Stephen Harper has brought down the hammer on democracy. He treats his MPs like trained seals, stifling debate and refusing to let them speak their views on controversial issues. But what else would you expect from such a notorious control freak? No wonder his caucus is revolting. Good for them!
"Parliament stands diminished," the Toronto Star declaimed. "Stop muzzling MPs," demanded Democracy Watch, an advocacy group. In this paper, columnist Lawrence Martin congratulated the "Bobbleheads" for at last showing some spine. Everyone from the NDP to the National Post is cheering on the brave dissenters who defied the Great Dictator.
But I'm not. The dissenters want to impose new limits on abortion, something Mr. Harper has repeatedly vowed will not happen. In my view, the dissenters should be made to sit down and shut up and be whipped, if necessary, to within an inch of their lives. They knew what the deal was when they signed on. It's beyond ironic that many of the same critics who are blasting Mr. Harper for shutting them down would be the first to condemn him if he ever allowed the dissenters to have their way.
Let's recall how this row started. Last fall, a pro-life backbench Conservative MP named Mark Warawa introduced a motion to denounce sex-selective abortion. This came immediately after another motion from a different MP who wanted Parliament to re-examine the question of when a fetus is considered to be a human being. (Mercifully, it was defeated.) To Mr. Warawa's great distress, the Tory brass quashed his motion dead before he could even speak about it in the House.
I think we can all agree that sex-selective abortion is clearly wrong. (In fact, 92 per cent of Canadians think so.) But anyone who believes this wasn't an effort to reopen the broader abortion debate must also believe in the Easter Bunny.
Generally speaking, the media go ballistic any time some pro-life MP pops his or her head above the parapet. But I guess the chance to denounce Mr. Harper as a crypto-fascist control freak was just too good to resist. Also, bad news for the Conservatives is good news for people who can't stand them. There's always the tantalizing possibility that the party might split apart, thus paving the way back to power for the forces of progress and enlightenment.
Mr. Harper's critics insist that the clampdown on Mr. Warawa is about free speech. But really, it's about discouraging the diehard pro-life MPs who'll always look for ways to get abortion back on the agenda whenever they think they see an opening. Mr. Harper knows that, if he ever lets this happen, he can kiss his majority goodbye. He knows that any hope for a reasoned debate on abortion in or outside Parliament is futile. The media would be sure to fan the flames, and all the other business of the nation would be hijacked.
"There are some issues that are so divisive and have been handled in such an acrimonious way in the past that they can't be properly dealt with during an election or in Parliament," Preston Manning said in a CBC interview this week. He should know. So long as the Reform Party allowed every member to speak his mind, it didn't have a chance. No party does.
Wisely, 59 per cent of Canadians agree with Mr. Harper and Mr. Manning. Whatever their personal beliefs, they don't want the abortion issue reopened. They have seen the way the U.S. has torn itself apart, and they don't want to go there. The fact that we have no law is a uniquely Canadian solution, and it's okay with them. Better no law at all than a debilitating values war that nobody can win.
In fact, we're doing pretty well without a law. More than 70 per cent of terminations are done in the first trimester (12 weeks) of pregnancy, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, and only 1.9 per cent are done after 21 weeks. Very late-term abortions (which account for almost all the controversy) are virtually unavailable in Canada. Sex-selective abortions, which are largely confined to certain immigrant communities, have been widely condemned by medical bodies, and can probably be combatted through vigorous public education.
As for those aggrieved backbenchers who complain their rights have been infringed, too bad. Mr. Harper, muzzle them – for all our sakes.