By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 10, 2013 - 0 Comments
Postmedia reports “more than 10,000.” The Globe says the RCMP said it was between 10,000 and 12,000. The Catholic Register says Mark Warawa said that organizers said it was more than 20,000. Lifesite says organizers said it was likely near 25,000 because last year’s count was 19,500 and this year’s crowd was bigger. But, according to the Toronto Sun’s report at the time, the RCMP pegged the 2012 crowd at 10,000.
Crowd estimates—especially when there aren’t at least some chairs to count—are dicey and this can all get a bit silly, but it’s still possible, using the lower estimate of the RCMP, that there were more people on the Hill this year than in recent years.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, May 10, 2013 at 10:01 AM - 0 Comments
All righty. Since Mark Warawa has finally kicked off that grand national conversation about sex-selective abortion we needed so badly, I’ll start by asking a question: exactly which sex-selective abortions should we outlaw? I think we know how Warawa would answer, given his druthers: “All of them, along with all the other abortions.” It is odd, though, how many of the people who are eager for a “conversation” have failed to supply their own answer. We hear that there must be some law—the truly civilized places, the superior polities, all have one!—but no one ever explains with any precision what that law should capture. Let’s imagine some possible cases:
1. An East Indian woman in a traditionalist marriage is found to be carrying a female fetus, and wants to abort it owing to her preference for having a boy.
2. A Toronto feminist in a radical same-sex life arrangement is found to be carrying a male fetus, and wants to abort it owing to her preference for a male-free household.
3. A mother of three boys is found to be carrying a fourth male fetus, and opts for an abortion and an attempt at a fifth pregnancy with a different outcome in the hope of “balancing” her family.
4. A mother who knows she is a carrier of red-green colour blindness, generally an X-chromosome-linked genetic defect, prefers to carry only girls to term because she selfishly prefers to have a more perfect child.
5. A mother who knows she is a carrier of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, always an X-chromosome-linked genetic defect, prefers to carry only girls to term because she selfishly prefers to have a more perfect child.
6. A mother, living in the imminent near future in which fetuses can be gene-sequenced almost immediately after implantation, who has no actual preference concerning the sex of her child, but makes an a priori decision to abort any fetus that displays some level—perhaps trivial, perhaps only the most staggeringly serious—of known genetic defect. The result, since God has arranged matters such that recessive X-chromosome-linked defects affecting only boys vastly outnumber any other kind, is a set of abortions that are collectively and strongly “sex-selective” in favour of girls, even though the mothers are indifferent. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 4:24 PM - 0 Comments
As promised, the Conservative MP stood before Question Period and delivered a statement about female gendercide.
Mr. Speaker, twenty thousand Canadians from all walks of life gathered here today in front of the Parliament Buildings. They are asking Canadian leaders to end discrimination against women and girls occurring through global gendercide. Female gendercide is the systematic killing of women and girls just because they are girls.
The UN says that over 200 million girls are missing in the world right now because of female gendercide. The Canadian Medical Association revealed that this barbaric form of discrimination is occurring in Canada. The statement “It’s a girl” should not be a death sentence. Gendercide is the ultimate form of discrimination against women and girls. A huge thanks goes to the thousands across Canada standing up against all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls. I also want to thank Lucky Gill with Global Girl Power.
It’s not clear whether Mr. Warawa was on the government whip’s list of those scheduled to make a statement. I didn’t see any other Conservative MP stand on the right side of the House, but conceivably one of the Conservatives seated to the immediate left of the Speaker could have been standing.
Update 10:09pm. A tweet from Mr. Warawa suggests he wasn’t on the whip’s list.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 11:19 AM - 0 Comments
The Conservative MP is planning to make a statement on Thursday about sex-selective abortion.
On Thursday, Warawa intends to stand up in the House to talk about female “gendercide” – the systematic killing of women, which includes aborting females. And he will do it without a spot on his party’s speaking list, by catching the eye of Speaker Andrew Scheer, who in a landmark decision ruled late last month that MPs are allowed to make statements and ask questions without their party’s consent.
If Scheer recognizes him on Thursday, Warawa will be able to make his statement weeks after the issue of MP freedom was brought to the forefront of Parliament. “My involvement with speaking up against gendercide continues,” Warawa said in an interview.
The government would thus seem to have two options. It can, as it seemed to do two weeks ago when Mr. Warawa previously promised to stand and attempt to catch the Speaker’s eye, put him on the whip’s list for Thursday. In which case, he wins. Or it can ignore his stated intention and Mr. Warawa can stand of his volition until the Speaker recognizes him. At which point, he wins.
See previously: What the Speaker’s ruling means
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 6:05 PM - 0 Comments
There was some anger, to be sure, but there was just as much guffawing and as many furrowed brows over the wish of these MPs to discuss abortion … These MPs wished to discuss an issue that their party leadership and the media have deemed out of bounds. Rather than defend the rights of MPs to bring their views into debate and to eventually have them put to a vote, we are subjected to commentary that the prime minister needs to exercise more control over his caucus. We are told that MPs should be allowed to speak, but perhaps not on this issue. What other issues are off limits remains to be seen.
MPs come to Ottawa understanding that they serve at the pleasure of their leader. Those same leaders act virtually free of constraints. When MPs assert their rights, it is portrayed as a party in disarray and as leaders losing control when in fact it is actually parliamentary democracy in action. Acknowledging that MPs can rise to their feet and be recognized to speak without their party’s approval is surely a gain for our Parliament. But it will move our democracy only an inch rather than a mile if we do not equally free MPs from the things that keep them off their feet.
Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber says he intends to stand.
I have been asked by several media outlets whether I intend to avail myself to this reestablished opportunity. The answer is “yes,” though I have not yet done so. The reason (and I believe the reason is important to an understanding as to why we have noticed only incremental change in the operation of the House) for this is that a rediscovered right or opportunity should not be deployed capriciously or in a cavalier manner. I did not advocate for a Member’s ability to speak freely just so that Members could speak merely to hear the sound of their own voices. They should reserve the opportunity and indeed the privilege to speak in the House to occasions when they have something substantial to say.
But Members must avail themselves of that ability to attempt to be recognized on occasions when that Member has something important to say, because the right to speak freely in this House was not so much taken away by the leadership as it was voluntarily ceded. So it is up to us now…
Peter calls the Speaker’s ruling a “hollow” victory. I think it’s probably more accurately described as a small victory—one that could take on more significance if MPs are willing to make use of it.
