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Evaluating the Relevance of Answers Provided by the Canadian Government in Parliamentary Question Periods


Core Concepts
The quality of answers provided by the Canadian government in parliamentary question periods can be evaluated based on the degree to which the answer text allows the initial question to be accurately inferred. This measure of answer quality reflects the relevance of the answers to the questions asked.
Abstract
The paper proposes a novel approach to evaluating the quality of answers provided in political question-and-answer sessions, using the Canadian House of Commons Question Period as a case study. The key insights are: The quality of answers is assessed based on the degree to which the answer text allows the initial question to be accurately inferred. This measure of answer quality reflects the relevance of the answers to the questions asked. This conception of answer quality can be operationalized using state-of-the-art machine learning techniques, specifically semantic search models that interpret the meaning of questions and identify the most relevant answers. Analyzing over 15 years of Question Period exchanges, the authors find that answer quality varies based on the party affiliation of the member asking the question, with questions from third parties and parties closer to the governing party receiving more relevant answers on average. The authors also find that the government tends to provide less relevant answers to questions on certain topics, such as broken promises, budget deficits, corruption allegations, and taxes, compared to questions on issues where the government has a better reputation. The quality of answers reflects not only the government's incentives, but also the intentions of opposition parties in formulating questions, as they may deliberately ask questions designed to elicit low-quality responses.
Stats
"Canadians across the country have called for this measure. For example, Michelle Vardy of the Georgian Bay Women's Outdoors Workshops and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters stated: As a woman, the long gun registry does not make me feel any safer or more secure. It is wasteful, ineffective and reduces funding to do real things. The 2 billion dollars that have already been spent would have been better used on programs like healthcare—" "Today I am announcing that our government will match the contributions of Canadians to humanitarian organizations working in Burma and China. Let me assure all Canadians our government will do our share of the international effort and ensure that our help does get to the victims and their families."
Quotes
"Canadians across the country have called for this measure. For example, Michelle Vardy of the Georgian Bay Women's Outdoors Workshops and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters stated: As a woman, the long gun registry does not make me feel any safer or more secure. It is wasteful, ineffective and reduces funding to do real things. The 2 billion dollars that have already been spent would have been better used on programs like healthcare—" "Today I am announcing that our government will match the contributions of Canadians to humanitarian organizations working in Burma and China. Let me assure all Canadians our government will do our share of the international effort and ensure that our help does get to the victims and their families."

Deeper Inquiries

How might the government's incentives to provide relevant answers differ when facing a minority government versus a majority government?

When facing a minority government, the government's incentives to provide relevant answers are typically higher compared to a majority government. In a minority government scenario, where the ruling party does not hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons, the government must actively seek support from opposition parties to pass motions of confidence and remain in power. As a result, the government is more inclined to cooperate with opposition parties and provide more relevant answers to their questions to maintain their support. Failing to answer questions from opposition members diligently can lead to aggravation and potentially weaken the government's survival prospects. On the other hand, in a majority government situation where the governing party holds a majority of seats, the incentives to provide relevant answers may be lower. The government may feel less pressure to cooperate with opposition parties as they have the numerical advantage to pass motions of confidence without opposition support. This could result in the government being less responsive to questions from opposition members and potentially providing less relevant answers.

To what extent do opposition parties strategically formulate questions to elicit low-quality responses from the government, and how does this impact the interpretation of the measure of answer quality?

Opposition parties often strategically formulate questions to elicit low-quality responses from the government as part of their political tactics. By asking questions that they know the government may struggle to answer effectively, opposition parties can create opportunities to highlight weaknesses, inconsistencies, or controversies within the government's policies or actions. This strategic questioning can be used to put the government on the defensive, undermine their credibility, or score political points with the public and media. The impact of this strategic questioning on the interpretation of the measure of answer quality is significant. It introduces a level of subjectivity and manipulation into the evaluation process. Answers that may appear low-quality based on the measure of relevance to the initial question may actually be a result of deliberate tactics by the opposition to provoke a certain response from the government. This dynamic complicates the assessment of answer quality and requires a nuanced understanding of the political context in which the questions are asked and answered.

What other applications might this approach to evaluating the relevance of statements in a conversational context have beyond the realm of political science?

The approach of evaluating the relevance of statements in a conversational context, as demonstrated in the political science context provided, has broad applications across various fields. Some potential applications include: Customer Service: Companies can use similar techniques to assess the quality of responses provided by customer service representatives to customer queries and complaints. This can help improve customer satisfaction and service quality. Legal Proceedings: Legal professionals can analyze the relevance of statements made during court proceedings to assess the effectiveness of arguments and testimonies. Academic Research: Researchers can use this approach to evaluate the quality of responses in interviews, surveys, or focus groups, providing insights into the effectiveness of communication in research studies. Media Analysis: Media organizations can analyze the relevance of statements made by public figures or in news articles to assess the accuracy and credibility of information presented to the public. Overall, this approach can be applied in any context where the quality and relevance of responses to specific queries or statements need to be evaluated objectively and systematically.
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