Mr. Harper’s party wants him to grow a bigger, more durable long-term coalition, one that attracts more women, more urban, and more centrist voters. His assurances that the question of abortion will not be re-opened are not incidental; they a foundation stone of this effort. In that sense, paradoxically, last week’s muzzle debate was probably not harmful to his interests.
Still, the cumulative effect of too much message management is a weaker, less vibrant political system, and change would be welcome. Whether or not you share Mark Warawa’s views on abortion, who wants a Parliament where he has no ability to state them?
Chris Selley considers the way forward.
How did we get here? In a column in the Ottawa Citizen this week, William Watson proposed that it’s simply our own fault: Modern Canadian journalism goes haywire at any deviation from the “Toronto media mainstream” — even when a party leader makes it clear that the deviation represents only the opinion of one backbencher. Alberta’s Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith tried the big-tent approach when a pastor candidate expressed Biblically inspired negative views on homosexuality; it didn’t go so well; now she demands obedience just like everyone else. Leaders must be “dictatorial,” said Mr. Watson, or perish.
I don’t buy it. What Canada needs, first of all, are leaders who are willing to respect their legislatures and to articulate a defence of their most basic procedures. And second of all, they need leaders with enough charisma and perspicacity simply to dismiss shrieky news reports and opposition hysterics. The ability to scoff or laugh off silly controversies is a huge political asset, and in this hyperbolic age a rare one. Mr. Harper certainly doesn’t have it.
Here is what I wrote in response to William Watson’s column.
Meanwhile, the riding associations of some of the Conservative backbenchers involved seem supportive.
New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson, who on March 28 backed Warawa’s right to speak, also seems to have support from his local riding group. “I think he’s doing a wonderful job,” said Lynn Thornton, president of the New Brunswick Southwest electoral district association. “There are certain rights that everyone has and he’s speaking up for that right.”
“I think it’s a great thing,” said Doug Williams, vice-president of the New Brunswick Southwest EDA.
As a general principle, I imagine voters would generally prefer MPs who possessed an ability for independent thought. Whether voters would necessarily support those expressions of independent thought would obviously depend on the thought expressed and there remains the support a political party could withhold from a candidate and the difficulty an independent candidate has in getting elected. (How many of even the most admirable members of Parliament would have struggled to get elected without a party affiliation?) But the hope here is that more expressions of independent thought—and more space for independent thought—might make the individual candidate and MP a more relevant factor, not simply in Parliament, but also, ultimately, to voters.