The basic problem is an imbalance of power. At present, it is the party leader who possess an overwhelming amount of it. When Mark Warawa stood on a question of privilege, he was openly questioning this dynamic. Nine other government backbenchers followed suit and did likewise. Those acts alone were significant in that they demonstrated a degree of independence and empowerment.
It is possible, I suppose, that someone on the government side had some inkling that simply standing up during the time reserved for statement by members would have allowed MPs to subvert the list prepared by their party whip. Mr. Warawa says he had no idea. Regardless, when the Speaker stood and ruled as he did, it was an official and public acknowledgement and invitation: an important statement from the authority of the Speaker’s throne that the whip and his list do not prevent MPs from performing the physical act of standing. If, as it seemed, Mark Warawa’s subsequent threat to stand without official approval resulted in him being put on the whip’s list, that was a specific victory for Mr. Warawa: a concession from his party’s leaders that they did not wish to be publicly subverted. Going forward, any backbencher who is told he cannot stand and speak, as Mr. Warawa was, can plausibly threaten to stand of his or her own volition.
Of course, the system of incentives—the political and media pressures—that existed before the Speaker’s ruling still exists now. And there is much more that might be done to achieve a more healthy balance between the party leader and the MP, the executive and the legislature. But over the last few weeks, ten government backbenchers stood and asked the Speaker to confirm their rights as individual members of the legislature and the Speaker responded with a public assurance that they could stand at their own discretion. That is a small, but potentially useful, victory.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
Yesterday afternoon’s debate on the Liberal proposal for statements by members starts here—with this question of how the Speaker would be impacted being a point of some conflict. The debate on Brad Trost’s motion to have the House of Commons elect committee chairs starts here.
Meanwhile, John Ivison talks to two Conservatives about the Speaker’s ruling and Mark Warawa’s statement yesterday.
“My view is that our rights as MPs have been affirmed,” said one MP, explaining why Conservative MPs did not spend Question Period bouncing up and down with their hands raised like over-eager students.
Mr. Warawa was clearly of the same mind — being recognized by the Speaker was victory enough, without having to rub the leadership’s nose in it. “Mark’s a good man, not a rebel,” said one of his colleagues. “The local issue is, in its own way, a statement against PMO control, without being provocative.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 6:28 PM - 0 Comments
At 2pm, the Speaker’s parade—a ceremonial photo op, a silly show of hallowed tradition—proceeded down the West corridor of Centre Block toward the House of Commons. Preceded by one marching guard and flanked by three more—To protect the Speaker from what? A sneak attack by the Queen?—strode the sergeant-at-arms, carrying the large golden mace that must be in place for the House to conduct its business, and the Speaker and his clerks in their three-cornered hat and robes. Once the official party was safely inside, the large wooden doors were shut and the official business of the nation began for another day.
Something like a dozen reporters had gathered at the gallery door, anxiously waiting for the House to be called to order. This was something like four times the usual attendance—the larger crowd here in anticipation that one of the duly elected adults sent here to represent the people of this country might stand up in his or her place without having first obtained the permission of the party leader he or she is supposed to support. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 7:33 PM - 0 Comments
I’m pleased with Speaker Scheer’s ruling that MPs have the right to seek the floor at any time.
Spkr Scheer eschews metaphor of being referee. How about Solomon playing tennis? Ball is now in MPs’ court. Next days to be interesting
An astute ruling by the Speaker on MP statements. He has served the Commons well today.
Leon Benoit, to reporters after QP.
Well, I think you’re going to see people rising both to make statements and ask questions.
John Ivison quotes an anonymous Conservative.
The initial reaction from Conservative MPs calling for a loosening of party control was positive. “It puts the issue back in the House,” said one MP. “It’s now up to us if we are to safeguard free speech. It will take a courageous response from MPs. Do I think they will step up? I do. It may be uncomfortable in the beginning but they will.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 5:50 PM - 0 Comments
As the Speaker proceeded through his ruling on Mark Warawa’s question of privilege this afternoon, Michael Chong, the cabinet minister turned parliamentary agitator who last week spoke in support of Mr. Warawa’s appeal and who currently sits directly in front of Mr. Warawa on the government side of the House, periodically nodded and smiled.
Officially, there was nothing for Mr. Warawa or his supporters or any agitators for a more perfect parliament to smile about. On the strict question of whether Mr. Warawa’s privileges as a member of parliament had been breached, the Speaker found no such prima facie case.
Unofficially, Mr. Warawa, his supporters and all willing agitators have been invited to stand and, in doing so, change the rules by which we understand our parliamentary democracy in some small, but significant, way. Continue…
By The Canadian Press - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 4:23 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – The Speaker of the House of Commons has loosened what some MPs…
OTTAWA – The Speaker of the House of Commons has loosened what some MPs have seen as a muzzle, saying he won’t always rely on party lists of speakers if individual members rise to compete for a chance to be heard.
Andrew Scheer has delivered a careful ruling in an argument that pitted Conservative backbench MPs against their own party’s tight control over who gets to deliver brief statements in the Commons before question period each day.
Conservative MP Mark Warawa complained last month that his privileges were breached when the party whip refused to allow him to make a statement in the House about sex-selective abortion.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 3:30 PM - 0 Comments
The prepared text of Andrew Scheer’s ruling on Mark Warawa’s question of privilege.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 26 by the Member for Langley (Mr. Warawa) regarding the presentation of a Member’s Statement pursuant to Standing Order 31.
I would like to thank the hon. Member for Langley for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Chief Government Whip (Mr. O’Connor), the hon. House Leader for the Official Opposition (Mr. Cullen), the hon. House Leader for the Liberal Party (Mr. LeBlanc), and the Members for Vegreville—Wainwright (Mr. Benoit), Saanich—Gulf Islands (Ms. May), Lethbridge (Mr. Hillyer), Winnipeg South (Mr. Bruinooge), Edmonton—St. Albert (Mr. Rathgeber), Brampton West (Mr. Seeback), Kitchener Centre (Mr. Woodworth), New Brunswick Southwest (Mr. Williamson), Wellington—Halton Hills (Mr. Chong), Glengarry—Prescott—Russell (Mr. Lemieux), South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale (Mr. Hiebert), Medicine Hat (Mr. Payne), West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country (Mr. Weston), Halifax (Ms. Leslie), and Thunder Bay—Superior North (Mr. Hyer) for their comments.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 11:18 AM - 0 Comments
I’m told the Speaker hopes to deliver a ruling on Mark Warawa’s question of privilege after Question Period this afternoon.
Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber wondered yesterday about how statements would be distributed among parties were the Liberal motion to pass. The Liberals tell me that statements would be allocated proportionally—the current system seems to basically follow this rule. I emailed Mr. Rathgeber to ask about the Liberal motion and in the course of that conversation he suggested that party affiliation should be ignored entirely and statements should be allotted randomly, similar to how the order for private members’ bills is established.
It should be random ( by lottery) the way PMB Precedence is established … The point is slots are given to Members; not parties. This is an important distinction and important in re-establishing the significance of the Member. Matters of Private Members should be managed outside the caucus apparatus, as is done with PMB and Motion Precedence.
Speaking with reporters after QP yesterday, Thomas Mulcair said the New Democrats would support the Liberal motion, but also suggested it might not amount to much of a change.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 9:01 AM - 0 Comments
Shortly after Dominic LeBlanc had said his piece yesterday, Independent MP Bruce Hyer, formerly of the NDP, stood to add his support to Mark Warawa’s question of privilege.
Before the third reading vote on the long gun registry bill, for example, I was informed by the whip of my former party that if I did not vote as the party wished, then I would be “punished”. After that vote I was instantly punished: no questions, no statements, no foreign travel, no committee representation, no debating time other than asking brief questions of party debaters.
However, I was not really the one who was punished by the party and by our system here. It was the constituents of Thunder Bay—Superior North who were punished. Their voice in the House of Commons was muzzled. The person they had elected was no longer able to speak for them, to ask their questions and to raise their concerns and aspirations.
Tomorrow will be exactly one year to the day since I became an independent. I was scheduled that day to have my first S. O. 31 statement since my punishment had begun. Somehow the party found out that I would use my statement to announce my becoming independent. In the few minutes before my scheduled speaking time, they asked the Speaker to pull my statement, and the Speaker complied. However, now, as an independent, I and my constituents do get a reasonable and adequate number of questions and statements.
The similarities between my experience and that of the member for Langley are striking. We must all recognize that we have developed a problem in Parliament of excessive party control, and we must move to fix the problem before it erodes our democracy any further.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 4:54 PM - 0 Comments
The Liberals had said they wouldn’t get involved in Mark Warawa’s question of privilege, but after Question Period today, Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc stood to make a submission. He expressed his support for Mr. Warawa’s cause, but also asked that the Speaker to “resist” ruling on that question of privilege until the House has had a chance to debate and vote on the related Liberal motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am intervening with respect to the question of privilege that was brought before the House by the member for Langley. Without any doubt, freedom of speech for members of Parliament is paramount in any democracy. In fact, you will be very familiar with this text, Mr. Speaker. Erskine May’s 19th edition states: “The freedom of speech is a privilege essential to every free council or legislature”.
Mr. Speaker, the sheer number of interventions you have had on this question clearly displays the considerable concern surrounding the current management of members’ statements. That concern is reflected clearly on all sides of the House.
The Liberal Party has until now not intervened in this question of privilege. I want to make it clear, on behalf of my colleagues, I am rising to intervene in support of the concerns raised by the member for Langley and I do so with the proviso that perhaps a solution is at hand, a solution that may negate your needing to find a prima facie breach of privilege.
As you will know, Mr. Speaker, the leader of my party, the member for Papineau, gave notice late last week of a motion that in our view would resolve the issue and perhaps lead the member for Langley to conclude that his question of privilege need not be debated in the House and subsequently at the procedures and House affairs committee.
We had hoped to be able to debate the motion today. The motion from my colleague, the member for Papineau, would take control of members’ statements away from the party whips, every party whip including our own, and give it back to members themselves because we believe that it is very important for members to be able to rise in the House in a consistent and reliable way to represent their constituents and speak for the women and men who have elected them and sent them here to this chamber.
We had been told in last Thursday’s statement by the government House leader that we would have a Liberal opposition day today and therefore the House would have been seized of this very issue today. Unfortunately, the government decided to change the order of the proceedings today. We would have preferred to be discussing this today, but we are hopeful that in the coming days, perhaps even this week, the House will again be seized with the motion from my colleague from Papineau.
The motion, from our perspective, and I hope from other colleagues as well, would provide not only direction to the Chair by, we hope, changing the actual standing orders, but would reduce the need for the question of privilege to continually be debated in the House and for the procedure and House affairs committee, which is currently dealing with the rather lengthy and complicated electoral boundaries reports from each province, to take up its time with this particular matter.
The question of privilege has been before the House for several weeks. There have been regular interventions from members on all sides. Mr. Speaker, I would urge you, and believe it would be prudent for you, to wait only a few more days in the hope that the House is able to pronounce itself through a vote on the motion presented by the Liberal Party on an opposition day, which we believe may, in a very common sense and democratic way, resolve the issue. A ruling by you, Mr. Speaker, before the House has had a chance to speak and to vote on this Liberal motion could in fact lead to the procedure and House affairs committee’s important work on electoral boundaries being delayed. I think there is no better way than to get the consensus of the House in a stand up vote on a thoughtful, democratic motion brought forward on an opposition day.
Therefore, I would urge you, Mr. Speaker, to resist ruling on this question of privilege, to give the House, I hope, in the coming days a chance to pronounce itself on a motion that we think is very important to restore the democracy of this House of Commons and Canadians’ faith in their elected representatives to speak on their behalf at every available opportunity in this chamber.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 19, 2013 at 5:47 PM - 0 Comments
Missed this at the time: before Megan Leslie spoke this afternoon, John Weston became the tenth Conservative MP to stand in the House and express his support for Mr. Warawa’s question of privilege.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to address one question of privilege this morning. Doing so on this day of April 19 allows me to allude to a second related privilege, that of marking the anniversary of the shot heard around the world, the day in which the American Revolution began on April 19, 1775 near Boston. Especially momentous is Bostonians are in lockdown as we speak, confronted by an assault on freedom and democracy. Let me first reflect briefly on the relevance of the shot heard around the world and what is happening today in Boston.
The phrase was coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his poem The Concord Hymn which commemorates the shots in Lexington and Concord near Boston, shots which set into the play that led, among other things, to the signing of the American Declaration of Independence.
As Bostonians stand once again today at the centre of a battle for freedom and democracy, we recognize it is not for the first time in their history. Only last Monday, terrorists attacked innocent people in Boston who had at the Boston Marathon gathered to enjoy the fruits of peace and democracy. They rightly expected to revel in one another’s company, secure and unthreatened by tyranny or violence. Bostonians stand against those who menace them.
