Conservative backbenchers revolt against Harper

Julian Wolfe
March 31st, 2013

Harper’s centralization of communications and operations has left some backbench Conservative MPs feeling like they have no say, sparking a mini revolt among MPs. Harper’s control has kept his government out of hot water in a country that doesn’t connect with right wing ideas, but it has also went against the principle of representative democracy, which gives each MP a right to represent the people who elect them.

Last Tuesday, Conservative backbench MPs Mark Warawa and Leon Benoit rose in the House of Commons to ask Speaker Andrew Scheer to rule that because the party leadership prevented them from speaking about controversial topics, that their privileges as MPs had been violated.

The friction grew as other backbench MPs agreed with Warawa’s push to reopen the abortion debate where his stance was to condemn it. Harper has repeatedly and publicly said the abortion debate wouldn’t be reopened.

“The Canadian Parliament is based on rules, responsibilities and privileges,” Warawa said.

“Each of us has that responsibility to represent our communities, the people who elected us. We need to have those rights to be ensured that we have the opportunity to properly represent our communities.”

Benoit joined the chorus his colleague started.

“I too feel that my rights have been infringed on by members of the party because I am not allowed to speak on certain topics in S. O. 31s,” he said.

However, after the last caucus meeting, these MPs changed their tunes.

“We had a really good caucus meeting and the prime minister has shown his usual really good leadership, and I appreciate that. He’s a great leader,” Benoit said.

Harper has many tools available to deal with malcontent and internal conflicts. He can banish MPs like he did with Helena Guergis and he can define who speaks in Parliament and he can refuse to sign nomination papers for those who want to run again as Conservative MPs.

However, despite Harper’s attempts to censor the movement to reopen the abortion debate, or any motions that are related to the controversial topics, the message is getting across. Warawa and at least 4 other backbench MPs collected signatures in a petition to allow their talking point on sex-selection abortion to be allowed.

For those outside the Conservative party looking at the tactics and initiatives that they take, we see there is a rift forming in the Conservative party and it is directly related, in this case, to the leadership of the party. It will be interesting to watch the hierarchy deal with malcontent and it will be interesting to see if Harper places more or less control over the talking points of his MPs, particularly the backbenchers who have nothing to lose by either revolting or leaving the Conservative party to be independents or form a new party.

So what do you think of divisions within the Conservative party? Are they small and easy to resolve or structural and could lead to bigger conflicts in the future?

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