One week after saying the government would whip the vote on the forthcoming bill on physician-assisted suicide, the Liberal House leader said it is too early to tell if the government’s bill will be whipped.
On Feb. 11, Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc told the Globe and Mail that the government would whip the vote on the forthcoming bill on physician-assisted suicide. The select parliamentary committee hearing expert testimony has yet to report to the government which has not drawn up legislation, so LeBlanc was declaring a whipped vote on a proposed law no one has seen.
LeBlanc said the government does not permit free votes for the Liberal caucus on Charter rights. “At the end of the day, the Supreme Court has defined a right around the issue of assisted dying, and we will always be voting to uphold Charter rights,” he told the Globe.
But the Feb. 20 Globe reported that LeBlanc was backpedaling on his comments. Without promising a free vote, he told the paper a decision on requiring all Liberal MPs to support the bill will not be made until the bill is drafted. “We decided to delay the decision about whether or not it’s a whipped vote,” LeBlanc explained. “It’s premature to come to a final conclusion like that,” before the committee reports and the government crafts a law responding to the February 2015 Supreme Court decision striking down Canada’s Criminal Code provisions against doctor-assisted suicide. The Court gave the government 12 months to craft a new law but in January extended the deadline until June upon request of the Trudeau government.
The2015 Liberal Party election platform promised more free votes but paradoxically added limits to when MPs can vote their conscience or represent the views of their constituents. Historically, parties whipped votes on confidence matters only. Justin Trudeau’s policy team took away free votes on Charter issues and any bill implementing items from the election platform.
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim, “many Charter questions are matters of conscience, which historically party leaders have permitted their MPs to vote without being whipped.” Hughes said “Trudeau is taking away the democratic rights of legislators and their constituents by dictating how MPs must vote.”
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the House Leader is mistaken to label assisted suicide a Charter issue. “As much as LeBlanc, and the Liberal leadership have defined euthanasia as a Charter issue, it simply is not,” Schadenberg said in a statement. “The Supreme Court struck down Canada’s assisted suicide act, but it did not declare that there is a ‘right to die’.”
Schadenberg also said the EPC, “recognizes that by whipping the vote, the Liberals will also control the consideration of amendments to the bill,” and that “the Liberal decision to snub democracy will likely impose on Canada an irresponsible and dangerous euthanasia law.”
A handful of members of the Liberal caucus spoke up. Toronto-area MP John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood) told the Globe, “it’s not core to the government’s mandate; it’s a response to the Supreme Court,” adding, “I don’t see this as a Charter issue.” Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque) said, “it’s getting a little ahead of the game, at this stage,” to talk about whipped votes. He said a decision to whip the vote will only come after the caucus has discussed the matter.
The Toronto Star, which editorially supports both the Liberal Party and doctor-assisted suicide, criticized the government over the possibility of a whipped vote. In a Feb. 21 editorial, the paper said, “if ever there was an issue that calls for MPs to examine their conscience and vote according to their personal values,” assisted suicide would be it. It chastised LeBlanc for prejudging the parliamentary committee’s report, cutting short any debate over the issue, and telling Liberal MPs “not to bother thinking much about the issue.”
The Star said the government should “show more confidence in its own backbench MPs and permit a free vote.” By not whipping the vote, the paper said the government will be forced to come up with a “balanced bill” that had broad support.
The Conservatives and NDP are permitting a free vote for their caucus members. The bill is expected to be introduced this month and voted on before the June 7 deadline. The Senate will also have to consider whatever legislation passes in the House of Commons