Tuesday, January 04, 2011

On issue management

The Ottawa Citizen's analysis may be exactly the kind of attention needed to redirect attention in question period from news-cycle trivialities to longer-term isues. But it's well worth noting who's already leading the way on that front:
An Ottawa Citizen analysis of question period transcripts shows the opposition asked far more questions about Canada's mission in Afghanistan and government ethics than any other subjects in 2010.

The Liberals asked about ethics three times as often as they did about the economy, putting the government record on accountability ahead of questions on the G8 and G20 summits. The controversy over the post-politics antics of former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer accounted for many of these.

The Liberals also used more of their question period time to chastise the Harper government on the elimination of the long-form census than on its management of the economy.

Afghanistan topped the list of subjects in questions from the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats. The NDP was the only party with health care in its top 10 questions. It also used a higher proportion of its allotted questions to ask about aboriginal issues and pensions.
An analysis of key words and phrases used in questions and replies also reflects different areas of concern for each party. The Liberals referred to Jaffer in about one of every 22 questions, while the Tories spoke his name in less than one of 100 replies.

The keyword analysis shows the NDP mentioned health care, child care and poverty far more than other parties. The Tories led the way with references to crime and were the most likely to cite the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
Now, I would consider it a plus that the Libs worked on keeping the census issue alive by dedicating plenty of time to it in question period - particularly since it actually represented an executive decision which was never explained to the public. But with even a modicum of hindsight, it would seem obvious that focusing on Rahim Jaffer to the exclusion of health care, child care and other serious policy issues was bound to be just as much a political loser as it was a waste of time in Parliament. And hopefully the knowledge that they'll be held accountable for the content of their questions will lead all parties to focus more on questions which they can be proud to have asked - and concurrently less on personality-based gossip.

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