It’s time to stop using non-answers

Elections highlight many of the great things that our system of democracy is capable of producing. They also show off its weaknesses.

One of those weaknesses has been the acceleration of the trend toward the non-answer.

While this one has been around forever, politicians who abused it were once considered to be hacks, incapable of independent thought or diligent debate. Politicians who relied upon deflecting a legitimate question were thought to be dishonest.

Spinning a question off and then spouting a party line about a different topic in place of an answer insults the public’s intelligence.

There is no longer any shame in responding to a legitimate question by an MP in question period or reporters with a, “but the real question is …” or “what Canadians really want to know is….”

This tactic is a bait and switch that a politician uses in an attempt to redirect the attention of the viewer or listener away from a difficult subject and toward one that he believes will make him look better. In the process, he doesn’t admit a change of topic and pretends to still be answering or refuting the original question.

The media generally ignores the “answer” that this provides, but reporters are often granted only a single question, and the diversion tactic allows the politician an out.

During the move to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s marketing monopoly, the ministers of agriculture and trade and their parliamentary secretaries would preach the gospel of “marketing freedom” no matter what the question.

I experienced both ministers using the phrase out of the blue when I was raising questions about country-of-origin labelling and the Trans-Pacific Partnership this past summer, long after the CWB horse had left the barn. They appeared to be filling a quota of some kind.

Last week, the prime minister chose to answer a legitimate media question about why he was using the former mayor of Toronto and his brother, Doug, to rally his Conservative base in that region. It was a legitimate question, considering the shame the Fords have brought to Canada.

His answer was, “the economy….”

No matter who forms our national government this year, let’s all rally around the non-answer, and when we hear it from our leaders, give them our non-vote. Better they honestly answer or refuse to do so than waste our time and insult our intelligence.

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