Monday, August 28, 2006

Liberals must whip it…whip it good

After a parliamentary session where the Liberals were outsmarted and outmaneuvered at seemingly every turn, it's time for our caucus to get its proverbial head out of its you know what and, after a good shower, come out swinging: we need to vote, as a caucus, against reopening the SSM debate.

I agree with Kyle, Bill Graham needs to whip the caucus on this one. Those that don't want to fall in line can abstain, call in sick or hit the road. We need to come out as a party united, take leadership on this issue, and expose the whole exercise for what it is: a political sham by Sideshow Steve designed to appease his base with the appearance he's doing something about SSM, when really he has no intention of doing so because it would kill his dreams of a majority government.

This is a closed issue. We already had this debate, and SSM passed. All Liberals, with the exception of the cabinet (as is parliamentary tradition) were allowed to vote freely on the issue. Everyone has had their say. As Zac notes, it has been over a year since the SSM legislation passed and there hasn't been rioting in the streets. Society hasn't crumbled. Not one person has told me their marriage has failed because two guys can now get married.

I think most of the MPs that voted against SSM, except perhaps the most ardent and zealous, can agree this is a closed issue. It's time to move on. And certainly those Liberals that voted no can agree it serves us no purpose to treat Harper's sham exercise in political gamesmanship as a legitimate policy debate.

And I'll go one step further. We don't need to legitimize this debate. We should be there for the vote, but let's not take part in this sideshow otherwise. No long-winded, pointed speeches. We should relinquish our time. Let the Conservative windbags pontificate amongst themselves. Canadians expect us to be doing real work.

So, to the Liberal caucus, I call on you to expose Harper's ploy for the sham that is and refuse to legitimize it. No matter what their position on SSM, all Liberal MPs need to vote NO on reopening this debate. It's time to whip it good. Whip it real good.

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34 comments:

Zac said...

Excellent post Jeff. I couldn't agree more. We can't allow ourselves to look divided on this issue like the Afghanistan vote.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, you are correct. The constant and endless articles by journalists, etc., has been about the Liberal divide. The strategists from the other parties are having a hay-day with this.

It's time for the party caucus to start thinking about the Party and show a getting together. They are Liberals who are supposed to be protecting the Charter of Rights, our freedoms.

This has to be done right away or it will be too late.

Either the caucus is with the party or it isn't.

Jason Hickman said...

All Liberals, with the exception of the cabinet (as is parliamentary tradition) were allowed to vote freely on the issue.

I'm actually in favour of SSM (assuming religous freedoms are protected, which appears to be the case). But it's not quite accurate to say that cabinet ministers should have been whipped on the issue.

When the return of capital punishment was voted on (and, as it turns out, voted down) during the time when the Mulroney government was in office, you had cabinet ministers voting on both sides of the issue. There was no good reason why SSM shouldn't have received similar treatment.

In any event, I'm not bothered if Harper wants to have another free vote on the issue. It's not as if it should come as a surprise, given that it was announced on the 2nd day of the campaign (if memory serves).

If the Libs want to crack the whip on their own MP's, that's their own affair. Doing so may even be helpful for them politically; I really don't know. But it seems passing strange for Lib MPs to say that Harper is keeping Tory MPs on too short of a leash, when they are being whipped on this particular issue.

Anonymous said...

Oh thank God we got the Conservative opinion on what the Liberals should do. I don't think we could have waited much longer.

Liberals always appreciate advice from Conservatives. Thanks, Jason.

Jason Hickman said...

Anon: If BCer wants an echo chamber rather than a discussion in his comments section, I'm sure he can advise us accordingly.

And, you're welcome.

SilverWinger said...

I can never understand why any one would be afraid of a free vote.
If you have the courage of your convictions and feel that this is what the majority of the people want, then surely a free vote would vindicate your stance.
Is parliament not the vehicle for the will of the people?

Anonymous said...

How many free votes do we need on this issue? Should we have one every year for the next 20 years?

This human rights issue should never have been subject to a vote in the first place.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Intelligent Conservative opinions always welcome. Heck, even semi-intelligent is fine too. :)

Jason, I'm not familiar with the capital punishment vote. I just know that generally, because of cabinet solidarity the cabinet votes with the government. Nevertheless, the vote was held on SSM and the issue is settled, or rather it should be.

I don't think there's any downside in the Libs whipping it in terms of not having the Harper muzzle card in the future. Hopefully a whip won't be necessary anyway and the caucus can agree to vote as one anyway, because it's time to show some solidarity, and it just makes sense. Even some of those that voted for SSM agree opening this again makes no sense. I believe Cherniak quotes Brian Wilfert saying as much.

