The House: On weakness -

The House: On weakness


A footnote on the meaning of Brad Trost.

Here is a question put to the government by the NDP’s Francoise Boivin last Thursday. Emphasis mine.

Mr. Speaker, women’s rights should not be open for debate, yet members of the government seem to think they are. The Supreme Court of Canada has clearly ruled that access to abortion is a fundamental right. Either the Prime Minister has lost control of his caucus or his government’s new policy is to outlaw abortion and turn back the clock on women’s rights. Which is it?

This attempt to define Brad Trost’s public stance as a reflection on the Prime Minister’s leadership is especially interesting given the party to which Ms. Boivin belongs. A year ago it was Jack Layton who was apparently failing to keep sufficient control of his caucus.

At the time, the House was preparing for a vote on Bill C-391, an act to eliminate the long-gun registry. As C-391 was, at least officially, a private member’s bill, all MPs were, at least theoretically, free to vote according to their own views. That said, the Conservatives were destined to vote as unified bloc and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had decided to whip his caucus. Mr. Layton, on the other hand, decided to leave the matter a free vote for NDP MPs. And with a dozen New Democrat votes thus made pivotal to the bill’s passage or failure, the issue was made out to be a test of Mr. Layton’s manhood and principles.

To wit.

Liberals devoted a lot of time over their two-day caucus meeting to attacking NDP Leader Jack Layton and his deputy, Thomas Mulcair, for refusing to force their MPs to vote to keep the long-gun registry.

In news conferences and speeches, Mr. Ignatieff accused Mr. Layton of lacking leadership and principles. At a rally Monday night, the Liberal Leader echoed what he said he heard from a supporter in Manitoba: “You know the problem with the NDP? Do you know what it stands for? No darn principle.”

Or put another way.

“Make up your mind, Jack. The hour is getting late,” Ignatieff said during an address to the Liberal caucus on the first day of the party’s summer retreat in Baddeck, N.S.

Mr. Layton held to his position and defended his handling of the issue as a better kind of leadership (and ultimately enough of his MPs came around to defeat C-391).

A year later, the Prime Minister’s apparent willingness to allow his MPs to speak freely on a divisive issue is, from the NDP’s perspective, a demonstration of weakness.


The House: On weakness

  1. Harper will have to make some kind of decision on this… I don’t think Trost and his supporters are going to just go away if Harper ignores them. He’s going to have to crack the whip (and alienate that sizable and valuable so-con base) or he’s going to have go along with Trost (and break his campaign pledge in the process).

    I don’t think Harper’s silence is a matter of strength/weakness, at least not yet. It’s stalling. He’s gonna have to fish or cut bait on this one. Verrrrrrry interesting.

    • I agree….if Harper let’s this open challenge go unchecked pretty soon every MP with a pet cause will be promoting something, and that will damage the party.

    • I tend to think it’s deliberate…I think Trost was given some type of indirect green light by the PMO to pursue this cause while staying at arm’s length from any potential blowback…caters to the socon base while not scaring off too much of the electorate…sort of trial balloon. If the push back is too much, Harper can easily disassociate himself from Trost without any consequences….after four years, no one will remember this episode come election time.

      • ‘Harper can easily disassociate himself from Trost without any consequences’

        I tend to agree, although the time will come when the so-con supporters of the party (the ones who send the Conservatives all sorts of big fat cheques on a regular basis) are going to want to see a return on their investment. Telling Trost and Co. to stick a sock in it might bring that day closer.

        • Who else are they going to vote for?

          • They’ll stay home, and/or stop donating. Harper’s got a majority, and he can move on abortion and other so-con issues. If he refuses, well, so-cons have to wonder why they continue to cut the guy cheques.

          • Sure they could…but that means the Libs or NDP could get in….and that thought would terrify them.

        • Perhaps…but let’s assume that the PMO flips the so-cons off on this issue and for the next four years doesn’t engage in the predictable ‘let’s throw red meat’ at the base…would social conservatives actually park their votes elsewhere? At worst they don’t vote and they stop writing checks…and btw…how on earth do they still have money to give?! Seems like there is fund raising drive every week for the Tories!

