Standing Order 31s are permitted 15 minutes of the House's floor time each day during which selected MPs can speak for a maximum of one minute each in order to draw attention to issues or events. These have often been used to congratulate groups or individual citizens, bring attention to a problem, or make a statement on a policy issue. Increasingly, they appear to have also been used to make negative statements about other parliamentary parties or leaders, or to praise the MPs" own party. The purpose of this article is to provide evidence of the changing nature of this venue toward partisan purposes, and to highlight the trends of change and party use of this venue in recent years.
One of the House of Commons' least visible, and likely least known, venues has received a fair bit of attention over the past year. This recent attention to Standing Order 31 members' statements (SO 31s) has been due in part to MPs asserting themselves to counter what they have deemed to be excessive party control over the venue, while other attention has been given to a broader analysis of how these statements have changed over time by those in academia and the media.
Conservative MP Mark Warawa was recently seen as contributing to a Conservative "open revolt" (1) when he resorted to attempting to make a statement on the issue of sex-selective abortions after having a committee deem his motion on the same topic unvotable. Warawa decided to settle for simply an opportunity to state his position on the matter during the allotted time for doing so in SO 31. However, he found that this opportunity was also denied by his party, and argued that parties are selecting the statements they wish delivered, while leaving less space (or in Warawa's case, no space) for MPs to express themselves. A number of other Conservative MPs supported Warawa's request to the Speaker that MPs be given some autonomy in this venue.
While this particular parliamentary venue may not be deemed particularly "important", in that very little substantive change is likely accomplished through it, the position taken in this paper is that the venue still matters a good deal to observers of politics in Canada. First, the tone and nature of interaction in our Parliament translates to much more than the single venue in which it is studied. Recently in Canada, MPs have charged that various venues have become negatively partisan and, as a result, less constructive. SO 31s, as a measure of overall tone in Parliament, tell us about how our Parliament behaves and changes in terms of partisanship and adversarial behaviour. Second, the nature of partisanship also affects the degree to which MPs can pursue more localized matters and innovate to develop policy. While individual MPs in Canada are usually not considered of high importance to policy outcomes, they do nevertheless represent the views of electors and bring proposals from a range of perspectives, and these actions and the attention they bring may on occasion also play some role in policy outcomes. Finally, as Canada's top law-making body, there is an inherent importance in seeking to know and understand the full range of Parliament's activites. That is to say, if Parliament commits regularly scheduled time to either a representive or legislative activity, then there is reason to explore and understand the nature of that activity.
I've recently collected the text of all SO 31 statements that were made in the House over the period 20012012 (22,248 statements in total) and used a software program (2) to content code each statement to determine how often MPs mention either their own party, or another party. The results are provided below and indicate singificant changes over the period.
However, to first aid in understanding how the statements are analyzed, below are two examples of statements given by members that fit...