Harper knows this won't pass, and he doesn't want it to anyway. The promise to have the vote was a so to the christian conservative wing of his party to keep them off his back in the last campaign while he moved to the centre. Rather than treating this sharade seriously, the Liberal caucus should stand together and give it the raspberry it deserves.

Silver there was a free vote. The issue was settled and we've moved on. Most Canadians have accepted that. And really, it was an academic exercise in a sense, as the Supreme Court had/would have forced it anyway. The only way to really change it would be by using the notwithstanding clause, a road even Harper doesn't want to go down. The fact that he isn't proves he has no desire to really overturn SSM, and the whole exercise is just a waste of time to placate his base.

CfSR said...

I disagree.

The question, if written in clear fashion, will be something to the effect of "Does the House want to reconsider the question of same sex marriage?"

I support SSM, but I don't see any merit in whipping that handful of Liberal MPs who may oppose it.

First, some may disregard the whip of an interim leader. While it would be nice to be rid of some of those potential dissidents, others are otherwise solid Liberal MPs.

More importantly, the Tories are bringing this onto their own heads. The debate and the vote will hurt them no matter what the outcome is.

Their party is immensely divided.

The theatre associated with the failed coup in Garth Turner's riding is but one example of the schism in Canada's quickly tiring new government.

A legitmate free vote will do more to expose division in the Tories and bring the freaks to the fore than anything any opposition MP could do.

Liberals should demand a real free vote. And we shuold encourage the government to take the muzzles off of their backbench.

Canadians deserve to see the ugly underbelly of that government.

And after that, they will likely conclude that "Canadians deserve better".

wilson61 said...

If the Liberals are whipped
you will not be able to use the "Harper Muzzles his MPs' attack.

Fair trade. Muzzle 'em.

Alberta Girl said...

"were allowed to vote freely on the issue"

um Jeff - you think that PM didn't whip em high and whip em hard? You need to get your head out of your "you know what".

SSM was not debated and was not put to a free vote.

Alberta Girl said...

Anon - Oh thank God we got the Conservative opinion on what the Liberals should do. I don't think we could have waited much longer.

Why do Liberals discourage discussion and debate? What is the point of this blog accepting comments if it is just like minded comments they want?

Alberta Girl said...

Anon - "This human rights issue should never have been subject to a vote in the first place."

The SSM issue was never about human rights. It was about a definition of a word - that is what is the problem with the issue.

The definition of the word "marriage" is a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of procreation. Since gays do not meet this definition on two counts, they should not use the word "marriage" to define their unions.

I have no problem with gays, the gay lifestyle, gays living together, gays becoming united, gays getting benefits (which they do).

My problem with this issue comes because once again a miniority is hijacking something that is sacred to heterosexuals - and using the courts to gain psuedo-acceptance.

It is the definition - not the act that is at play in this debate.

Anonymous said...

The world has ended because of SSM. I know my life hasn't changed one bit because two people of the same sex got married. We should be staying out of peoples' bedrooms and concentrate of more important issues.

It's gone through the courts, it's gone through panel disucssions and debates, it's over. The decision has been made.

Harper just wants to please his right-wing wackos so he can keep their votes and donations.

Enough already!

For example, I watched the news this morning and saw that things, if you can believe it, have gotten even worse in Darfur and these idiots are worried about what 2 consenting adults are doing with their lives.

Oh ya, let's go back to the dark ages.

Interesting: scientists are coming closer to proving the homosexuality with either genetic or a result of hormones when the baby is in the womb.

I guess the Bible thumpers want the law changed before the scientists have their concrete proof that they are what they are not out of choice and we have no right to condemn.

I'm babbling here - but this whole issue makes me so angry that these self-rightious people think they have the "knowledge and right" to decide how people should live.

Alberta Girl said...

Anonymous - I totally agree with you that this issue on a world scale is not important - but it was the subject of Jeff's blog comment and your (assuming you are all the same anon.)comment.

For your information, I too believe that homosexuality is genetic, I believe that it is a way of life and I believe that gays and lesbians should be able to live together and receive benefits. So get it out of your head that I am some bible thumping right wing neo con.

I do not, however agree that they need to use the word "Marriage" to try to prove to the world that they are just like heterosexuals - it is like a dwarf demanding that everything in the world be made to their size and demanding that law be passed to do so.

