'Rogue' Tory says he's loyal to Harper, but MP statements too controlled
Published Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:32PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 27, 2013 9:54PM EDT
A Conservative backbencher who accused his own party of muzzling its MPs says he has “great respect” for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but believes parliamentarians’ freedom of speech is under threat.
Langley, B.C. MP Mark Warawa complained this week that his party is not letting him bring up a motion in the House of Commons calling for condemnation of sex-selective abortion. The motion was deemed out of order last week and Harper has made it clear that he does not want to re-open the abortion debate.
Warawa wanted to discuss the motion during the time allotted for members’ statements in the House on Tuesday, but was told at the last minute that his name was removed from the speakers’ list. He has appealed the decision to the Commons procedure and House affairs committee.
Warawa told CTV’s Power Play Wednesday that MPs have a right to make individual statements in the House, but a practice has “crept in” where “the whips of all the different parties decide who gets to present these statements.”
“I’ve asked the Speaker to rule on that,” Warawa said. “My interpretation is that everybody gets an equal opportunity and the whips do not have any control over who and where… they just provide the names based on quality.”
Warawa’s concerns were backed by two other Conservative MPs Tuesday. Sources told CTV News that nearly two dozen Conservative MPs privately threw their support behind Warawa.
Asked whether he’s a rogue MP, Warawa said: “I’m hard working, if that’s what that means.
“I think it’s important that we represent our constituencies, and I do that.”
Warawa added: “I have great respect for the prime minister. He’s an incredible man. He has my loyalty and commitment of support.”
He said he understands that not everyone agrees with his motion on sex-selective abortion, but believes it has been “misinterpreted.”
“It’s focused solely on discrimination against women and girls. Some have said it’s about reopening the abortion debate or dealing with ultrasounds -- it’s not,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Warawa appealed to his colleagues to allow the motion to be introduced, saying it did not contravene the Constitution and was within the jurisdiction of the House.
"(The motion) clearly meets the criteria and should be votable," Warawa told the House affairs committee.
"The question before each member today is: ‘What kind of Parliament do we want?’ Canadians want a Parliament that follows the rules. The future of Parliament and the future of (the motion) is in your hands."
None of the MPs in the room, including Tories, asked Warawa any questions about his appeal.
Heading into the weekly Conservative Party caucus meeting Wednesday morning, Tory MP Stephen Woodworth said he has never been muzzled in Parliament, but said he is looking into Warawa's concerns.
"Is the right to make a member statement owned by an individual member or is it owned by the whip? I still haven't quite got there yet," he told reporters.
Woodworth's own pro-life motion, which asked Parliament to study the definition of a human being, was defeated last year in the House of Commons.
"My motion was deemed vote-able. It went to a vote and I was allowed to speak on it," Woodworth said.
Another Conservative MP, Costas Menegakis, said he has never been told by the Prime Minister's Office what he can and cannot say in Commons.
"No one ever tells me what to say, what to speak, I write my own," he told reporters while heading into what was likely to be a tense caucus meeting.
Warawa’s public complaint has highlighted a larger issue on Parliament Hill – using members’ statements for scripted partisan attacks.
An analysis of more than 3,500 members’ statements conducted by The Ottawa Citizen newspaper found that the NDP and its leader, Thomas Mulcair, were the most popular topics among Conservative MPs.
Since June 2011, 142 Conservative statements addressed the NDP, 42 focused on NDP leaders and 159 discussed the controversial carbon tax.
Conservative MP Kellie Leitch, a parliamentary secretary, told Power Play her party needs to show a united front.
“We’re a team, and this team has been exceptionally successful. Because we’ve functioned as a team we have a majority government and we’re moving forward with Economic Action Plan 2013 to make sure Canadians have jobs.”
When fellow Power Play guest NDP deputy leader Nathan Cullen said that sounded like a scripted member’s statement, Kelly paused before repeating: “We have a team, and I think it’s extremely important that people understand that we have a team, and that our team has functioned very well together, and because of that, we’ve been successful.”
With files from The Canadian Press