OTTAWA, Ontario, January 31, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “ironclad” control over Conservative MPs is shutting down debate on public policy, a pro-life MP warned in a recent radio commentary.
Brad Trost, the Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Humboldt, said the political culture in countries like Britain and the United States allows for party members to disagree and debate issues internally.
“Contrast that to Canada, where party discipline is ironclad,” he said in the minute-long spot, obtained by LifeSiteNews.
“Canadian governance and politics would be improved if political parties concentrated on debating policy and creating ideas,” he continued. “If everyone in a party thinks the same on every issue, not a lot of thinking is going on.”
The Prime Minister’s control over debate in the House of Commons has been a growing concern in recent decades, and a particular frustration for the pro-life movement.
“I think it’s always a problem when pro-life Members of Parliament feel that their leader will not support them,” said Jim Hughes, president of the national pro-life group Campaign Life Coalition.
“That’s part of the way that Parliament operates with private members bills, etc., and if they’re not allowed the freedom to voice the views of their constituents then you begin to wonder whose democratic rights are going to be trampled on next,” he said.
Since Prime Minister Harper took over in 2006, he has been adamant that his government will oppose any attempt to debate abortion, with the result that pro-life MPs have effectively had to openly defy their leader in order to bring forward abortion-related legislation.
“This government will not open, will not permit anyone to open the abortion debate. Our position is clear,” Harper said in 2008.
The same year, Harper’s Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, effectively scuttled a private members bill that sought to protect unborn victims of violence, by pledging to introduce his own gutted version that would merely list pregnancy as an aggravating factor at sentencing. Nicholson alleged that protecting wanted babies would risk “instilling fetal rights.”
Trost himself faced a party backlash in April when he raised the abortion issue during the campaign for the May 2nd federal election.
Commenting on the radio spot, he told the StarPhoenix that he is not concerned about facing consequences for his outspokenness.
“[Prime Minister Stephen Harper] knows I have a different viewpoint than he does. He respects that. I respect he has a different viewpoint,” the MP said. “I’ve been an MP approaching eight years now. I’m not the sort of one that looks over my shoulder 24/7 . . . I don’t sweat that stuff.”
“We need to have a cultural change. I think it would relax everybody,” he added. “The [party] whip needs to have less authority over members.”
Trost told the paper he is “kicking around” the possibility of a private members bill on democratic reform.
Hughes said Harper’s stance appears to be a far cry from his former Reform Party’s appeals in the 1990s for greater transparency on Parliament Hill. “The breath of fresh air that came in with the Reform Party appears to have become stagnant under the new rules,” Hughes observed.