Huffington Post Canada

Why Harper should hug his backbenchers tight

One year ago today, few would have predicted the incredible emergence of an empowered backbench resulting from an increasingly agitated Conservative caucus and an unprecedented ruling by the Speaker.

Beginning with Stephen Woodworth’s motion to re-examine the issue of the definition of a human being, a number of Harper’s Cabinet colleagues, including Jason Kenney and Rona Ambrose, supported the motion despite Harper’s wishes to vote against.

Harper noted in January that he had no intention of reopening the abortion debate; at the same time, three Conservative MPs sent a letter on official letterhead asking the RCMP to investigate abortions as “possible murders.” I’ve argued previously that Harper should have enforced collective Cabinet solidarity on this motion to remain true to his word.

MP Brent Rathgeber recently left the Conservative caucus to sit as an Independent in the House of Commons after the Government refused to support his Private Member’s Bill on public sector disclosure.

On his blog soon after resigning he noted that:

The Committee hearings (as all are) were a charade. The decisions on amendments were made by unelected staffers weeks before the Committee hearings even commenced. Compliant MPs just do what they are told by PMO staffers. That the PMO operates so opaquely and routinely without supervision is an affront to the constitutional requirements of responsible government and is also the genesis of the current Duffy/Wright debacle.

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Guelph Mercury

Speaker’s ruling a small win for democracy

On April 23, House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer released a ruling on a point of privilege raised by Conservative MP Mark Warawa that opens the door for more free speech by members of Parliament.

Warawa argued that his own party’s chief whip had violated his freedom of speech by preventing him from speaking on an unapproved topic during the time allotted for members’ statements.

Members’ statements are governed by Standing Order 31, which states: “A member (of Parliament) may be recognized … to make a statement for not more than one minute. The Speaker may order a member to resume his or her seat if, in the opinion of the Speaker, improper use is made of this standing order.”

According to the compendium of procedure of the House of Commons, statements by members take place for one hour daily and are allotted for “members who are not (cabinet) ministers … to address the House for up to one minute on virtually any matter of local, provincial, national or international concern.”

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