Is a split developing in the Liberal party? Some might be asking that question after significant numbers of Liberal MPs departed from the party line in recent Parliamentary votes over the GST, adding sexual orientation to the Human Rights Act and a change in the Constitution to allow Newfoundland to reduce the power of churches in its schools.

John Nunziata was kicked out of the Liberal caucus when he voted against the budget and the perpetuation of the hatred GST in a closed vote earlier this year. The continuance of the tax levy led to the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps for breaking an election pledge to scrap it, but she was re elected in a June Hamilton East by-election.

Numerous Liberals were among the 76 who, in a May 9 free vote, went against the government’ controversial Bill C-33 legislation which added the term “sexual orientation” to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

And 35 Liberals were among 46 MPs, who, also in a free vote, nayed a June 3 amendment to the Constitution which, in effect, removed the power of Newfoundland parents to send children to the schools of their choice by permitting the setup of a public school system in that province.

Scarborough West MP Tom Wappel downplays the suggestion that the votes indicate a serious division is developing within the Liberal party.

“I don’t think there is any sort of split,” he says. “there is certainly a divergence of opinion on particular issues. There is a range on the political spectrum within the Liberal party from the ultra-left to the ultra-right… it is no different in the Liberal party than in any other party.”

Wappel points to the Progressive Conservatives and how leader Jean Hcarest and MP Elsie Wayne split over Bill c-33 as evidence of how the Liberals aren’t alone in experiencing divisions over certain pieces of legislation.

“Both pieces of legislation (Bill C-33 and the Constitutional amendment) were subject to a free vote,” he says. “As in Canada generally, there is a difference of opinion on issues of religion and mortality. We have 173 Liberal members. Each will have his or her opinion on matters of religion and mortality… On other issues of a more general nature, such as the budget, there was only one (Liberal) person who voted against it, at least on record.”

Wappel says as a pro-life and pro-family Liberal, he is more concerned about the direction in which society at large is going than in the direction of the Liberal party. He points to a recent opinion poll which claimed almost half of Canadians would tolerate homosexual marriages.

“That has nothing whatsoever to do with the Liberal party. If that poll is true, our society has real problems. All political parties will represent the thinking of the current constituency because they wish to get elected.”

Wappel also cites the news media as a greater problem than the Liberal party. “Ninety-nine percent of the media are in favour of pushing homosexuality as the equivalent to heterosexuality while disguising it as human rights. There’s no question they push that agenda and pillory people who oppose it, such as myself.”

Ontario MP Dan McTeague, however, isn’t so sure division isn’t forming within the Liberal party.

“Not too many Liberal members of Parliament, who are listening to either their hearts or their constituents, are prepared to swallow lock, stock, and barrel the particular anti-family agenda we’re getting from the Justice Department,” he says.

McTeague is a critic of the way his party’s leadership handled both Bill C-33 and the constitutional amendment.

“Both of them were very controversial pieces of legislation. Both were rushed through the House of Commons at breakneck speed to dispense with and prevent public and Parliamentary scrutiny of the wider implications of both bills.”

McTeague also raps the Catholic bishops for their poor response to Bill C-33 and says the anti-family agendas of the federal Justice Department and the news media are only to be expected. “I reserve some rather snide comments for Catholic bishops because I think in general they ducked the issue of C-33 at a time they should have stood up… The reality is, the Catholic Church didn’t stand up and fight. It chose to turn a blind eye to an injustice. Catholics have no one to blame but themselves and the leadership of their church.

“I don’t think we have to fault the media of the Justice Department. They’ll get away with anything they can.”