What we're talking about when we talk about Mark Warawa - Macleans.ca

What we’re talking about when we talk about Mark Warawa

We’re talking about abortion, but also Parliament


Scott Reid, the former advisor to Paul Martin, argues the Prime Minister is right to “come down” on Mark Warawa with “both boots.” Scott’s argument, it seems to me, is essentially this: the rights of duly elected MPs and the principle of open parliamentary debate are important, but, for selfish political reasons, the Prime Minister is smart and right to shut down any discussion of abortion by members of his caucus.

Fair enough. The political logic is perfectly understandable. But the democratic logic is complicated: Parliament should be empowered to act and debate freely… except when the issue at hand is abortion. Are there any other issues that MPs, for political reasons, shouldn’t be allowed to raise in the legislature? Should we put together a list and post it on the front door to Centre Block?

On that note, here is David Frum, arguing that Mr. Warawa is just another implement for the liberal media to use for the purposes of knocking Mr. Harper around, but also trying to square this small matter of how we order our democracy.

Parliament is the place where governments are made and held to account. But held to account for what? In April 2011, Stephen Harper made a commitment to the Canadian people: “As long as I’m prime minister we are not reopening the abortion debate.” Maybe that was an appropriate pledge, maybe not. Maybe that pledge caused some people to vote for him who otherwise wouldn’t, or again maybe not. But Prime Minister Harper gave his word, and having given that word, he won a majority government. Is it really an offence against democracy for a government to enforce its own commitments upon its own MPs?

Your parents and grade school teachers probably told you it was impolite to answer a question with a question, but that rhetorical query deserves another: Does the government own Mark Warawa? He is a Conservative MP and he participates in meetings of the Conservative caucus, but he is neither a cabinet minister, nor a parliamentary secretary. As noted previously, Mr. Harper’s commitment seems to have applied to his government and the distinction between government policy and private members’ business is one the Justice Minister seems to have been willing to assert as recently as a year ago.

If Mr. Harper wishes to impose a party policy on his party’s candidates and MPs, he has the option of attempting to do so. He might refuse to sign the nomination papers of anyone who refuses to never say a word about abortion. He could move to remove from the Conservative caucus any MP who brings forward a motion or bill that in any way relates to the issue. Those would be political responses to a political issue. If commentators believe he is smart, politically, to leave the abortion debate alone, they should argue for him to set out those consequences.

Frum goes on.

The pro-life view is a serious and important one. As a matter of wise party management, Prime Minister Harper probably would do well to open places of dialogue in which those who uphold pro-life views can gain a hearing from party colleagues. But the disciplined commitment of the Harper government to do those things it promised to do — and to refrain from doing those things it promised not to do — does not threaten Canadian democracy. That disciplined commitment is essential to real democratic choice.

If government is too riven and disrupted to honour its commitments to the voters, then voting becomes meaningless.

Indeed. One shudders at the thought of the existential dread and chaos that would ensue were a government to ever deviate from a commitment.

But if “disciplined commitment” is integral to democracy and a Conservative MP doing or saying anything in the House of Commons in regards to abortion is to violate that principle, then I fear it is already too late. Just last year, there was this. And three years ago, there was this. If Mr. Harper is drawing a line now, he is it drawing it after it was crossed.

For sure, there is some sense in Mr. Harper doing whatever he has done to prevent Mr. Warawa from moving forward with or advocating for his motion on sex-selective abortion. One might even attempt to argue that access to abortion is a right which should not be threatened. But these attempts to justify the Prime Minister’s position ignore the specific questions Mr. Warawa has raised about the functioning of our parliamentary democracy: Should Motion 408 have been ruled out of order? And should party whips control who is allowed to speak during the 15 minutes reserved each day for statements by members?

Those are the real questions at hand. Yes, Mr. Warawa’s motion deals with abortion. And, yes, Mr. Warawa wanted to speak about abortion. But to explain why he shouldn’t have been permitted to do so in this case, one must—or at least should have to—defend the committee decision and the parliamentary management that brought us to this point.


What we’re talking about when we talk about Mark Warawa

  1. This is the only thing Harper has ever done that I agree with but I have to admit that to squelch dissent is hardly democratic. Like many dictators, Harper confuses dissent with disloyalty and refuses a public airing of those who disagree. Much has been written about the lack of transparency in this government and it gets more worrying the longer they are in power.

