Trudeau Town Hall (Photo)

Prime Minister Trudeau speaking to a campus audience, Jan. 12, 2018.

Students may not have time to watch Question Period on CPAC, but it's still important to understand the workings of the federal government. If you have ever watched Question Period at Parliament Hill, you’ll know that it's comparable to reality television. That's probably why some critics would say Question Period gets nothing done or that its a waste of time. It’s where the elected adults of our society hash out their problems. There's arguing, screaming, cheering, taking shots and making jokes.

Question Period alone doesn't really get much accomplished. The most important part is what happens after Question Period, when the media and news pick it up and use it to highlight a particularly pressing issue that has come up.

But this Liberal Government makes it very hard to get any answers. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now has an infamous track record of not answering important questions asked by the opposition. If it wasn't for the media, nothing would be getting done. Question Period is only effective because the media uses it to hold the government accountable. Vanesit and Wingrove claim studies confirm there is a greater chance for issues to become present on the political agenda after they have been present in media coverage.

Trudeau has visited Western University on two previous occasions during his tour of town hall meetings. Students seemed to like him and asked a variety of questions, appearing interested in what is going on in the government. With that, it is important to be critical and to know the shortcomings of this prime minister.

So what does it mean when the prime minister evades answering questions? Well, in some cases it's beneficial. Question Period is effective when the media uses it as agenda setting to bring more awareness to issues. Take the Christopher Garnier case, for example, to show how the backlash of the Prime Minister's actions of not answering brought even more awareness to the issue.

Garnier murdered Catherine Campbell, an off-duty police officer in Halifax in 2015. This past August he was convicted of second-degree murder. Then because his father served in the military, Christopher Garnier was entitled to PTSD treatment in prison, paid for by — you guessed it — Veterans Affairs.

Garnier claims he got his PTSD from committing the murder. After a series of questionable steps taken by the Liberal government, the Progressive Conservative party had questions and raised their concerns about the government putting the interest of a cop killer ahead of the interests of Canada’s veterans.

Trudeau then gave a quick statement about how his heart and prayers goes out to Campbell's family. But he did not specify what he was going to do.

Trudeau first failed to answer the question, and then it was brought up again. This may be an example of how the media can use Question Period for agenda setting, and this is what actually gets things accomplished. Although the Garnier story did make news, it probably wouldn't have received enough attention and outrage to change the Veterans Affairs application decision process. This is a prime example of a mass media effect. Potter defines it as an influence that enables a change in an outcome after exposure to mass media messages.

Pingree et al. argues that gatekeeping criticism, which is opposed to the method media outlets use to determine what stories are of most importance allows there to be a shift towards agenda setting as it can be effective in developing a way to prioritize problems. And this is exactly what Question Period is good at doing.

Students should know that Question Period doesn't always work the way it should, and students should be aware of the behaviour Trudeau exhibits during Question Period, like in this instance, avoiding to answer a pressing question concerning veterans.

Since this Question Period, the news seems to be featuring more stories of real veterans that actually served in the military and how they are being denied benefits they need for their families. Showing this is a way that issues can be in the spotlight and used by other parties to make a change. John Micallef, a Navy Veteran who has been denied benefits from Veterans Affairs for his wife who has been diagnosed with dementia.

So thank you Justin Trudeau for not answering questions. You’re actually helping make a change.

- Taryn Bratz, third-year political science and religious studies student


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