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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The Prince Arthur Herald

Has Harper lost control of his backbench?

Last week, the National Post’s John Ivison wrote an interesting column arguing that the Conservative backbench has lost its fear of Stephen Harper. He argues that “the trained seals on the backbench are biting back and we are likely to see more unsanctioned behaviour in future, as MPs relish their new-found freedom.”

Is the Prime Minister, who for years has kept an extremely tight leash on his caucus, losing control? The answer may be more subtle than Ivison suggests. The Conservative Party of Canada is a broad coalition of interests: social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, economic libertarians, red Tories, and the like. Due to its very nature, this coalition will occasionally pit interests against interests. A successful leader will be able to reconcile differences and hold the alliance together.

The Prime Minister can enforce discipline in a variety of ways. He can promote or demote MPs based on their performance. Harper can kick an MP out of the Conservative caucus at any time. Postmedia’s Stephen Maher argues that it was easier to impose discipline prior to the 2011 election. Some MPs want to get their name in the headlines, while others will speak out when the government does something they dislike.

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