The press as party whips

Andrew Coyne questions the press's motives in the abortion debate

Here we go again. The press gallery are universally scornful of the Liberals for being “divided” on a vote: that is, because three Liberal MPs voted as their consciences dictate, rather than falling in line with the party whip.

That may indeed be a concern for the party leadership, but why is the press scoring it the same way? Why are we volunteering to be the enforcers of party discipline? MPs voting their conscience, ie using their brains, is the way the system is supposed to work. We should rather be celebrating those MPs who had the courage to buck the party line on a matter of principle than decrying the “weakness” of their leader.

TALKING OF ABORTION: I don’t doubt the Liberals were playing politics with the issue, but so are the Tories. The Liberals want to provoke a debate on abortion, to smoke out the Tory pro-lifers. And the Tories want to avoid a debate on abortion, for the same reason. But even though the Liberal resolution was defeated, it was revealing in its own way.

One, it’s helpful to know that the Liberal party line is entirely amenable to abortion, albeit in Third World countries, as part of (to quote the resolution) “the full range of family planning, sexual and reproductive health options.” Not just as an ineradicable evil that a society may choose not to restrict by law (though every civilized society but ours has), but as a value-neutral “option,” no more objectionable than birth control.

Two, it’s also helpful to be reminded that there are pro-lifers in every party: it is not just a Tory disease. Perhaps, if the press agreed to report that once in a while, Tory pro-lifers could borrow some backbone from their Liberal counterparts, and start defying their own leader. Or would we then mark the Tories down for being “divided”?

Three, it’s helpful to be reminded, notwithstanding how determined the Conservative leadership is to prevent an honest debate on the issue, how necessary it is to have this debate. More than twenty years after the Morgentaler decision, we remain in a bizarre legislative limbo: as I’ve written before, we did not choose as a nation to have no abortion law. It is not settled, nor was it ever decided, either by Parliament or the courts. Quite the opposite: the Supreme Court went out of its way to invite Parliament to draft a new law, which challenge the House of Commons duly took up, and passed it. The bill died on a tie vote of the Senate.

That’s no way for a democratic country to decide anything. But then, we aren’t really a democratic country, are we?

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