparable to, and even above, the proportion from the Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties until about 2007. Meanwhile, the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberal Party were much later to engage in the behaviour at such levels than were the NDP and Conservatives.

Mr. Hill proposes having these statements vetted by a committee of MPs. I think an easier solution might be to move those 15 minutes to a different part of the day (say right before or after the time reserved each day for the presenting of petitions) or, as raised by the matter of Mark Warawa, simply eliminate the use of lists from the party whips to dictate who delivers a statement each day.

It perhaps seems odd that anyone would be focusing on those 15-minutes as a significant problem—but reform might take a little of the edge off the daily debate and, even if only in a minor or periodic way, open up a small opportunity for MPs to express themselves somewhat more freely.