MPs Need To Pay Attention

“…I’ve told them

only to use their BlackBerrys when absolutely


– mp larry miller on the commons ag committee

Grain Growers of Canada wants members of the House of Commons’ agriculture committee to set aside their differences and engage in a more constructive debate.

“BlackBerry use, partisan attacks and a general lack of professionalism have become the norm at the committee,” GGC president Doug Robertson wrote in a letter to MPs on the committee. “We expect our parliamentarians to engage in an intelligent, respectful debate that leads to better policy for farmers.”

His organization has testified before the committee several times and once was cut off when it became embroiled in a dispute between members of different parties.

Committee chairman Larry Miller, a southern Ontario MP, said in an interview that he thinks there was merit in the group’s criticisms, but added that since Parliament returned in January, “the decorum has greatly improved.”

Committee members are adults and he’s not going to tell them how to behave, he said. However, he added, “I will talk to them about the need to show respect to our witnesses and I will send a response to the Grain Growers.

“There’s always a political side to our meetings but I’ve told them only to use their BlackBerrys when absolutely necessary,” Miller said. “I’ve suggested they not do it when witnesses are presenting.

“However, MPs have other responsibilities they have to keep track of. It’s all part of the multi-tasking that we do.”

“Witnesses often put a great deal of time and effort into presentations hoping to influence policy decisions,” Robertson, who farms at Carstairs, Alta., wrote to the committee. “The Grain Growers of Canada are also concerned that some members are too distracted by their electronic devices to engage with the witnesses in a constructive manner.

“If someone is frequently busy checking their BlackBerry, they are not following the discussion as closely as they should be,” he continued. “We understand that our MPs are busy people, but committee time should be for committee business.”

These problems are not specific to any one member or one party, he said. His group wants committee members “to put away their BlackBerrys and refrain from unnecessarily partisan attacks while witnesses are present.”

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