In fact, the real reason is twofold: The media’s intolerance of dissent and some Canadians’ immaturity about debate…
But I do remember the federal elections of 2000, 2004 and 2005 and why we never had a Prime Minister Stockwell Day or a Conservative majority until 2013. A favourite and all too easy media game during those elections was the bimbo eruption. Unlike the Americans, we didn’t have actual bimbos of the sort that kept popping up out of Bill Clinton’s personal history. Our bimbos were invariably male: Reform or Canadian Alliance or Conservative candidates with views outside the Toronto media mainstream, particularly with respect to abortion or homosexuality. This was great fun for the media, of course. Find a right-of-centre candidate saying something odd — often with the assistance of the other parties’ research staffs — and you could be at the top of the news cycle for 24, even 48 hours. It was Gotcha! journalism at its most satisfying and brainless
Watson doesn’t provide examples of the “odd” and “outside the Toronto media mainstream” comments he’s thinking of. Norquay did and those examples, as Mark Jarvis suggests, go a bit beyond the typical definition of “odd.” We likely need to make distinctions here: Mark Warawa saying he opposes sex-selective abortion is not quite the same as, to use one Norquay’s examples, an MP or a candidate saying homosexuals should be discriminated against. And while such “bimbo eruptions” might explain why party leaders prefer more control to less control, it does not quite justify blocking Mr. Warawa’s statement or motion.
Watson goes on.
That parties should be able to tolerate internal discussion and even dissent was not an idea any party leader wanted to use valuable contact time, especially during an election, getting across to Canadians. (Wildrose leader Danielle Smith tried it during the last Alberta provincial election and is opposition leader, not premier, as a result.) It seems not enough Canadians can process the notion that parties can, indeed should, include people who publicly disagree with some of what the party stands for.
Again, what is Watson counting as “dissent” here? The belief that homosexuals “will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire?” The suggestion that a white candidate was better positioned to win in Calgary-Greenway? Might it be more likely that, if voters rejected the Wild Rose party because of those comments, it was not because of a general aversion to the notion of dissent, but because of a specific discomfort with those sentiments expressed?
(It is, by something of the same token, possible that some pro-choice voters decided to cast a ballot for the Conservatives in 2006, 2008 and 2011 because of Stephen Harper’s vow that a Conservative government would not reopen the abortion debate. But I wonder what might have happened if, say, he had clarified that that meant no Conservative MP would be permitted to move forward with any kind of motion or bill that made reference to the abortion. Or if he had gone even further and threatened to refuse to sign the nomination papers of any Conservative MP who did so. Would pro-life MPs have rebelled in the middle of the campaign? Mr. Harper would seem to be in an awkward spot here—perhaps hoping to avoid turning off pro-choice voters while not entirely alienating pro-life voters. But I’m not sure attempting to shut down dissent here is obviously better—politically—than allowing backbenchers to express their opposition to abortion. As I’ve written about this entire idea of MP independence, the goal should be some kind of balance.)
Watson also suggests Mr. Warawa’s motion is a waste of time because an overwhelming majority of Canadians already oppose sex-selective abortion. By the same reasoning, of course, there should be no objection to the House voting on such motion. The problem remains that the procedural grounds for ruling Mr. Warawa’s motion out of order are shaky at best.
None of which is to say that Watson doesn’t have a point. The forces, influences and incentives that got us to this point should be acknowledged and understood. But the question isn’t, how did we get here? It’s, are we happy with where we’re at? And, if not, how do we go about getting somewhere better?
See previously: A rough guide to this moment of democratic crisis