Peter Baklinski


Parliamentary reform motion would help lawmakers who bring up controversial topics like abortion

Peter Baklinski

OTTAWA, April 18, 2013 ( – While MP Mark Warawa has backed down on taking his motion, M-408 — quashed by a committee — to the level of a secret ballot in the House, his saga may have just become the catalyst MPs needed to pursue freedom to act in Parliament without being silenced by the brokers of party power.

Conservative MP Brad Trost (Saskatoon-Humboldt) has been quietly promoting his Motion 431 since February, which if passed, would give more power to backbenchers.

M-431 would allow backbenchers to elect committee chairs through a vote of the House instead of the current method, where chairs are simply appointed by higher powers.

“M-431 will allow a greater number of Members of Parliament to be more independent,” wrote Trost on his website earlier this month.

The motion would come as a boon to MPs who want to bring controversial topics up in Parliament but who fear having their efforts stymied by Prime Minister Harper’s ironclad party discipline.

Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, told LifeSiteNews that “anything that returns more of the democratic process to the grassroots, I’m in favor of.”

“Almost every Canadian would welcome an opportunity to return democracy to the people,” he said, “even if it’s just a small step like this.”

Trost’s motion has suddenly taken on a pressing relevance in light of recent struggles MPs have experienced.

The significance of M-431 has not gone unnoticed by opposition parties aghast at the Conservative party’s recent treatment of its own members. Cross-party support has already come from the NDP, Liberals, and the Green Party.

Trost wrote on his website that opposition parties support his motion, because MPs “believe that Canadians elected us in a democratic fashion. And, as your representatives in Ottawa, we should operate that way in Parliament.”

Political observer Kady O'Malley pointed out that Trost’s motion, if passed, could “dramatically curtail the government's ability to control the hand that wields the gavel – and, by extension, the committee process itself.”

This would come as a boon to MPs like Warawa who last month was told by an unelected Sub-Committee on Private Members’ Business that his motion did not meet voting criteria, despite his having been assured by an expert from the Library of Parliament that his motion did meet all criteria.

Since his motion lacks the support of the government, Trost will have much to overcome to make his motion a reality, including getting the support of opposition MPs as well as a number of fellow Tories.

With the growing clamor among conservative backbenchers over the Conservative party’s iron grip on power — triggered by the Warawa saga — Trost’s proposal to rewrite House rules might just find the support it needs.

M-431 is expected to come up for its first hour of debate as early as next week.

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Motion 431 full text:

That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to:

(a) consider the election of committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all the Members of the House of Commons, at the beginning of each session and prior to the establishment of the membership of the standing committees;

(b) study the practices of other Westminster-style Parliaments in relation to the election of Committee Chairs;

(c) propose any necessary modifications to the Standing Orders and practices of the House; and

(d) report its findings to the House no later than six months following the adoption of this order.

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