          I concede your point but I still think from a political expedient standpoint Harper is sitting pretty without having to do anything about this.

  2. “…. women’s rights should not be open for debate … ”

    Women’s right to what, exactly? Choose pizza toppings for tonight’s dinner? Choose colour of new car she’s thinking of purchasing? 

    How come women don’t have rights to protect themselves from murderous mothers?

    How many millions of more women need to go missing before other women care? 

    Mara Hvistendahl ~ Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls …. 

    Lianyungang, a booming port city, has China’s most extreme gender ratio for children under four: 163 boys for every 100 girls. These numbers don’t seem terribly grim, but in ten years, the skewed sex ratio will pose a colossal challenge. By the time those children reach adulthood, their generation will have twenty-four million more men than women.

    The prognosis for China’s neighbors is no less bleak: Asia now has 163 million females “missing” from its population. Gender imbalance reaches far beyond Asia, affecting Georgia, Eastern Europe, and cities in the U.S. where there are significant immigrant populations. The world, therefore, is becoming increasingly male, and this mismatch is likely to create profound social upheaval.

    • Are we feeling a bit grumpy after your Gunners were handed their hats by the Spurs?

  3. First of all, if this had been an MP who was for example in support of the Gun Registry and had been very vocal on the topic for some time, Harper would’ve come down hard long ago. It’s a matter of image for the party after all.

    Meanwhile Trost has been VERY vocal about his anti-abortion stance for years now, and yet Harper says or has said little or nothing. Again though, I think this is a matter of image.

    On one hand Harper DOES want to attract votes from people who are anti-abortion, or at least the types of communities that tend to be more anti-abortion than pro-choice.

    On the other hand, he doesn’t want to scare off the majority of people who really DON’T want to see this debate reopened, at all, in any form.

    So while I’m quite sure Harper has no intention of actually opening up the debate, he certainly doesn’t hate what Trost is up to, given that it rallies the base and increases donations at very little political cost.

    Best of all worlds for Harper here.

    • He didn’t just say he was anti-abortion, he opposes his own govts policy and calls for more aggression in fighting it…against his own leader.

      Several MPs in other parties oppose it too, but they don’t make it a personal challenge to their leader, or call their leaders naive and duped….or issue rallying cries to the nation.

      The topic here really doesn’t matter…it’s the challenge to the leadership that does

      • Kind of, which is to say, if Trost were older and more important, then yes Harper would probably react very strongly indeed.

        That said, Trost is a pup, and any actual power he might someday have is a decade down the road, long after Harper’s gone.

        Again, Harper’s using this to his advantage. Simple as that.

        • Trost is only one of 4 on this kick….and there are other topics MPs could raise to challenge Harper.

          • I’d like to hear just one Tory MP, just one pipe up about asbestos. When so-cons start to care about all lives that are needlessly at risk, then maybe’ll i’ll have more sympathy for Mr Trosts views – as it is i have none.

          • Exactly….an MP being anti-asbestos would be in serious trouble….actually there are dozens of topics MPs could speak out on that people would cheer…so why do they pick topics like this that annoy everyone, and embarrass the party?

  4. Here’s a wacky thought.What if someone[ presumeably from the NDP were to introduce a PMB to formally establish a law enshrining the right to abortion in this country? Now that would set a cat among the pigeons no? What would the so-cons do? What would Harper do? What would the liberals do? I don’t suppose now would be the ideal time, given the parlous state of the global economy[ we might be all lining up for a bowl of soup in the not too distant future], and Harper would likely brush it aside, but a day might yet come around when Harper learns that two or more can play that game.

    • Every CPC member would vote against it, and a bunch of Dippers would vote against it as well as some Liberals. The NDP would have failed to create a wedge issue amongs the CPC, while creating a split in their own caucus. It would be a very dumb idea.

      • I agree with Rick that there’s at least as much division among Dippers and Liberals as there is among Tories on the abortion issue.  Fact is, it’s a “wedge” issue for everybody, not just one party.

        • Baloney. The NDP recognizes women’s right to contorl their bodies. Name any current NDP MP who opposes that.

