‘Backbench revolt’? Pro-life Tory MPs decry silencing by Harper leadership
OTTAWA, March 27, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Social conservatives in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative caucus are staging a “backbench revolt,” in the words of one columnist, in the wake of his party’s collusion with the Opposition to have Mark Warawa’s gendercide motion declared non-voteable.
Since he took power in 2006, Prime Minister Harper has repeatedly said his government would not re-open the abortion debate, even insisting they would “defeat” any pro-life legislation brought forward. Still, party members have been allowed to bring forward private members business and to vote their conscience.
But after Stephen Woodworth’s M-312, which would have formed a committee to study the humanity of the unborn, it appears Harper decided that enough was enough. As CBC reported Tuesday, before Woodworth’s motion was defeated on Sept. 26th, “the Prime Minister's Office told Conservative MPs that there were to be no more motions or private member's bills on abortion.”
Now it appears at least some MPs are being barred from speaking about abortion in the House of Commons.
On Tuesday, Warawa rose in the House to charge that the Conservative Party had prevented him from speaking during a spot allocated to him last week because the topic was “not approved” by the party.
“I was scheduled on March 20 from 2:00 to 2:15 to make an S. O. 31 [a 60-second speech prior to Question Period],” he said. “Fifteen minutes prior to that time, I was notified that my turn to present the S. O. 31 had been removed. The reason I was given was that the topic was not approved.”
Leon Benoit, another pro-life Tory, supported Warawa, noting that he also has been banned from speaking on certain topics.
“I am not allowed to speak on certain topics in S. O. 31s,” he said. “I have had S. O. 31s removed, and I have been told that if I have one on a certain topic, I simply will not be given an S. O. 31. I believe this is infringing on my right as an MP to freedom of speech and to represent my constituents freely.”
Chief Government Whip Gordon O’Connor, in responding to Warawa’s complaint, did not deny that he had been prevented from speaking, but instead asserted that the party should have the right to prevent MPs from doing so.
He told the Speaker: “Essentially, you are being invited to become involved in adjudicating the internal affairs of party caucuses and their management. Under any reasonable and generous interpretation of your powers, it is not for the Speaker to assume such a novel and expansive power.”
“Put simply, this is a team activity and your role is referee,” he continued. “It is not your job as referee to tell the coach or manager which player to put on to play at any given time. That is a question for each team to decide.”
Warawa has “no case” to claim that his parliamentary privilege was denied, he said, because “the rules … were respected.”
In his column Tuesday, the National Post’s John Ivison reported that around 20 MPs supporting Warawa held a meeting on Monday night to consider their response to the party for denying a vote on M-408.
Apparently they are planning more than just public statements. Ivison quotes a Tory MP saying that “some kind of message will be sent” to the Prime Minister by defying the government whip on a non-budget matter.
“It may not rank alongside the storming of the Bastille,” Ivison observed, but the meeting on Monday “is the closest the ruling caucus has come to revolution during its seven years in power.”
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“The unlikely revolutionaries contend that their most basic rights as MPs – namely, the right to bring matters to the House for consideration and their right to vote on those matters – are at stake,” Ivison said, adding that “the finger of blame is being pointed squarely at Stephen Harper.”
Ivison reports that senior members of the Conservative caucus say the members of the subcommittee were acting on “direct orders” from Harper.
Many in the caucus are even openly decrying the decision to deem M-408 non-voteable, though without taking direct aim at Harper.
LaVar Payne and Kyle Seeback both tweeted March 21st that it was a “sad day” for Parliament.
Harold Albrecht, a former chair of the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business, told LifeSiteNews he is “very concerned about the threat to democracy represented by this ill-informed decision.”
“Mr. Warawa has my full support in protecting his rights and privileges as a duly-elected Member of Parliament seeking to represent his constituents,” he added.
In an e-mail quoted by Sun Media, Conservative MP David Anderson asked: “Aren't MPs' rights directly being impacted when their bills do meet the necessary criteria and then are made un-votable?”
“Isn't that the point of having criteria - specifically to protect MPs so that they can bring forward issues?” he added.
Benoit told LifeSiteNews the concern goes beyond gendercide, which nevertheless “should be an easy one for Parliament.” “It really does go to the rights of individual MPs to speak about issues that are important to them, and therefore it is all about infringing on democratic process.”
“This is a serious infringement on our private members business rights. And it’s a further infringement on the rights of private members to talk about issues they want, to deal with issues they want,” he said.
Stephen Woodworth suggested Tuesday in an interview with the National Post that an “abortionism philosophy has led the sub-committee members to put abortion above the independence of private members, above the right of Parliament to comment on an important issue, above the right of members to be able to vote on such an issue.”
Brent Rathgeber told CBC that the concerns are shared by more than just social conservative members. “I don’t think it’s exclusive to social conservatives. I don’t consider myself to be part of that,” he said. “This is an issue of democracy. This is an issue of Parliament.”
The decision to deem Warawa’s motion non-voteable was made Thursday by the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business, which reports to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The standing committee heard Warawa’s appeal Wednesday afternoon and are expected to announce their decision Thursday.
If his appeal fails, Warawa has said he will appeal to the House of Commons.