    • Warawa like many who choose to join a party have no independence. They are bought and paid for place-people. If you wish to remain free to vote as your conscience dictates then don’t join a party.

      The party platform was no re-opening of abortion, Warawa knew that going in and chose to remain on the party ticket and accept party largesse and assistance. The electorate knows that voting for a party means just that as well. Sounds a bit like having your cake and eating it.

      So either the whiners are stupid or being disingenuous, me being me I’d bet on a bit of both. But whichever it is it speaks volumes about the honesty of not only our party system, but also Warawa and the other good christians who are pushing this.

      • So you actually favour the concept that MPs are really just proxies for the leader and that they serve no purpose beyond acting as trained seals? Wow! I guess democracy really is dead!

        • I don’t favour it. They were the ones who signed onto the party for money, power and help knowing the party’s platform. If they did so but were still going to act against that platform they committed fraud. If they did so by giving up their own personal beliefs then they are shallow.
          The party system is all about training seals, anyone going into it who isn’t leading it is a puppet.
          Reality sucks but that’s what you get when parties thrive and the electorate is stupid.

          • I’m sure you would be just as circumspect if this were happening under a majority Liberal government.

          • I think that low of all parties and all party members. Their loyalty isn’t to those who elected them but to those who bought and paid for them.
            Nice try sad party person

  2. This comment was deleted.

    • get lost, bozo

    • “aurora air conditioning repair”

      are they supporting Dean Del Mastro too?

      • It’s all okay: they get reimbursed, plus bonus $50.

  3. This was really interesting. Thank you, Mr. Wherry.

  4. Many of the comments on these pages indicate that the writer believes one cannot support Warwa’s right to make a motion (or address Parliament) without actually supporting said motion. I assume in most cases they simply have not thought through a self-consistent framework that is in line with their support of the rights of individuals over collective rights.

    David Frum is no such case. He is the pundit’s equivalent of a psychopath, willing to present any argument that suits his current fancy without having the fortitude or honesty to even address its consequences. In his article, he essentially states that by virtue of saying something as CPC leader, SH has the option (even the duty) to trample the rights of duly elected MP’s. David Frum is a bad person.

  5. Warawa is free to speak about banning abortion all he wants, but he ran on a Conservative platform that clearly said the debate was NOT going to be revisited in Parliament. He is free to speak elsewhere about it.

    A multi-party majority in Parliament doesn’t want to revisit the issue.

    So why is the media making a fuss about this.

    Last year when Harper’s permitted the private member’s anti-abortion motion to proceed, the media and the opposition declared that Harper was breaking his election promise not to reopen the debate.

    So now that Harper accepted the media and the opposition position that these private members motions represent a reopening of the abortion debate, and Harper breaking his election promise, the media cries foul.

    What hypocrites?

    • wrt the private member bill, those of us who are crying foul are crying foul about all 3 party representatives who made an unjustified ruling on inadmissibility. (I doubt if the Lib & NDP reps were influenced by SH) Individual MP’s have the right to put forward private members bills.

      The secondary issue wrt the member’s statements is not so clear cut. My understanding is that the rules state clearly that each member shall have an opportunity to address the house, while the convention has been that the house leaders organized their MP’s. Warawa’s position is that addressing the house is his right similar to the private member’s bills and that the Conservative House leader broke the rules to deprive him of that opportunity.

      You of all people should appreciate that a multi-party majority should never be allowed to break the rules with the intent of silencing a minority or an individual.

      • A quibble: it wasn’t even a bill, but a motion that – even if carried – would have had no legal import.

        • It doesn’t matter. The media and the opposition claimed that these motions represented a real re-opening of the abortion debate, when the first motion came last year, and that Harper was breaking his election promise.

          So Harper has seen how the media, the opposition, and a big portion of the public view these motions, as him breaking his election promise on abortion, so he is clamping down.

          • The media and the opposition claimed that these motions represented a real re-opening of the abortion debate…

            This just utterly confuses me. It’s like saying “The media and opposition claimed that the sky is blue, and water is wet…”. I mean, HOW DARE THEY acknowledge objective reality!!!