We offer the people of Boston our prayers and goodwill. I invite members to join with the U.S. Ambassador, Running Room Manager Phil Marsh and me on Monday at 1 p.m. to march together to the U.S. Embassy to show that we stand with Bostonians and Americans at this difficult time. I invite you, Mr. Speaker, and all members of the House to join us.
The formal question of privilege to which I speak today relates to the right of a member of the House to speak freely on whatever topic he or she believes merits the attention of our democratically elected House in the execution of our parliamentary duties. Specifically, I understand the question put to you by the member for Langley is his question of privilege of which institution has the right to administer rotating members’ statements in the House; you, as the Speaker, or the party whips, independent of your authority. I am not referring to the specific motion originally brought by the member for Langley, but to the critical nature of preserving a legislator’s free voice in this institution.
My reference to the U.S. experience in freedom and democracy relates to the matter at hand because our American neighbours put the separation of powers at the foundation of their democratic system, right alongside a sister concept, the use of checks and balances to curb powers that tempt one or another institution to overreach.
The writings of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay in The Federalist Papers laid the groundwork for the American Constitution. In the first of their 88 treatises they posed the question whether men and women are really capable of establishing good government. The corralling of normal human deficiencies within institutional checks and balances is at the very heart of the question of privilege raised by my colleague, the MP for Langley.
In the words of Hamilton and company: It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.
In Federalist 51, the authors argued strongly for the independence of the separate arms of government to resist “usurpations” of power and prerogatives of one by the other. Otherwise, each institution stands to suffer encroachment by the others.
To secure these ends, Madison and his partners suggest that “the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department” is to enable each separate institution, be it the executive or the legislature, to fend off attempts to encroach upon one another’s domains.
I couch my argument today in institutional language intentionally to remove the debate from the personalities involved. I do not seek to pitch the discussion in terms of a battle for power between individuals, between whatever person happens to preside as a cabinet figure, and whatever legislators are advocating for preservation or expansion of their legislative capacity. Our media are then tempted to build on the personal nature of such a narrative, in turn, attributing personal motives and ascribing malevolent or ambitious motives to the people involved.
It would in fact be easier to make the argument I make today if we had a Prime Minister who fostered ill will toward the legislature or who was guilty of corruption. Instead, we have a Prime Minister who rose from a world of grassroots democracy and who has fostered unprecedented mechanisms for caucus participation in the formulation of government policy. He has consistently demonstrated a standard of integrity and honest government epitomized in the first bill he passed as Prime Minister: the Accountability Act. Our front bench, whether Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, or others, are consistently toasted as international paragons of good government and sound economic management.
However, does this mean that, because the people in executive or cabinet positions of our government are model democratic leaders, we should allow our institutions to be stretched to accommodate a swelling of power of the executive at the expense of the legislature? I would argue that the doors opened by a good and benevolent Prime Minister and whip will still be open for access by a much less praiseworthy, less accountable executive who may someday follow.
So, on a day when the world is focused on the birthplace of American democracy, I have indulged this House to hear my views which, I believe, reflect the views of my constituents concerning the point of privilege raised by the MP for Langley. Its importance stretches back to the birthplace of western democracy, back through the precedents in this House cited by able members of Parliament who have spoken before me on this same point, back through the thinking of Hamilton, Madison and Jay, and back even further to the Isle of Runnymede in 1215, when King John, an executive with far less devotion and accountability than our current executive, was confronted with the need for the separation of powers. In short, the principles we discuss today have received attention in other western democracies to which we sometimes look for inspiration: those of Great Britain and the United States.
Mr. Speaker, you have an important and sombre duty to execute in ruling on this point of privilege raised by the member for Langley. That is, who has the authority to administer members’ statements, the Speaker or the party leaders?
In executing your duty, Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to the famous incident which occurred in 1642 when King Charles I entered Parliament, searing for parliamentarians who had refused to heed his will. Charles I was anti-democratic and sought not to be accountable to his people, the exact opposite of the Prime Minister and cabinet who serve Canadians today with long-standing, devoted and proven commitment to freedom and democracy. In response to King Charles I, William Lenthall, the speaker at the time, responded with the following words. He said:
May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here.
I reiterate, the problem relates not to people and power today, but in the potential impact on the democratic capacity of legislators in the future to perform our roles. I believe it is the Speaker, and I mean the institution of Speaker not the person, who should administer rotating members’ statements in this House, not a party leader nor his or her representatives. Speaker Lenthall, long ago, observed the importance of the separation of powers.
Mr. Speaker, I urge you to act with the same courage and dignity, as you ponder the important point of privilege raised by the member for Langley.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 19, 2013 at 12:03 PM - 0 Comments
The Liberals will table the following motion on Monday.
That Standing Order 31 be amended by adding the following: (1) The Speaker shall recognize Members in alphabetical order by Party. For the purposes of this Standing Order, all Members who do not belong to a recognized party shall be grouped together. (2) When a Member is unable to present his or her statement on the date required by Standing Order 31(1), he or she may indicate in writing to the Speaker at least one hour prior to the beginning of Statement by Members, the name of the Member with whom he or she will exchange position.
This would attempt to deal directly with what Mark Warawa and other Conservative backbenchers have raised as a concern over the last few weeks. Yesterday, Conservative MP LaVar Payne became the ninth backbencher to speak in the House to the issue of the time reserved for statements by members.
Mr. Trudeau had vowed to “loosen the grip of the Prime Minister’s Office on Parliament.” He will speak in the House to the Liberal motion at noon on Monday.
Here is the official news release.
I’d asked last night about Mr. Trudeau’s position on Mark Warawa’s question of privilege and the power of party whips to control statements by members and Question Period. I’m told there won’t be a direct intervention on Mr. Warawa’s question of privilege (“We’re not going to get dragged into divisions within the Tory caucus,” says a Liberal spokeswoman). As for Question Period reform, as raised by Conservative MP John Williamson in his intervention, “Liberals have always been open minded on QP reform, but we’re focused on improving SO31s as a starting point.”
