The Voice of Experience: Tory MPs need to vote with their conscience

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Wanted: Twenty-two angry MPs. I’ll tell you why in the following paragraphs.

You have surely read and heard the concern being expressed about the government’s failure to let Parliament see and discuss publicly the details of its proposed 31-year investment treaty with China. Governments aren’t legally bound to submit treaties to Parliament, but it has been customary for pacts as important as this to be opened to scrutiny before ratification.

Were you watching the CBC’s The National recently when the three “insight” panelists unanimously condemned the Harper government’s introduction of an “omnibus” budget bill — for the second time in two years — as “an affront to democracy”? They did so because these omnibus bills make it impossible for opposition MPs and the public to adequately assess and debate all the measures proposed in the massive documents before they go to the Senate for ratification, especially when, as happened last year, “closure” is used to limit the time allowed for Commons scrutiny.

These are but the latest in a string of actions taken by the Harper government which make me, too, anxious about the future of democracy in Canada and, indeed, about the well-being of its citizens.

Among others was the decision to limit the time allowed the National Energy Board to hear public submissions about the proposed pipeline for moving Athabasca oilsands crude to the Pacific Coast, not to mention the government’s evident lack of concern for the environment generally and about global warming in particular.

There were the steps taken to muzzle federal scientists who disagreed with government policies affecting their spheres of expertise and to reduce funding for scientific activity in general.

There was the measure that made it more difficult to qualify for and get employment insurance.

There was the arbitrary removal of the Canadian Wheat Board’s historical monopoly on the marketing of wheat and barley without allowing the affected grain growers to vote on the move.

There was the killing (by ending its funding) of the National Council of Welfare, and similar action taken respecting other governmental or non-profit agencies that had the temerity to take issue with governmental decisions.

And the list of measures taken to stop parliamentary and public scrutiny, and in some cases awareness, of the government’s intentions goes on. Given what has happened during the past two years, I shudder to think what might happen during the next three if Stephen Harper is allowed to go on running the country like a dictator.

That, I think, is not too strong a word to describe Harper’s approach to government. His excuse in many cases has been the need to provide jobs, but success on that front has so far been questionable.

Another argument the prime minister has advanced in defence of some measures, including reducing the size of the public service, is that the government needs to be more efficient. Unfortunately, more governmental “efficiency” has often resulted in more inconvenience and sometimes actual hardship for ordinary Canadians, but that get us nearer to what I and others think really makes Harper tick.

That the man is a control freak is generally conceded. Add to that his belief that the less government the better and the suspicion that he has particularly hard-edged religious convictions and you see what I’m afraid of.

However, I’m not only afraid of what damage Harper’s approach to government might do if allowed to continue, I am dismayed that those who have the power to stop him have failed to do it.

A little math tells me that the government’s current majority in the House is a mere 21 MPs. I find it hard to believe that all of the 163 Conservatives are comfortable with Harper’s performance. Yet it would only take 22 of them to vote against an important piece of legislation — say, this new omnibus budget bill — to force Harper to either back down or call a general election. In fact, they need only abstain if all 142 opposition members were present and voting.

Are there really not 22 Tory MPs who, recognizing that they were elected to serve their constituents according to their own convictions, are ready to put those convictions, their reasoning and their consciences ahead of misguided and hazardous party loyalty?

Peter Hepher is a retired journalist living in Creston.


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