Monday, February 6, 2012

Let Thy Backbenchers Speak

With the private members bills, petitions, and MP statements floating around about abortion and defunding the CBC and other topics of low importance but major controversy, one wonders whether or not the Harper majority is allowing these topics to crop up in order to push a radical right-wing agenda, or these backbench MPs such as Brad Trost and Dean Del Mastro just grew some cojones, and think that with the Conservative majority, they'll get their pet projects pushed through.

I tend to follow the latter half the argument, because unlike a few of my fellow Opposition party supporters among the Liberals, Dippers, and Greens, I don't think Harper is so stupid as to allow this many cracks to start to appear in a machine that wants to secure long-term survival.

I view it the same way I view a lot of government conspiracy theories: why would this organization, which is apparently powerful and clever enough to pull off amazing strategies in secret, allow so much information to escape in the first place? The fact is that, much like government in general, the Conservatives are fairly incompetent. I mean, we all know about what Harper's doing. It's kind of hard to then say it's a "hidden agenda," no? Maybe its just me.

Anyways, that isn't my point. My real point is why are we so afraid of these PMBs and so on from the Con backbench (of course excluding BCL, who is always gunnin' for a fight)? The entire point of having a hefty backbench in the first place is to provide an "internal opposition" in cases of majority, especially when a majority cabinet is seeing fit to go about on its own business without consulting MPs. It's how it works out over in the UK, where rebellions are common (especially this Parliament) because the backbenchers have opinions. They've got a whole site dedicated to rebel watching.

In Canada, we've had a tradition of strict party line voting, and this is especially true under the Harper regime. It made some strategic sense during minority Parliaments, where a few stray votes could end up screwing up legislation or even cause governments to fall. But even so, now when we're in a majority government and we know the government won't fall, why can't we have these debates and then allow MPs to actually vote their conscience!

There's nothing wrong with pushing for a debate on abortion. Let the argument be heard, and as pro-choicers we have nothing to fear from the anti-choice crowd because we know we're on the side of logical, rational thought. It's not a logical and rational issue at all times, but this is how arguments go. MPs can then vote their conscience, and let the process go to work. I guarantee if you allowed every single Conservative MP to vote how they wanted, at least a third would vote pro-choice. We won't know however if we back down from the fight.

So let your backbenchers speak, parties of the House! Let us have these debates and squabbles, and let MPs vote not the party line, but their ideological line. That way we can have a proper, reasoned debate about these issues and get it out in the open. Clearly it's a hot issue with some MPs and some voters. So why not?

Democracies are marked by their ability to discuss such topics. And there's nothing wrong with democracy, even when it leads to conclusions you don't like.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Ur, analysis could use some tweaking, but I am impressed allowing MPs 2 break party lines including free votes and an adult conversation on ideological lines.

  3. Why not? It's how it works in the US, it's usually how things work in the UK, and they seem fine with it. Strict party line voters are harmful to democracy and debate, its not smart.