Langley MP’s motion turns into something big

A rebellion of Conservative backbenchers seems unlikely, but this may be the first step in something bigger.

Mark Warawa’s motion asking the House of Commons to condemn the sex selection of fetuses is becoming a much bigger issue than he ever expected it to be.

The Langley MP’s private member’s bill was working its way through the parliamentary bureaucracy when an obscure sub-committee decided two weeks ago that it was “non-voteable.” Ottawa observers say that pressure to get rid of the motion came from the prime minister’s office.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been determined not to touch the abortion issue ever since the Conservatives took office in 2006. He, quite rightly, knew that the press gallery and opposition parties would lose no opportunity to label the Conservatves as reactioaries and dinosaurs.

They had done so on many occasions before, most notably in 2004 when the media waited until just hours before an election to break a story about supposed social conservative remarks made by former MP Randy White at the nomination meeting in Aldergrove, where Warawa was nominated to run for the party in the new Langley riding.

That late-breaking story, which came out less than 48 hours before the election, played a key role in suggesting to voters that the Conservatives had a “hidden agenda.” Those fears gave the Liberals a minority government.

While it is a side issue, it’s worth pointing out that our reporter at that meeting never heard the remarks that White supposedly made.

Warawa and other MPs who are tired of having their words in the House vetted by the PMO and the whip may be fighting back — that isn’t totally clear yet. Warawa lost his appeal of the sub-committee’s decision on Thursday, and he is now mulling his options.

Some Conservative MPs are quite happy to shut down any discussion of abortion — party opinion is split on the issue, as it is in much of the country. But it is important to remember that Warawa wanted to move a motion, not introduce a bill. All the motion would do is state what the House of Commons’ position was on sex selection, which is most definitely a topical issue.

If enough Conservative MPs are unhappy with Harper’s office for muzzling MPs’ ability to speak on issues, it may turn into a revolt against the government. It is highly unlikely that there will be enough of them to vote against the government and bring it down, but it isn’t impossible.

What is more likely is that this is the first tentative step in the move to replace Harper as Conservative leader. If dissidents can find someone to back them up, and that individual begins a stealth campaign to replace Harper, as Paul Martin did to Jean Chretien, the PM will have much more difficult circumstances ahead.

The most important point is this — the PMO’s power is much greater than in all other countries that uses the parliamentary system. In both Britain and Australia, MPs can and have dethroned prime ministers.