Update 1:51pm. The Liberals report that the government side has rescheduled Monday’s opposition day. The government side passes along the following statement made by House leader Peter Van Loan.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a brief statement respecting the business of the House next week. As I said at the start of question period, leadership requires decisive and serious action in response to the serious threats of violent terrorism. In order to give members of this House an opportunity to express their views on the appropriate way to respond to terrorist violence, on Monday and Tuesday the House will debate Bill S-7, the Combating Terrorism Act. This bill is at its final stage in Parliament and I call upon all members of this place to pass this bill, we don’t need further study – we need action. As a result, the government business originally scheduled for those days will be re-scheduled to a later date.
Here is the summary for S-7.
The Liberals are displeased.
PMO is scared of democracy and giving its Members an opportunity to express the views of their constituents freely in the House of Commons. By pulling our opposition day, PMO has shown yet again that they are control freaks who have a disdain for Parliament. Our motion is substantive, constructive and would ensure fairness for all MPs.
Update 2:17pm. The government says the Liberal opposition day will now be Wednesday.
The Liberals, meanwhile, question the timing of all this. Here is the Liberal version of events from Marc Garneau (who the Liberals have put forward to comment).
The House leaders meet on Tuesday and, at that point, the House leader puts forward a kind of preliminary plan for debate for the next two weeks. And Tuesday being, of course, the day after the bombing. And there was nothing about S-7. And then on Thursday, [Peter Van Loan] makes his weekly business statement after Question Period … and again there was absolutely no mention of S-7. But suddenly, S-7 appears roughly less than an hour after we announce what we want to debate in the planned opposition day for the Liberals on Monday. So it does seem rather suspicious. And it is unfortunate. We cannot understand why suddenly S-7, when it was not even mentioned in the days after the Boston bombing, suddenly is invoked as being something that urgently needs to be, I presume, closed off in third reading by Tuesday evening. So that’s our view. And it’s unfortunate. I think Boston is kind of being used as a political football a second time.
I’ve asked Mr. Van Loan’s office to confirm that S-7 was not mentioned at Tuesday’s House leaders meeting.
The Liberals supported S-7 at second reading and continue to support it.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 4:13 PM - 0 Comments
A statement released by Conservative MP Mark Warawa just before Question Period this afternoon.
“When I made my decision to introduce Motion-408, I was determined to help raise awareness that sex selection is happening in Canada. An overwhelming number of Canadians responded, indicating their support for Motion 408, and I want to thank them. Over that last couple of weeks, I seriously considered my options and how best to move this issue forward. I’ve decided to continue working on the sex selection, gendercide issue by speaking at university campuses, giving lectures and engaging in debates. Within Parliament, I will continue to work on this important issue with my colleagues across all party lines.
“Legislatively, I will introduce a new bill tomorrow to protect children from sexual predators, called the Safe at Home bill. This bill is a result of a sex offender in my riding of Langley who was permitted to serve House arrest right next door to his young victim. In another case, the sex offender served House arrest across the street from the victim. In both cases, the young victims lived in fear and were re-victimized every time they saw their attacker. One mom asked me, ‘Why should we have to move from our home when we are the victims?’ That’s a good question! That’s why I will introduce my new bill. I look forward to the House debating my new bill.”
So MPs have now successfully prevented a motion from one of their colleagues from receiving a vote on the floor of the House of Commons despite altogether flimsy rationale.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 4:57 PM - 0 Comments
After QP today, Conservative MP Russ Hiebert became the latest government backbencher to speak in support of Mark Warawa’s question of privilege.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the privilege raised prior regarding Standing Order 31, known as members’ statements.
Other members have already addressed a number of important points, which I will not dwell on in detail in my comments, including, (1) that without the right of all members to speak freely, this institution simply cannot function properly; (2) that the period of statements was originally intended to give members equal opportunities to raise issues; (3) that other opportunities for debate in this House, such as debate on a bill, reflect the principle that all members have the right to speak, even if their name does not appear on the list submitted by a party; (4) that the decision by Speaker Sauvé to ask parties for guidance or lists of members to speak was done solely as a matter of efficiency for the Speaker, and was never intended to give the various parties a veto over who could speak; (5) that conventions are not the same as rules and can be revised when needed to reflect current realities; (6) that S. O. 31s were not intended to be used as partisan; and, (7) that even if we view our parties as akin to hockey teams, the Commons is more like a House league than the NHL, and you, as the convener, Mr. Speaker, need to step in when some players are not getting equal time on the ice.
As I said, I will not examine these points in further detail, but instead I hope to add to your understanding of the issue, Mr. Speaker, by examining the history of Standing Order 31.
It is perhaps not surprising to learn that members have used various conduits to make statements since at least the time of Confederation. According to the Annotated Standing Orders of the House of Commons, second edition, the rules which guide the period for statements by members place the antecedents back to at least 1867.
For about 60 years following Confederation, a rule existed which permitted motions to be proposed without notice, provided unanimous consent had been granted by the House. In the early to mid-1920s, however, the use of such motions experienced a marked increase.
In 1927, the House agreed to a recommendation that the standing orders be amended so that unanimous consent would only be sought in cases of “urgent and pressing necessity previously explained by the mover”. The rule, as amended, was thereafter infrequently employed for decades, until around 1968, when MPs increasingly began to rise daily, choosing to do so in the time before question period to move motions that often demonstrated no urgent or pressing necessity.
In 1975, the House amended its standing orders to stipulate that such motions should only be moved by non-ministers during a restricted time period to be held before oral questions.
It is noted by O’Brien and Bosc that the moving of these motions prior to oral questions became, throughout the remainder of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, a common, although misused and often time consuming feature of the proceedings of the House.
In 1982, the House accept the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedures recommendation that it abolish this rule, which was called Standing Order 43, and institute a new renumbered standing order, Standing Order 31, that would have as its purpose to allow MPs to make statements on current issues on a daily basis during the first 15 minutes of a sitting.
I believe the key point that history teaches us is that members need to be assured reasonable opportunities to speak in this House, and should they be denied fair access, they may feel forced to use other opportunities the standing orders provide to ensure that their constituents concerns are represented.
The House has wisely recognized this tendency, and rather than allowing certain rules to be used in unintended ways, to better accommodate the needs of members, the House has instead set aside specific times for members to have their say. Thus we have Standing Order 31.
However, S. O. 31s are not unique to our House of Commons. The Australian House of Representatives has a practice that is broadly similar to the period our Parliament has, and they too set aside time for statements by members. During the time designated for non-government business, a 15 minute period is set aside prior to their question time for members’ 90 second statements. During this time, any member, other than a minister or a parliamentary secretary, may be called by the Speaker of the House to make a statement on any topic. In calling which member is to speak, the Speaker alternates between government and non-government members, with those who have not spoken given preference over those who have spoken already. Independent members are also called upon with the frequency appropriate to their relative representation in the House.
