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How to succeed as a Conservative backbencher

Tease the day: Find a way to amend the criminal code


 

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

The Backbench Spring, as Aaron Wherry coined it, continues. Mark Warawa, the Conservative MP who occasionally carries the banner for caucus colleagues who hope to exercise more independence in the House of Commons, hopes to rise today to speak about sex-selective abortion. Wherry suggests Langley, B.C.’s man in Parliament cannot lose, and so the Spring continues.

But there’s more to this energy in the backbenches than any ongoing opposition to the crack of the party’s whip. At the same time as some Conservatives are standing up for themselves, a select few of their caucus mates are making headlines with their very own legislation. Week after week, the government proclaims its support for various Conservative private member’s bills intended to strengthen the criminal code. Most recently, David Sweet’s Bill C-479—which would give victims greater access to parole hearings—has earned the government’s support. Last month, Manitoba MP James Bezan introduced Bill C-478, legislation that would make parole eligibility much more difficult for some violent offenders—and the government supports that, too.

(The opposition has all kids of problems with this approach: namely, that private member’s legislation undergoes a much less thorough review, and arguably is more susceptible to court challenges down the road.)

None of this is being done in secret. In fact, the government is showing off its support for the backbench’s law-and-order agenda. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters all about the government’s empowerment of its caucus. “We’re giving our upper benchers, our backbenchers a real say in parliament,” he said. “They’re accomplishing what their constituents have sent them here to do.”

So the government’s all about empowering the backbenches, except when it’s not about empowering the backbenches. Protip to Conservative MPs who want to stand up for your constituents: find a way to amend the criminal code.


What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s threats to complain to the World Trade Organization about the European Union’s assessment of Canadian oil as dirty. The National Post fronts the challenges faced by aboriginal Canadians who struggle to make a life in urban Canada. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with columnist Rosie Dimanno’s disbelief that Toronto police are handing out internal awards related to G20 investigations. The Ottawa Citizen leads with the city’s expanding cultural diversity. iPolitics fronts speculation about how long Prime Minister Stephen Harper will remain in office. CBC.ca leads with more details about the frightening lives led by recently freed women in Cleveland who were held captive for years. National Newswatch showcases Huffington Post Canada‘s story about the Privy Council Office’s multi-million dollar media monitoring of backbench Conservatives.


Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Disabled aboriginal. The feds are asking the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s decision to force them to pay for care for a disabled aboriginal teenager in Nova Scotia. 2. Fuel spill. HMCS St. John’s spilled an undisclosed amount of fuel into Halifax harbour yesterday, the second such spill since 2011. 150 personnel contributed to the clean-up effort.
3. Extreme weather. Albertans claimed 62 per cent of all natural catastrophe–related insurance losses last year, amounting to over $700 million. Extreme weather events are to blame. 4. EI benefits. Jane Kittmer, a mother who’s owed EI benefits after being diagnosed with cancer while on maternity leave, is still waiting for the feds—who wanted the case resolved—to pay up.


 
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How to succeed as a Conservative backbencher

  1. And here I thought the rules for success were:
    1) Don’t speak until the whip says you can;
    2) parrot the lines approved by the PMO
    3) Clap & hoot loudly whenever the Ministers speak

  2. This change in parliamentary procedure represents an opening in the political opportunity structure especially because it creates a more favorable environment for backbenchers to act entrepreneurially on issues; not just any issue, but issues that the party may not prioritize or would prefer to avoid. Increasing the voice of backbenchers helps to “parochialize” Canadian parliamentary politics so as to look more like the U.S. Congress. In so doing, it can open the door for movement and interest groups since backbenchers can act as new gateways or veto points in the political process.

    Read more: http://mobilizingideas.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/backbenchers-voices-might-mean-new-political-opportunities/

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