The Backbench Spring: Justin Trudeau, democracy and abortion

Is the new Liberal leader going to whip all votes on abortion?

Chris Selley questions the Liberal motion on statements by members and notes that Justin Trudeau’s interest in freedom for MPs doesn’t include the freedom to pursue a new law on abortion.

But it’s not just that Mr. Trudeau is trying to foment dissent within the Conservative ranks on a very basic and important point of privilege (which is certainly fair play, but not exactly Doing Politics Differently). It’s that he agrees with the subcommittee on private member’s business that quashed Mr. Warawa’s motion in the first place. “[I’m] committed to giving MPs more freedom to represent Canadians, but MPs would be required to support Canadians’ fundamental rights,” he tweeted a while back. “For me, a woman’s right to choose is a fundamental right.” (He seemed to be suggesting that the motion ran afoul of the Charter, which is absurd.)

In other words, Mr. Trudeau is not so much standing up for MPs’ freedom to discuss and debate issues, or for Parliament as the proper venue for same, as MPs’ right to make embarrassing statements that he can then use against them. It’s very likely that at least a few Liberals would vote for a private member’s motion condemning sex-selective abortion, and he couldn’t have that, could he? It would ruin his angle of attack.

This goes to both Mr. Trudeau’s promised democratic reforms and the larger discussion about abortion and democracy. It’s actually possible that all three party leaders in the House—Mr. Harper, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair—are in agreement on this point: no votes in the House about anything to do with abortion.

Jeff Jedras has argued that the Liberals should whip any vote related to abortion: that if the party has taken a pro-choice position, its MPs should adhere to that position. Perhaps Mr. Trudeau basically agrees with Jeff. At least so long as none of his MPs decide to pursue a bill or motion related to abortion and Mr. Harper is able to block any Conservative MP from doing likewise, he might never have to enforce such discipline. But should such a motion or bill reach the floor, if Mr. Harper or his successor should allow that to happen or prove unable to stop it, Mr. Trudeau will be put in a bit of a spot. When Motion 312 reached the floor last fall, four Liberals voted in favour. Were something like Motion 312 to reach the floor now, what would Mr. Trudeau say to someone like John McKay?

McKay, one of four Grit MPs who voted in favour of a motion calling for a review of “when life begins” this week, is outraged over the suggestion debate should on stifled. “It is going to be discussed, and it is going to keep coming up and it is failure of political will to actually deal with it,” McKay told reporters outside the Commons Friday.

Although the Liberals circulated a petition against the motion put forward by backbench Tory MP Stephen Woodworth, interim leader Bob Rae allowed caucus members to vote freely. “I don’t like to go against my colleagues or the platform of the Liberal party. It is not a lot of fun but Mr. Rae had the wisdom to say these are matters of conscience and views,” McKay said. “I think I actually have an informed view. I think my opinion should count for something and I am sick and tired of people refusing to discuss what is a foundational issue in this country.”

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