Likewise, the British House of Commons provides time for members’ statements, as do the legislatures of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan.
I will spare the House the details of each of these variations on the times allotted, the number of speakers each day and so on, but I will emphasize that there are two important points to be drawn generally from the various legislatures.
The first is that such statement periods are reserved for legislators who are not members of the cabinet. As ministers, they generally have a separate set of speaking privileges and opportunities assigned to them in each legislature. Fundamentally, the widespread and codified existence of a period for statements in so many different legislative bodies recognizes the need of legislators everywhere to have an outlet to briefly express their various needs or concerns.
A second lesson that we can draw from Westminster and the provinces is that in many instances, it is the codified practice that the Speaker alone decides on the rotation of the speakers and not the various parties. This is to say that the Speaker can be aided by a list, but is not bound by one. The Speaker is rightfully seen in these many legislatures as an impartial referee who determines that the right to speak is apportioned equally to all members, regardless of party affiliation.
I would urge you, Mr. Speaker, to consider that if members in this place are to be accorded equal speaking rights under S. O. 31, then you and you alone can guarantee that these rights are respected.
Indeed, our own House recognizes this very principle of equal time already when it comes to private members’ business. Under private members’ business, every member who is not a member of the cabinet has an equal opportunity to participate. The schedule of who gets to participate in introducing private legislation is arranged in a rotation, regardless of party affiliation, as we all know. The same principle should apply to S. O. 31. A rotating schedule would allow every MP an equal opportunity to participate in this critically important speaking opportunity.
I am aware of members who have suggested that if we want to speak freely in this place, we should become an independent. I know we all agree that free speech is fundamental to the proper working of this institution. The idea that someone should have to leave their party just to be able to make a one minute statement in the House is simply not justified or reasonable, nor is there any precedent for this drastic step in other parliaments.
Considering all the points that have been made, Mr. Speaker, I would urge you to consider this: There will always exist in our parliamentary system a tension between the demands of a party and the direction an individual member might want to take in representing his or her constituents. It is clear to me that under our system of government, sometimes the demands of the party will need to take to precedence if the government is to govern effectively, such as when it comes to support for a budget or other key government legislation.
However, there are also times when the rights of a member to speak freely should be paramount. Standing Order No. 31, speaking slots, is one of those times. After all, these statements are merely words, no matter how contentious some of the subjects raised might be. There is no vote or any other action that can be taken during a one minute statement that is going to topple a government or cause an election. There is nothing to fear on the part of any party from ensuring members’ rights to speak freely in the House are guaranteed.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you certify that the true spirit and intent of S. O. 31 are upheld by accepting the arguments in favour of the member for Langley’s point of privilege and ensuring that members’ statements be assigned equally on a rotating basis to all qualifying members of the House.
Mr. Warawa will apparently announce tomorrow whether he will appeal the committee ruling on Motion 408 to the House. And Conservative MP Brad Trost continues to gather support for his motion that would have committee chairs elected by a vote of the House. NDP MP Kennedy Stewart confirmed his support for Mr. Trost’s motion today. (Mr. Stewart has his own motion which seeks to study changes to the way citizens can petition Parliament.)
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 15, 2013 at 10:48 PM - 0 Comments
After Question Period today, Conservative MPs Michael Chong and Pierre Lemieux stood in the House and expressed their support for Mark Warawa’s question of privilege. Their statements are below.
This makes eight Conservative backbenchers who have spoke up in this regard: Warawa, Chong, Lemieux, Leon Benoit, Brent Rathgeber, Kyle Seeback, Stephen Woodworth and John Williamson. Rod Bruinooge, as well, seemed at least open to the idea of change.
The involvement of Mr. Chong, who has pushed for QP reform, would seem to undermine the idea that this is merely a pro-life cause masquerading as a push for parliamentary reform—he voted for Motion 312, but said at the time that he was not in favour of banning abortion and Campaign Life Coalition considers him “not supportable.”
Mr. Lemieux extended his concerns to include the fact that Mark Warawa’s Motion 408 had been ruled out of order by the Procedure and House Affairs committee. Mr. Warawa has not yet announced whether he will appeal that ruling to the House. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 15, 2013 at 9:08 AM - 0 Comments
As the House reconvenes—and with Mark Warawa’s question of privilege still hanging over the proceedings—Alison Loat sees an opportunity for change.
Limiting debate affects us all. It weakens our democratic institutions by making them less responsive to citizens and their representatives. It makes it more difficult to attract good people to public service (after all, who wants to move away from home to be known as what several former MPs referred to as “trained seals” or “potted plants”?) and it erodes Canadians’ faith in their government. Latest survey numbers show that only 55 per cent of citizens report being satisfied with their democracy, an all-time low.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer, has said he’ll continue to hear from MPs with views on the admissibility of Warawa’s motion next week. This provides an opportunity for MPs of all parties to consider and articulate their roles to the citizens they serve. Let’s hope MPs take him up on it, and that following blindly behind a political party, whatever its colour, doesn’t top their list.
Brent Rathgeber talks to the Globe.
Won’t you face backlash from either your party or the PMO for saying that?
Well, I don’t think so. I certainly haven’t received anything yet. And this is not new. For at least the last year, I’ve been a bit of a non-traditional member of our caucus, in that I have, from time to time, constructively criticized our own government’s policies, whether it was limousine overtime or supply management… I take the view that we’re not the rogues, we’re not the radicals. We’re the ones that are defending the historical and traditional role of the Member of Parliament.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 3:23 PM - 0 Comments
This week’s piece on the backbench revolt.
It might feel, in many ways, that this was a long time coming. The power and purpose of the backbencher seem to have been subject to question and mockery for nearly as long as there have been backbenchers—and, in the current era of the talking point, partisan scripting and message control have made it even easier to mock those MPs who seem to be reduced to messengers for their party leaders. Three years ago, Conservative MP Michael Chong proposed changes to question period that would have, in part, made it easier for backbenchers to ask questions of their own volition. Last month, Conservative MP Brad Trost tabled a motion that would give the House the power to elect committee chairs—another small move that would empower the legislature. According to two Conservative sources, a nebulous group of 20 or so Conservative backbenchers—no cabinet ministers or parliamentary secretaries included—have been gathering periodically over the past year to discuss the power dynamic between backbenchers and party leaders and possible parliamentary reforms (Rathgeber says he has participated in some of those meetings).
