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Conservative MPs close ranks on House muzzling

Conservative MP Leon Benoit leaves caucus meetings on Parliament Hill Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Ottawa.


If Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced recriminations from members of his caucus who are angry at being muzzled in the House of Commons, he managed to keep those criticisms behind closed doors.

Conservative politicians who spoke to reporters after their weekly caucus meeting on Wednesday were either guarded in their statements or supportive of the rights of the party to dictate what they can say during the period for Statements by Members in the House of Commons.

For Conservative MPs, those statements often consists of a rant scripted by party officials that accuses the opposition New Democrats of supporting a carbon tax.

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But Mark Warawa, the Tory MP who represents the B.C. riding of Langley, has asked Speaker Andrew Scheer to find that his parliamentary privilege was breached when the party refused to allow him to talk about his private member's motion condemning sex-selective abortions.

Mr. Harper has made it clear he does not want the issue of abortion to be raised, and Gordon O'Connor, the government whip, says it is the party's right to draw up the list of its caucus members who will be permitted to speak.

Mr. O'Connor, who told Mr. Scheer on Tuesday that the Speaker's job is merely to referee the floor of the Commons while the parties decide on the play, refused to discuss the matter Wednesday saying he does not talk about what goes on in caucus meetings.

But other MPs were critical of Mr. Warawa for challenging the party's authority.

Jay Aspin, the Conservative who represents Nipissing-Timiskaming in northern Ontario, called Mr. Warawa a rogue. "The Conservative party has a policy," he said. "We had a policy going into the last election."

No MP was willing to say what played out behind the closed door of the caucus meeting other than to agree that the matter of Mr. Warawa's complaint was given a hearing.

"I can tell you that the tone in caucus today was excruciatingly respectful," said Mississauga MP Eve Adams.

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Larry Miller, the MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in southern Ontario, likened the dispute to a marital spat.

"Which one of us haven't had a disagreement from time to time with their spouse or a difference of opinion," said Mr. Miller. "My wife and I have had those. We don't go out on the yellow line, so to speak. We talk about it. Sit down like adults and that's what caucus is for and that's what we did this morning."

Even Leon Benoit, the Alberta MP and abortion foe who followed Mr. Warawa on Tuesday by saying he too had been prevented from raising certain subjects in the House, was conciliatory.

"We had a really good caucus meeting and the Prime Minister has shown his usual good leadership and I appreciate that. He's a great leader," said Mr. Benoit.

When asked if MPs can talk about anything they want, he replied: "They do and they will."

The outcry from Mr. Harper's backbench marks one of the few times, since the Conservatives were first elected in 2006, that Tory MPs have voiced any sort of public criticism of party decisions. Conservative MPs are tightly controlled, both inside the House and out, and even the most basic question from reporters must get the approval from the PMO or Privy Council before it is answered – usually in the form of an e-mail.

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But Daryl Kramp, the MP for Prince Edward-Hastings in eastern Ontario, said he has never felt muzzled.

When asked if the party leader's offices have too much power, Mr. Kramp said: "I've never had a problem. I have been here eight-and-a-half, nine years now. I have never once been told or directed what I should do or what I should say."

And Jim Hillyer, the MP for Lethbridge in Alberta, said he agreed that parties have the right to control what their members say in the House of Commons "People willingly choose to be in parties and we have freedom of association and it's up to us to decide whether or not we want to be in a party and within those parties we decide how to work together," said Mr. Hillyer.

"Every MP chooses where he sits and on which team to play," he said, "and the real problem is, every time there's a discussion, they say 'oh the party's falling apart, oh no' and if the party's united there's obviously some force and there's an iron-fisted rule or something like. It's not that way."

With a file from Bill Curry

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More


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