          • I’m talking rank and file and supporters as well as MPs.  There are lots and lots of socially conservative people who vote NDP.  Union members with beer guts and butt cleavage ain’t all exactly “progressive” in their outlook, you know.

            And I’m vehemently pro-choice Holly, just to save you a pro-choice rant.

          • I’m talking about rank and file and supporters, not just MPs.  There are lots and lots of socially conservative people who vote NDP.  Take a trip to the BC Interior sometime and start talking politics to the locals, if you don’t believe me.  You think all of those union guys with the beer guts and butt cleavage are “progressive” in their outlook?  Spare me.

            And BTW I’m vehemently pro-choice.  I figured I’d save you a pro-choice rant.

          • That’s a good point about all those new dippers, and from Quebec too – got to be some good catholics in there. The tory caucus has blue libs in there too, no guarantee they’d go with the so-con vote.

            That’s news to me that there are socially conservate dippers, but i guess you’re right, lots of union guys aren’t that liberal.
            Perhaps Harper really isn’t putting up any trial balloons – who’d need the grief?

          • kcm2, you should have a look at the 1993 Federal Election Study.  One of the most interesting things in there was the fact that a huge chunk of the new Reform Party vote in that election came from voters crossing over from NDP to Reform, particularly in places like Vancouver Island, the BC Lower Mainland and Interior, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  My brother lives in those parts, and I remember discussing with him the fact that a ton of people in those regions can well be described as fiscally liberal, socially conservative.  Back in Richard Nixon’s time, these were like the blue-collar union guys who beat up hippies.

            Urban “progressive” NDPers don’t like reminding themselves of these sorts of inconvenient facts.

        • I disagree with Rick and think he’s pulling that statement out of his arse. I expect he severely over-estimates the amount of division in the NDP for this, and very slightly under-estimates the division in the CPC, if push came to shove.

          No, on this issue, I don’t think division within the parties (any of them) would be any sort of problem.  That said, I also don’t think there’d be any severe backlash from the CPC voting it down either — voting to create a right to abortion is a very different thing from voting to ban it. I expect a lot of Canadians, who even if they believe a woman has a right to choose who or what makes use of her organs, can hold the belief that no doctor should be forced to perform the procedure if it goes against what the doctor believes in.

      • Do you think Trost and his anti-abortion group would vote against it?  Wouldn’t that put the issue to bed for awhile — he can’t very well raise it, vote against it, and keep harping on it with his Conservative constituents, can he?

        • You might want to re-read KCM’s comment… it was about “a PMB to formally establish a law enshrining the right to abortion in this country”. Which is the opposite of what Trost wants.

          • You’re right; call me confused.  Thanks.

      • I didn’t say it would be a particularly good idea – for one thing there is no real incentive for suppporters of the right to abortion to do anything, the SCC has already spoken. Hypothetically though, although i agree it is a wedge issue for everyone i can’t agree with your predicted outcome. Who in the NDP is likely to vote against a bill that enshrines it in law? Few liberals are likely to vote against it – more likely abstain if anything. As for the CPC, depending on whether it was a free vote you might be surprised – it would certainly be a losing proposition politically to be voting down an abortion law. In anycase it was simply meant to illustrate the fact that this game could be played a number of ways. Harper should simply stop doing it. In reality there would be a number of intangibles…what would the law be like, would it be a limitted right to abortion…As it is there is no pressing need to alter anything. 

        •  “Who in the NDP is likely to vote against a bill that enshrines it in law? ”

          Who knows, but consider this — that new NDP caucus is WAY bigger than it’s ever been and is full of all sorts of unknown individuals.  Who knows whether they’re all — all 103 of them — staunchly pro-choice.  Has anyone polled them?  I realize that the NDP has had the most consistent pro-choice position in terms of official policy, but that’s different from every MP actually being pro-choice, and if you get into free votes and private member’s bills . . .

          • That’s a good point about all those new dippers, and from Quebec too – got to be some good catholics in there. The tory caucus has blue libs in there too, no guarantee they’d go with the so-con vote. That’s news to me that there are socially conservate dippers, but i guess you’re right, lots of union guys aren’t that liberal. Perhaps Harper really isn’t putting up any trial balloons – who’d need the grief?