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Conservative MP Mark Warawa talks to media in Ottawa, Apr. 17, 2013.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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We are witnessing something not seen since Stephen Harper became prime minister: Both the Liberal and NDP caucuses are united, while the Conservatives are showing increasing signs of division.

Tory MP Mark Warawa decided Wednesday to abandon his efforts to get a motion condemning sex-selective abortions before the Commons. But that has in no way quelled the fallout from the Harper government's efforts to keep the him from speaking on the issue in the House.

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A growing band of Tory MPs has rallied behind Mr. Warawa's protest to the Speaker, Andrew Scheer, over control by party whips over SO31s.

Standing Order 31 is the parliamentary term for statements that MPs make in the House every day just before Question Period. Typically, members praise the athletic achievements of a local team, mark the notable birthday of a constituent, or chide the other side for its foolish ways.

But the Conservatives are increasingly scripting Members' Statements, turning them into co-ordinated (and extremely tiresome) attacks on the opposition using prepared texts provided by the Centre.

Since Mr. Warawa is determined to deliver a statement on sex-selective abortion – and since Stephen Harper has declared there must be no discussion of anything related to abortion – Tory Whip Gordon O'Connor has dropped him from the list of government MPs making statements.

But eight Tory backbenchers have joined Mr. Warawa in urging the Speaker to restore their right to speak.

They include John Williamson, a former director of communications to the prime minister, and Michael Chong, who sat in cabinet before resigning over the government's decision to recognize Quebeckers as a nation within Canada.

On the question of SO31s, Mr. Chong spoke in Mr. Warawa's defence on Monday with such simple and powerful eloquence that his words deserve to be quoted at length.

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The question, he told the Speaker, "is really this: Who gets to decide who speaks on the floor of this House?"

"… Speaking is what we do here. In a democracy, we do not solve our debates or disagreements through the tip of a sword or through violence. We solve them through words: words of praise, words of caution, words of criticism."

But that practice had been steadily eroded, he maintained, first by the decision that only MPs approved by the party leadership could ask questions during Question Period, and then by a similar decision to let the party leadership, not the Speaker, decide who could deliver Members' Statements.

"Over the decades the co-ordinating and scheduling function of party House leaders and party whips has shifted to that of a command and control function," Mr. Chong declared. "…That shift has eroded the basic principle on which modern Canadian political institutions are based.

"… The idea that the executive is accountable to members of a legislature is a fundamental underpinning of modern political institutions in Canada and the shift that has happened in Question Period and is starting to happen in Members' Statements is eroding this very fundamental principle."

In the days before television, Some Honourable Members would have pounded their desks.

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It will be for Mr. Scheer to decide, in effect, whether to return to the Speaker – to himself – the power to recognize MPs during Members' Statements, or to cede that right permanently to the party leadership.

While we await that decision, we might consider this: At their policy convention in Montreal last weekend, 92 per cent of party members affirmed the leadership of Thomas Mulcair. That same weekend, 80 per cent of members and supporters delivered an overwhelming victory to Justin Trudeau.

Meanwhile, at least nine Conservative Members of Parliament are openly challenging the authority of Stephen Harper and his subordinates to stifle their right to hold their own government to account.

Remarkable times. Remarkable times.

John Ibbitson is the chief political writer in Ottawa.

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