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 3:21 PM - 0 Comments
In this week’s print edition, I have 1,200 words on the case of Mark Warawa and the issues his situation has raised. For that piece, I spoke to a few MPs, including Conservative MP James Rajotte, chair of the finance committee. Here is an edited and abridged transcript of our conversation.
Q: What’s your general feeling about the situation?
A: Clearly, I believe members do have the right to speak. The challenge is that, I think from the prime minister’s point of view, he wants to have a caucus and a party that’s not perceived as were during my first term, where the messaging was very sort of all over the place. He wants a very disciplined, consistent message. And that’s, frankly, in the 2000 to 2002, 2003 period, that’s what members of the media were telling us, is you’ve got to start having a consistent message and you can’t have members who are sort of having different views on all the different topics. So I think it’s a challenge because you don’t want to be perceived in that vein, but you obviously want to allow freedom of speech for members. It’s a fundamental right for citizens, you want to allow that for members.
So I think we all have to look and have, within a broad tent political party, which any party to form government needs to be a broad tent political party, you have to allow for different views on some different topics. Obviously on things like a budget, you would expect all members of the caucus to either support the budget or, if they can’t support it, they’d have a tougher decision to make. But on other issues we are going to have to allow for debates within caucuses, within parties. And, frankly, I think we’ve had that over the last number of years. But every time that happens it can’t be seen as somehow being disloyal. Mark [Warawa] would say to you, very strongly, that he’s the most loyal person to the prime minister. He just has a different view on this one issue that’s very important to him.
I think that’s one issue. The other big issue for me is, I think we have to look at, frankly, questions, statements, speeches, all of it, and say, ‘Is this the best that Parliament can do, that we all can do?’ That’s a huge, fundamental issue. And that’s not a Conservative debate, it’s frankly a debate for all parliamentarians and all parties.
Q: Do you generally think there are some issues that need to be dealt with in terms of the party whip and statements and all that kind of stuff?
A: I may phrase it a little differently. I would say that, I think there are issues, I mean if you look at how we’re handled in terms of, say, voting. I actually think the one, two, three-line system is pretty good for me. As a committee chair, I have a fair amount of freedom there. And even on three-line whips, it’s ultimately up to the member themselves whether they stand or sit at a certain point in the vote. But on the three-line system, I think the voting is fairly good. And I think as the Globe and Mail found out, we actually have, even though it’s a very high percentage in terms of the caucus voting together, we actually have more freedom than the other parties. Which I think is contrary to what most people think.
Now when you get to statements, speeches and questions, it’s an issue of reforming Parliament … in the sense of, when you watch our Parliament, you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this a substantive exchange of views? Is this showing Parliament at its best? Is this really putting pressure on the government to answer serious questions?’ Statements by members, in my particular case, I’ve never had a statement rejected, so I can’t speak to Mark’s personal experience and I’ve always been able to speak on local issues. But I do support him in the abstract in terms of members right to speak.
On Question Period, I think that’s an even bigger problem than statements, because I just think it’s become so over the top and I just don’t see much substantive dialogue occurring at all there. So that’s where I supported Michael [Chong]‘s motion very strongly and I think the British question period is, frankly, much better than ours and we should try to move towards that system. And then on speeches even more … most of the debates in the House, candidly, are not good debates. There are some good debates, but they’re very limited. And, again, if you go to the British House of Commons, you watch a debate, it’s not Churchill every day in the British House, but there is an exchange of views and you get a sense of the different view points and it is more of a debate. I would actually, for my own personal perspective, I’d like to see more changes in that area. Where the minister and the spokespeople of the various parties lead off the debate, but if you want to participate in a debate, you should have to be in the chamber for that entire debate. They should be time limited, as they are in Britain, say, okay, there’s three hours for this bill and if you want to participate, you apply to the Speaker, you go on a list and they want to be sure everybody gets a chance, so you may get three minutes, you get may get six minutes, you may not get your full 15 minutes, but you can’t leave the chamber for half an hour. If you leave the chamber for half an hour, you have no interest in the debate and your name’s crossed off the list. I explained our system [to the British Speaker], where you come and read a speech and you answer two questions, you leave, obviously some members try to do more than that, but that’s an awful lot of what happens and he just said, ‘That’s not a debate, why do you do that?’
And that’s where Mark has raised some fundamental issues. But it’s more about how Parliament operates and can we improve it so that the activities in the chamber actually very much influence policy and decisions.
Q: I always come back to the question of, can you possibly make the debate more substantive if people already know how the votes are going to go? If the vote isn’t really in question, can the debate matter?
A: It’s a fundamental question. So the government introduces a piece of legislation, obviously at second reading, it’s on the principle of the bill, but to me, if you had a more substantive debate, you could actually highlight, say, five, seven, eight, ten issues that need to be addressed at committee … there you’d obviously have to ensure that at committee that you’d have to a full hearing and that members can bring forward amendments to legislation to address certain concerns. That has to go hand in hand at that point, but less so at second reading stage than at committee and report stage and then obviously final reading. Members have to feel that their concerns are being addressed.
Q: Yeah, because that’s the other thing. I can remember talking to an opposition MP recently whose major complaint was the fact that the government side never accepts amendments. Now, I don’t know, you guys could maybe counter that the amendments weren’t very good … it does seem like a complicated problem to unravel.
A: It is complicated and it is certainly linked to how much they can influence a bill. But to me, if the debates and the speeches were more substantive and meaningful… say there was a three-hour debate on a certain bill, say the budget bill, and there were 27 suggestions put forward in the second reading debate and then put forward as amendments at committee, then obviously if the government rejected all of them, then they’d actually have a stronger point in saying, look, we actually made a real issue here to put them forward. Right now, again, my own personal perspective, you’re not hearing a lot of substantive input at second reading. We were debating a technical tax debate, I was asking basic questions of the members opposite and I just had a sense that they didn’t even know what I was talking about. Whereas, if you had a more focused debate, say you had it on a finance issue, you’d have probably the finance committee there for the entire three hours and then those who spoke, you’d know—if you were speaking to a budget bill, the finance committee’s there, minister’s there, all the key spokespeople are there, you’re not going to stand up unless you really know your subject area.
But it is fair to point out, it does have to go in then with, if members raise something substantively, will there be at least a willingness to discuss, debate and review those amendments seriously.
