Mark Warawa did not take the decision to nix his private member’s motion condemning sex-selective abortion laying down. After the sub-committee on private member’s business deemed M-408 non-votable on March 21 claiming the House of Commons already dealt with a similar issue earlier this Parliament and that it infringed on provincial jurisdiction, the Langley, British Columbia, Conservative MP attempted to speak about his bill on the House floor but was prevented from doing so by Chief Government Whip Gordon O’Connor.
It was widely reported in the media that the Prime Minister’s Office influenced the multi-party sub-committee chaired by Conservative MP Dave MacKenzie (Oxford) in order to kill M-408. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was reportedly upset that Warawa’s motion dealt with abortion which Harper claims violates his campaign vow not have the government re-open the abortion issue; it didn’t because the government consists of the prime minister, his cabinet, and the Privy Council (senior bureaucrats). Warawa, a Tory backbencher, has raised the possibility of tampering by the PMO. “I’m concerned that the members, the three members of the committee – one from each party – were being coerced,” he told LifeSiteNews.com. “I hope that’s not the case but that’s what it appeared to be.”
Conservative MPs LaVar Payne (Medicine Hat) and Kyle Seeback (Brampton West) both tweeted after the committee’s decision that it was a “sad day” for Parliament. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener-Conestoga), a former chair of the subcommittee on private members’ business, told LifeSiteNews he is “very concerned about the threat to democracy represented by this ill-informed decision.”
Warawa said that he would appeal the decision because “the issue is not about M-408 anymore. It’s about democracy.”
Warawa appealed the sub-committee’s decision to the full Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which made its decision behind closed doors and ruled unanimously on March 28 that M-408 was non-votable. Warawa provided a memo prepared by an analyst at the Library of Parliament who vetted the motion and found it constitutional and within the jurisdiction of the federal legislature. The committee, chaired by Joe Preston (CPC, Elgin – Middlesex – London), did not release a reason for its decision and it heard no witness other than Warawa.
M-408 states, in its entirety: “That the House condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.” Polls show that more than nine in ten Canadians oppose sex-selective abortion.
Warawa could have appealed the decision to the Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer, but chose not to, saying that he would instead pursue other avenues to raise awareness about sex-selective abortion in Canada and abroad. He would have needed five MPs from at least two of the three official parties to appeal to the Speaker, which has never been done before.
“We thank Mark Warawa for raising the issue of lethal discrimination against women and girls through sex-selective abortion in Canada,” Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer for Campaign Life Coalition, said in a press release. “It is a shame that this motion was killed.”
Warawa sought to make a 60-second speech on sex-selective abortion the day before finding out his motion was deemed non-votable, in a statement called a S.O.31., just before Question Period. But 15 minutes before he was scheduled to speak, he was informed the Conservatives were rescinding his spot because they did not approve of his topic and O’Connor removed him from the approved list of Conservative speakers.
The next week, Warawa rose on a point of privilege to ask the Speaker to confirm that he, not the party whips, decide who can address Parliament. 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.”
Numerous MPs have spoken in favour of Warawa’s point of privilege. Brent Rathgeber (CPC, Edmonton-St. Albert) told the media he was concerned about the ability of MPs to raise issues. “I don’t think it’s exclusive to social conservatives,” he told the CBC. “I don’t consider myself to be part of that. This is an issue of democracy. This is an issue of Parliament.”
Pierre Lemieux (CPC, Glengarry—Prescott—Russell) called denying speech to MPs an “infringement on the rights and privileges of a member of Parliament.”
Michael Chong (CPC, Wellington-Halton Hills) said, “we settle debates in a democracy through words, and the ability of members to express those words on this floor is the heart of the matter.”
The National Post reported that after a meeting of MPs upset with the PMO in late March, it was determined that as many as 20 Conservatives would, according to an unidentified MP, defy “the government whip on a non-budget matter, to let him know that some party members are not pleased with his idea of how to run a democracy.” The Post’s John Ivison called the meeting and threat, “the closest the ruling caucus has come to revolution during its seven years in power.”
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim he is upset that Harper has squelched debate. “We always knew Stephen Harper didn’t want to deal the abortion issue,” he said. “But he came from the Reform Party tradition and ran on greater accountability and transparency so we hoped he would allow a democratic debate. It is deeply disappointing that he would silence his own caucus to avoid dealing with the abortion issue.”
Speaker Andrew Scheer issued his decision on Warawa’s point of privilege on April 23 saying that he has the power to recognize an MP’s desire to address the House but reminded them that he is following the rules parliamentarians created when they allowed party whips to draw up lists of speakers. That said, Scheer found that Warawa’s parliamentary privilege was not violated by O’Connor’s decision to remove him from the Conservative’s roster of speakers.