Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gagging MPs is wrong

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A mini-insurrection erupted in the Tory caucus this week over the right of members of Parliament to express their views and table motions on subjects they claim are important to their constituents, the people who sent them to Ottawa.

The issue relates directly to the role and rights of MPs in Parliament, which have been declining for decades. Even former prime minister Pierre Trudeau called backbench MPs "nobodies" because their roles by then had been reduced to supporting their parties.

The revolt erupted among anti-abortion advocates in the Tory caucus when B.C. MP Mark Warawa was denied the right to table a non-binding motion opposing sex-selective abortion. Many Canadians find it offensive that a mother could abort her fetus merely because it is female, but there is no law in Canada restricting abortion of any type, or at any time stage of pregnancy.

Mr. Warawa was also denied the opportunity by his party to even speak on the issue on the grounds that the party controls the agenda in the House.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear that reviving the abortion debate is not part of his agenda, a message he has repeated over the years in response to suspicions he has a secret agenda on the matter.

Unfortunately, the muzzling of Mr. Warawa and other MPs, some of whom have since abandoned their protests, on this and other subjects does not serve Canada very well.

First, it further undermines the role of MPs, and confirms Mr. Trudeau's observation that MPs are mere drones whose only parliamentary function is to vote yay or nay as directed by the leader of the hive.

MPs have a duty to support their party's platform and to support their caucus on issues that affect the government's standing, but they must have the ability to raise issues of local or regional concern. Otherwise, Canadians would be better off electing robots, which don't cost as much.

Second, Canada has comfortably settled into a pro-choice culture, but that should not mean the issue can never be discussed. Opinions on abortion cross party lines, and there is no reason why people of good conscience should be denied the opportunity to express their views, particularly in a country that guarantees a right to freedom of speech.

If high-quality candidates are to be recruited for federal office, then MPs must be allowed greater latitude to represent the people. Otherwise, the idea that Parliament is a place where people come together to debate, argue and share ideas will be lost.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 A14

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