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Commentary

“If you don’t do as I say, I’ll whip you!”

Mon, March 29, 2010   |   Author: Ed Vanwoudenberg   |   | Share: Facebook | Twitter   

That sounds pretty barbaric, doesn't it? Bad enough to prompt a response from Amnesty International? Allow me to explain, because that is exactly what Liberal Leader Ignatieff threatened to do Wednesday, March 24th, after Liberal caucus members broke rank and either abstained or voted against a motion that called on the government to offer "the full range of family planning, sexual and reproductive health options, including contraception" through a G8 initiative to help mothers and their children in poor countries. The purpose for this motion was twofold:
  1. To reaffirm the position of the Liberal party that "Canada must by all means represent and defend the rights of women to reproductive health," (including abortion).
  2. To embarrass the Conservative Government for voting against it and so be seen in the public eye as not in favour of the rights of women to reproductive health.
The Liberals had previously received support from the other opposition parties so it seemed like a slam dunk. Then their carefully constructed house of cards collapsed. Three Liberal MPs—Paul Szabo, John McKay and Dan McTeague—voted against the motion, while more than a dozen either abstained or did not show up for the vote. In the end the motion was defeated 144 -138, much to the joy of the Conservatives who once again could hide behind their cliché that they will not introduce, or become involved in, the issue of abortion. This at the expense and the chagrin of the Liberals who saw their dirty trick misfire and ran out of hankies to wipe the egg off Ignatieff's face. Now back to the whipping. Officials in Ignatieff's office confirmed that this was a 'whipped' vote—no not 'dream whip' but an honest to goodness "you'd better be in the house and vote in favour of the motion" kind of whip. So much for democracy and so much for permitting MPs to vote in good conscience on moral issues. Ignatieff's position on this issue is clear, and so is that of most of the Liberal Party. Like USA President Obama they are pushing to use the G8 to promote abortion on a global scale. What about the moral position of MP's Szabo, McKay and McTeague? Let's pause for a moment and salute them for their conviction. They would rather be whipped than concur with their leader that abortion is a 'viable' option in the fight to secure reproductive health. On the other twelve MPs who abstained or were absent, we reserve judgment. I venture to guess that the whipping of these valiant men will mean that they will be further relegated to the back seat of the Liberal bus. Or, taking a page out of Chrétien's book, Ignatieff may refuse to sign their nomination papers come next election. They will not escape unscathed. One does not embarrass the leader publicly and expect to get away with it. What bothers me the most however, is that democracy itself may have become the whipping boy. It suffered the most, and may not recover from its lashing. The only cure, in my opinion, is for the three brave men to leave the Liberal Party and join the CHP Canada team under Jim Hnatiuk. Ask yourself, "What is left of representative government if the convictions of individual MPs who were elected by their constituents on their pledge to defend freedom, life, and family are muzzled?" If every MP had been allowed to vote his conscience, no matter how it would have played out, we, the Canadian voters, would at least have known the true mindset of each MP. Now, we too are being made into whipping boys. Would democracy not be much better served if a motion such as this were allowed to stand or fall on its own merit? It wouldn't do any harm to a party-or even a government's ability to govern-if a motion like this was defeated. A government can be toppled only by the loss of a confidence vote, such as a vote on the budget. What Mr. Ignatieff's failed motion and his threats of discipline underscore is that it is impossible for MPs of moral conviction to represent their constituents when they are whipped against their will to vote according to the Party line.


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