Mark Warawa

The Harper Government has already been found to be in contempt of Parliament, so why would it surprise us it’s also in contempt of parliamentarians — even those, or perhaps especially those, from its own party?

I speak, of course, of the brouhaha sparked by Mark Warawa, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Langley, B.C., who has asked House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to rule that his Parliamentary privilege has been breached by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s suppression of his ability to speak to his private member’s motion condemning sex-selection abortions.

Typical readers of this blog, like its author, will not agree with Warawa’s position on reproductive rights. As he is from the social conservative wing of the Conservative Party, it is safe to assume he’s using the sex-selection issue as an opportunity to wedge open the whole politically deadly can of worms that reproductive rights have become.

Moreover, it is quite understandable why Prime Minister Harper is anxious to suppress discussion of this explosive issue, at least at present as we inch inexorably toward another election season.

But regardless of your position on this important issue, you have to admire Warawa’s determination to act regardless of the certain knowledge Harper and his henchmen will crush him like a bug.

Leon Benoit, the Conservative MP for Vegreville-Wainwright here in Alberta who had earlier joined Warawa in his caucus mini-rebellion, obviously got the message and will not require further instruction in the realities of Harperite message control discipline.

At any rate, according to the Globe and Mail, Benoit was exhibiting properly docile behaviour for a Conservative MP from Alberta when he exited the caucus meeting yesterday. So he will not be crushed like an insect, although he will never again be able to sniff the wild roses along an eastern Alberta lane without first glancing over his shoulder.

The fact is, however, even though he is wrong about reproductive rights, Warawa is right on the question of Parliamentary privilege — and he is right about it regardless of what Scheer, the Harperite Speaker, decides to rule later today.

That is the fundamental (but apparently not the fundamentalist) idea of our Westminster style of responsible government: we elect individual MPs, each of whom is an independent actor who together with other MPs chooses a ministry that forms the government.

That’s the theory, but as Conservatives have whined for generations when things weren’t going their way, reality is a little different — or, under the parliamentary autocracy of Prime Minister Harper, radically different.

The delicious irony, of course, is that the Conservatives are the party that for years in various guises lectured Canadians on how they would never subject MPs to party discipline the way those bad old Liberals used to do.

No, they promised us repeatedly, the Progressive Conservatives, or the Reform Party, or the Canadian Alliance, or the Conservative Reform Alliance, or the Conservative Party, or whatever they happened to be calling their coalition of market fundamentalists like Harper and social conservatives like Warawa would let its MPs do their jobs.

Back in 1997, for example, the Reform Party of Preston Manning, once the prime minister’s mentor, promised us that high on its list of reforms would be more free votes in Parliament.

This, the party’s platform that year promised, would have the effect of “reducing the power of party discipline over individual MPs and senators while strengthening the powers available to citizens.”

We heard this commitment repeated ever after with metronomic regularity until Harper won government, and that was the end of that.

As we know now, the Harper era has been seemingly endless a litany of suppressed facts, suppressed free speech, suppressed parliamentary democracy and now suppressed parliamentary debate.

In other words, the Conservatives told the truth when they promised they’d not impose party discipline as Liberal governments had. They are radically worse in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade ago, let alone a generation.

Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau once famously said MPs were nobodies 50 yards from Parliament Hill.

Under Stephen Harper, there’s no need for them to wander that far from our country’s pathetic rubber-stamp Parliament.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...