“Speechless”

Forty-eight hours ago, I had no idea who this guy was.  Did you?

This is Mark Warawa, Conservative MP for Langley.  And he’s causing a bit of a fuss in the Conservative Party.

Warawa introduced a motion in the House of Commons to end sex-selective abortion.  It’s controversial, no doubt, and some see it as a thinly-veiled attempt at re-opening the abortion question.

But a motion is not a law; a motion is simply a declaration of what Parliament feels about a certain issue.  They could pass a motion that says, “We condemn the fact that Cadbury Creme Eggs are only available at Easter.”  Passing this motion would not force Cadbury to start selling Creme Eggs all year.  It would have no effect other than to say that Parliament would like Cadbury Creme Eggs to be available year-round (wouldn’t we all?).

But while they have no effect, they’re political statements all the same.  They often show which way the government is leaning on a certain issue, but most of the time they’re used to condemn actions that are universally opposed or support actions that should be supported.  And sometimes they’re used by governments to pat themselves on the back (e.g. “We support the government’s recent budget.”).

Anyway, such motions go through the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business before they come before the House to be voted on.  Not every motion will come before the House; it has to fit the following criteria: 

  1. Bills and motions must not concern questions that are outside federal jurisdiction.
  2. Bills and motions must not clearly violate the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  3. Bills and motions must not concern questions that are substantially the same as ones already voted on by the House of Commons in the current session of Parliament.
  4. Bills and motions must not concern questions that are currently on the Order Paper or Notice Paper as items of government business.

The expert Library of Parliament official, who gives nonpartisan advice to the committee, deemed the motion votable, i.e. it satisfied the criteria.  Yet the Conservative-majority Committee voted it non-votable after a push from the Prime Minister’s Office to make it so.

So what did Warawa do? He raised a point of privilege against his own government.  He also appealed the Committee’s decision to deem his motion non-votable.  And that led Warawa to “[challenge] the soul of our parliamentary democracy.

To the average Canadian, this seems to be much ado about nothing.  Warawa’s motion got voted down, so we should get on with things.  Besides, nobody really wants to have a fight about sex-selective abortion, right?

It’s somewhat unfortunate that Warawa’s motion is so controversial, because it’s difficult to support someone whose motives may or may not be genuine.  But the fact of the matter is that majorities use their power to game the parliamentary system all of the time, and it’s got to stop.

Once again, remember that MPs aren’t there to represent the government; they’re to represent the people.  They’re supposed to be able to speak freely.

Warawa has a lot of supporters, from both sides of the party.  This morning, NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen got up in the House to add his support.  Meanwhile, the fear of a revolt by back bench MPs caused the Conservatives to have a longer-than-normal caucus meeting yesterday.

I’m not a fan of Warawa’s motion, but I support the principle he’s fighting for, which is for letting MPs do their job unencumbered by the demands of the Prime Minister’s Office.  

But I doubt the matter will get any farther than it already has.  Back bench Conservative MPs have tasted power after years of being on the opposition benches, and I doubt they’re willing to give it up to prove a parliamentary principle (particularly one they only support when it suits them).  But to this point, I applaud them for speaking out.  Too bad it’s not over a less controversial issue.

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