But I would say during Question Period, my advice to opposition members is stand up and ask a very calm, sincere, short, simple question. Because if the minister doesn’t answer that it’s more obvious to you, whereas if they stand up and bluster away, then the minister can stand up and do whatever they want, essentially.
Q: Do you think there’s any chance of MPs working across the aisle on this, to change things?
A: I hope there is. I know some members of the opposition have used this, Mark’s motion and the statements, as it’s internal Conservative politics, but they have to really see it as beyond that. And they have to see it as, it’s all parliamentarians, it’s not just within one party. And if you change SO31s, if the Speaker says, yes, okay, I am going to take over SO31s or if Michael Chong’s motion for Question Period was adopted, and the Speaker took over, say, half of the questions, that affects all of the parties. That’s a fundamental change.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
The backbench revolt gets the Economist treatment.
The appearance of a handful of dissident government MPs is much more unusual in Canada than in other countries with the Westminster system of parliament, such as Britain and Australia. Mr Trudeau, the former prime minister, is often accused of hastening the slide of MPs into irrelevance by consolidating control in the prime minister’s office. But the slide really began in 1919 when the governing Liberals decided that instead of allowing their MPs to select a party leader, he (and in Canada the leader nearly always is a he) would be chosen at a convention of party members. MPs eventually lost the ability to turf out an underperforming leader.
While the new system is deemed to be more democratic, it has had the opposite effect because it makes MPs accountable to their leader, rather than the reverse. The leader can eject MPs from the parliamentary party or refuse to sign their nomination papers for the next election if they don’t follow instructions. This keeps a tight lid on dissent. In Britain and Australia, where MPs can quite easily get rid of the prime minister, leaders have to keep their MPs happy or face sudden demotion, as Margaret Thatcher and Kevin Rudd both discovered.
Meanwhile, the Guardian of Charlottetown weighs in.
What’s worth highlighting here is that MPs or MLAs have the power to shed this stranglehold, and demand that things be done differently.
The notion of party discipline has merit in that it allows a party to organize itself and execute its agenda. But when the interests of the parties effectively muzzle our MPs and MLAs, democracy suffers. If all representatives were convinced of this, they could act collectively to force changes that would let them do the job they were elected to do: speak out on behalf of their constituents. The end result would be a better balance of the rules; it would lessen the constraints of party discipline while empowering elected representatives.
The only beneficiaries of the status quo are the political parties, not Canadian voters. It’s time for some change.
I taped an episode of The Agenda yesterday with Samara’s Alison Loat, Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, NDP House leader Nathan Cullen and Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett. That will air on Wednesday night on TVO.
I’ll also have a piece in this week’s print edition, explaining and taking stock of what’s going on.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 1:10 PM - 0 Comments
Scott Reid, the former advisor to Paul Martin, argues the Prime Minister is right to “come down” on Mark Warawa with “both boots.” Scott’s argument, it seems to me, is essentially this: the rights of duly elected MPs and the principle of open parliamentary debate are important, but, for selfish political reasons, the Prime Minister is smart and right to shut down any discussion of abortion by members of his caucus.
Fair enough. The political logic is perfectly understandable. But the democratic logic is complicated: Parliament should be empowered to act and debate freely… except when the issue at hand is abortion. Are there any other issues that MPs, for political reasons, shouldn’t be allowed to raise in the legislature? Should we put together a list and post it on the front door to Centre Block?
On that note, here is David Frum, arguing that Mr. Warawa is just another implement for the liberal media to use for the purposes of knocking Mr. Harper around, but also trying to square this small matter of how we order our democracy.
Parliament is the place where governments are made and held to account. But held to account for what? In April 2011, Stephen Harper made a commitment to the Canadian people: “As long as I’m prime minister we are not reopening the abortion debate.” Maybe that was an appropriate pledge, maybe not. Maybe that pledge caused some people to vote for him who otherwise wouldn’t, or again maybe not. But Prime Minister Harper gave his word, and having given that word, he won a majority government. Is it really an offence against democracy for a government to enforce its own commitments upon its own MPs?
Your parents and grade school teachers probably told you it was impolite to answer a question with a question, but that rhetorical query deserves another: Does the government own Mark Warawa? He is a Conservative MP and he participates in meetings of the Conservative caucus, but he is neither a cabinet minister, nor a parliamentary secretary. As noted previously, Mr. Harper’s commitment seems to have applied to his government and the distinction between government policy and private members’ business is one the Justice Minister seems to have been willing to assert as recently as a year ago.
If Mr. Harper wishes to impose a party policy on his party’s candidates and MPs, he has the option of attempting to do so. He might refuse to sign the nomination papers of anyone who refuses to never say a word about abortion. He could move to remove from the Conservative caucus any MP who brings forward a motion or bill that in any way relates to the issue. Those would be political responses to a political issue. If commentators believe he is smart, politically, to leave the abortion debate alone, they should argue for him to set out those consequences.
Frum goes on.
The pro-life view is a serious and important one. As a matter of wise party management, Prime Minister Harper probably would do well to open places of dialogue in which those who uphold pro-life views can gain a hearing from party colleagues. But the disciplined commitment of the Harper government to do those things it promised to do — and to refrain from doing those things it promised not to do — does not threaten Canadian democracy. That disciplined commitment is essential to real democratic choice.
If government is too riven and disrupted to honour its commitments to the voters, then voting becomes meaningless.
Indeed. One shudders at the thought of the existential dread and chaos that would ensue were a government to ever deviate from a commitment.
But if “disciplined commitment” is integral to democracy and a Conservative MP doing or saying anything in the House of Commons in regards to abortion is to violate that principle, then I fear it is already too late. Just last year, there was this. And three years ago, there was this. If Mr. Harper is drawing a line now, he is it drawing it after it was crossed.
For sure, there is some sense in Mr. Harper doing whatever he has done to prevent Mr. Warawa from moving forward with or advocating for his motion on sex-selective abortion. One might even attempt to argue that access to abortion is a right which should not be threatened. But these attempts to justify the Prime Minister’s position ignore the specific questions Mr. Warawa has raised about the functioning of our parliamentary democracy: Should Motion 408 have been ruled out of order? And should party whips control who is allowed to speak during the 15 minutes reserved each day for statements by members?
Those are the real questions at hand. Yes, Mr. Warawa’s motion deals with abortion. And, yes, Mr. Warawa wanted to speak about abortion. But to explain why he shouldn’t have been permitted to do so in this case, one must—or at least should have to—defend the committee decision and the parliamentary management that brought us to this point.