Late last week, a reader pointed out that the Republican nominee for president has mused openly of submitting himself to something like Question Period should he be elected. Though this promise likely won’t shift a single vote in reality, for sheer entertainment purposes, this should justifiably boost John McCain’s electoral hopes.
Daniel Finkelstein of the Times, a former advisor to John Major, has some advice for McCain, much of it probably useful to those Canadian leaders who still struggle with the daily exercise.
And Christopher Hitchens has weighed in with some American historical context. (Slate also rounds up the wider American media coverage in this thorough mocking of Ralph Nader.)
There will be various viewers of CPAC and surely numerous readers of this column who will groan and roll their eyes at McCain’s proposal. But I dare say—and, yes, as someone obligated to attend QP on a regular basis I am probably not without self-interest here—there is great value in each afternoon’s airing of accusation and innuendo.Oh, stop laughing. I’m fairly serious.
Whatever the state of QP under Canada’s 39th Parliament, it remains the most valuable demonstration available of who our political leaders are. One could attend a year’s worth of speeches and announcements and press conferences, read every document on the public record, even interview associates and family members, and still not glean the insight into, say, Stephen Harper provided by 45 minutes of QP. The behavior is often dreadful, the heckling silly and the answer devoid of substance, but so be it.
As Finkelstein notes, there is a bit of vaudeville in the show. But rarely have I looked down upon Stephane Dion or John Baird or Harper or Jack Layton and not thought I was seeing exactly who they were in those moments. The best and worst of them is quickly and regularly obvious. Who they are as individuals, politicians and leaders is laid, often uncomfortably, bare.
Those who lament that QP has become a pointless mess miss the point. It’s a symptom, not the illness. And the alternative—a Prime Minister as isolated and stage-managed as, say, the current President—is far more dispiriting.