    • …now that Harper accepted the media and the opposition position that these private members motions represent a reopening of the abortion debate…

      The logic of this rationale for hypocricy completely baffles me.

      Promises are like teacups. You can’t take credit for not breaking one after you’ve already broken it.

      To take the analogy further, the Tories are free to promise, having broken the cup, that they won’t break it again. However, it’s disingenuous of them to think that most people won’t simply roll their eyes at that notion. Whatever credit is due for acknowledging after the fact that you’re the one who smashed the cup, it doesn’t lend any credence to your claim that you won’t smash it again. It’s already lying in pieces on the floor.

      The Tories would need a TARDIS for that rationale to hold any water.

    • ‘So why is the media making a fuss about this?’

      When MPs break ranks with their party, it’s newsworthy. Covering a story and ‘making a fuss’ are not interchangeable terms.

      ‘Last year when Harper’s permitted the private member’s anti-abortion motion to proceed, the media and the opposition declared that Harper was breaking his election promise not to reopen the debate.’

      ‘The media’ made no such blanket accusation. As someone who once believed there was a hidden agenda, those two instances made me realize that, hey, maybe there’s not a hidden agenda.

      ‘So now that Harper accepted the media and the opposition position that these private members motions represent a reopening of the abortion debate, and Harper breaking his election promise, the media cries foul.’

      Come again? Wherry just cited two ‘members of the media’, from different ends of the political spectrum I might add, who supported what Harper did! They aren’t the only members of the media (like Warren Kinsella) who sided with the PM. Just like the abortion issue itself, Harper’s handling of the situation (rightly or wrongly) is a contentious one, not just because it may (or may not) have an impact on Harper’s short-term political future, but because it will serve as a point of precedent for future governments. It’s a debate worth having, I say.

      • Much more polite and reasoned than what I ws going to say. I’ll just go with yours.

  6. I do not support the change to the abortion laws but wholly support the ability for an MP to bring a motion forward. THAT my friends is democracy. The free exchange, and debate of ideas. If we limit what we can talk about we are nothing more than a sham.

    So I will defend the ability of Mark Warawa to bring forward a motion I do not support gladly because the next time this might be a motion I do support that a goverment will not allow to be brought forward for purely political reasons.

  7. This is yet another engineered newsbyte by the PMO’s media jackals to divert the public eye away from the real problems from these criminal Neo-cons. The same weekend all the attention was on Warawa, we had the Jay Hill conflict of interest, both the Robocall investigation report and arrest, Senate corruption was still being discussed, and they knew the CFIA cuts were waiting in the wings. Harper wanted the channel changed, and it worked – nothing gets people more worked up than abortion. I was convinced of this when I saw Mr Warawa’s huge smile when exiting Harper’s meeting with the so-called ‘dissenters’ …..”We’re all one team here” he declared!!!
    By the way – who takes Frum serious these days anyways? Pathetic clown

    • “By the way – who takes Frum serious these days anyways?”

      I always think of George Costanza when I see him.

      • Haha! good one, very fitting – Costanza wearing a plastic Reagan wig!!

  8. I agree that the PM should be moving to end the discussion of abortion by his party members, but this is the wrong way to go about. Don’t destroy Parliamentary process because your members won’t tow the party line. If you truly want to put the abortion issue behind you as a party, then stop nominating candidates who won’t stop talking about it.

  9. More of a question than anything else: How do independent members of parliament get to make a motion or speak under the Standing Order in question? Do they apply to the Speaker for permission, or wave their hand at the appropriate time? Cough discreetly into their hand? Make eye contact with the Speaker?

    According to the House of Commons web site (http://www.parl.gc.ca/MembersOfParliament/MainMPsCompleteList.aspx), there are currently two Independent Members, Goldring and Hver.

    If Warawa is really interested in the principle, he has the option of becoming the third Independent.

  10. Not exactly sure how we ended up in this predicament, but two suggestions for consideration:

    – voters should stop fixating on this idea that disagreement amongst members of any given party is a bad thing – it isn’t bad, and in fact needs to be accepted and even applauded
    – we should sharpen the distinction between the government (ie the PM and cabinet) and all the rest of the MPs – the government should not be able to take the support of any MPs for granted, even MPs from the same party as the government.