OTTAWA, May 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A pro-life MP introduced a motion in Canada’s House of Commons Thursday advocating all members of Parliament be free of party discipline when voting on “matters of conscience.”
Ed Komarnicki, a Saskatchewan Conservative who had earlier announced he would not seek re-election in the October general election, told reporters, “I think it's important to have the members have that ability and right on whatever issue relates to conscience matters — whether it be a government bill, a private member's bill, a motion or anything like that.”
With just two hours allotted to it, Komarnicki’s motion is given little chance of coming to a vote before Parliament dissolves this summer. Nonetheless, it is seen by some as a dig at the Liberals, whose leader Justin Trudeau has announced that all MPs elected to the next Parliament must vote for abortion on every occasion.
Such occasions do not often arise, because Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not want his government labeled as “pro-life.” In 2013, he prevented a private member’s motion that would have condemned sex-selection abortion from ever getting to the floor of the House of Commons.
Komarnicki’s motion, which gives no specific examples of matters of conscience, least of all abortion, did reach the floor, but Johanne Brownrigg of Campaign Life Coalition, told LifeSiteNews it is unlikely to reach a vote. Still, she said, it is worthwhile.
And while the Tory government may try to keep abortion off the Orders of the Day, Brownrigg says the party nonetheless allows its MPs to vote their conscience—not only on private bills and motions about abortion but on other moral issues—far more than either the New Democrats or the Liberals.
“Freedom of conscience for MPs is a matter of concern,” she said, “especially now that Justin Trudeau has turned his MPs into trained seals.”
Nanaimo MP James Lunney, who now sits as an Independent after choosing to leave the Conservative caucus, told LifeSiteNews he strongly supports the motion. “Freedom of religion, freedom of conscience are rights protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That any party leader would take away his caucus members' Charter rights to freedom of conscience should be a cause of concern to all Canadians,” he said.
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Former Reform, Alliance and Conservative MP Reed Elley of Nanaimo, British Columbia told LifeSiteNews that Harper started out as a libertarian and allowed him to vote against his caucus several times when they were in opposition. “Freedom of conscience is particularly important these days,” he added, “when so many forces are trying to suppress alternative views.”
Another former MP, Robin Richardson, now a Victoria B.C. pastor but in 1980 a Progressive Conservative MP for a Toronto riding, told LifeSiteNews that MPs should follow their consciences even if it means defying their caucus. Such dissent comes with a price, however. “You won’t get into cabinet, or an appointment as a parliamentary secretary,” he said. Richardson suspects his own strong pro-life views were viewed with distaste by Maureen McTeer, wife of then-Prime Minister Joe Clark and by then-Defence Minister Flora MacDonald. “I ended up with a very small office.”
British MP and political philosopher Edmund Burke, in his famous address to the “electors of Bristol” in 1774, eloquently explored half of the issue: whether a member of Parliament ought to follow the wishes of his constituents or his own judgement. Emphatically the latter, said Burke, arguing in part, “His unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable.”
Burke, however, did not face the highly disciplined party machines that now exist in Canada, which dictate not only appointments such as ambassadorships and Senate seats, but also whether a candidate gets his nomination papers signed.