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Speaker urges all MPs to raise quality of questions and answers in Commons

Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, April 22, 2013. Scheer is appealing to government and opposition MPs alike to change the nasty, partisan and uninformative tone of question period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, April 22, 2013. Scheer is appealing to government and opposition MPs alike to change the nasty, partisan and uninformative tone of question period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - The Speaker of the House of Commons is appealing to government and opposition MPs alike to change the nasty, partisan and uninformative tone of question period.

Andrew Scheer says there's little he can do as the neutral referee of the Commons to improve the quality of questions asked or answers given.

He says the onus is on MPs to police themselves and ensure that question period fulfils its fundamental purpose: giving MPs the chance to seek information from the government and hold it to account.

Questions are supposed to deal with the administrative responsibilities of the government, but Scheer says there's a growing trend to begin questions with lengthy preambles that are little more than partisan broadsides.

He warns that such questions risk being ruled out of order if they don't get back on track.

As to the non-answers often given by the government, Scheer says he has no authority to judge their quality or relevance.

Since his ability to improve matters is limited, Scheer told the Commons on Tuesday: "All members, both in government and in opposition, need to ask themselves: 'Is question period a forum that Canadians can look at and conclude that it constitutes a proper use of members' time?'

"Given the widespread concern and commentary about question period, all members may want to consider how the House can improve things so that observers can at least agree that question period presents an exchange of views and provides some information."

In his view, Scheer added: "It takes a partnership between the opposition and the government to demonstrate a willingness to elevate the tone, elevate the substance and make sure that question period is being used to do the job that we were elected to do, which is to represent our constituents, advance ideas and hold the government to account."

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