So you little comment about the world ending is just stupid and juvenile. And to turn off debate by likening this issue to the world's bigger problems is also juvenile.

This issue was brought up, this issue is being debated so debate.

"but this whole issue makes me so angry that these self-rightious people think they have the "knowledge and right" to decide how people should live."

This has nothing to do with how people should "live". This has to do with a definition of a word and it always has.

It does not preclude gays and lesbians from living together, from becoming a united couple through ceremoney, from receiving all the benefits due to a married couple - it has to do with the word that is sacred to heterosexual people being hi-jacked through the courts to become something else.

I in no way am self-righteous about my lifestyle over a gay lifestyle, but I do take exception to a group - any group - using the courts to force acceptance of the use of a word on those who held that word sacred in their belief system.

So who really is self-righteous.

Jason Hickman said...

Intelligent Conservative opinions always welcome. Heck, even semi-intelligent is fine too. :)

I'll take "semi-intelligent" as a compliment!

Jason, I'm not familiar with the capital punishment vote. I just know that generally, because of cabinet solidarity the cabinet votes with the government.

And generally, you're correct. But there have been free votes where the issues in dispute were seen as such "matters of conscious" that not even cabinet ministers were whipped. Capital punishment was one example. I think the abortion legislation that passed in the House, but died in the Senate, in '89 was another example (though I could be mistaken). Not to keep pushing the same button, but SSM could have & should have been as free a vote.

Nevertheless, the vote was held on SSM and the issue is settled, or rather it should be.

As a personal opinion, I agree that SSM should be a settled issue, and I hope my own MP votes to keep it (given that my MP's Olivia Chow, I think I can rest easy on that particular issue).

But as a general principle, I think it's a mistake to say "Parliament has spoken once, and shall speak no more." The very principle of parliamentary sovreignty means that Parliament has every right to re-visit legislation. Whether it always should, or whether the new legislation will itself survive, is a different issue.

I don't think there's any downside in the Libs whipping it in terms of not having the Harper muzzle card in the future.

Maybe. But while I wouldn't be sorry to see the Libs lose an arrow in their quiver, I have to ask why they would do so on this issue, and at the expense of the principle of allowing free votes on matters of conscience generally, because ....

Hopefully a whip won't be necessary anyway and the caucus can agree to vote as one anyway, because it's time to show some solidarity, and it just makes sense. Even some of those that voted for SSM agree opening this again makes no sense. ...

Exactly right, re: the bolded bit above. I don't know for a fact, but I'd wager some Tory MPs who voted against SSM would feel the same way. Whipping the Grit MPs is very likely not necessary and (as noted) does damage to a strong principle of when free votes ought to be allowed, which the Libs (unlike the NDP) have generally followed over the years.

As for "solidarity", the Libs can find it on all sorts of issues where one wouldn't reasonably expect a free vote.

Harper knows this won't pass, and he doesn't want it to anyway. The promise to have the vote was a sop to the christian conservative wing of his party ....

Maybe. But the fact remains, the promise to have a free vote was made, and it should be kept. I suspect the issue will be dealt with for once & for all at that time, since if SSM survives a totally free vote - and I think it will - I doubt any future govt would want to revisit it, or would find the support to do so.

Rather than treating this sharade seriously, the Liberal caucus should stand together and give it the raspberry it deserves.

Again, what the Libs do is up to themselves. But I would think that an open debate, which would include those MPs who are willing to change their votes for the reasons you mentioned, would be a good thing.

Last point, and then I'll be quiet for a while: many folks complain that Parliament is nothing more than (a) a rubber stamp, or (b) a partisan, monkey-house-at-feeding-time sideshow. Lord knows, it has earned both criticisms from time to time, regardless of who's in charge.

I'm not saying you are deliberately contributing to that with your proposal, but I think it would have that effect.

Parliament should deal with "big issues" (and sometimes, it can even deal with such issues more than once!), and a free vote makes it easier to do so in a (somewhat) grown-up way, since the partisan pressure is reduced. If we want Parliament to be more meaningful, we should be encouraging more "free vote" debates where appropriate - not less.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Why do Liberals discourage discussion and debate?

If I discouraged discussion and debate your three (now four as I type this) comments wouldn't be here.

This is a rights issue, not a definition of a word issue. Even if it was, whose definition are we using? The language, and words, evolve over time. But many rights issues over the years have been tied to words, and their meaning. In this case, it's the words of the charter of rights and freedoms.

And on the last SSM vote, it was (cabinet excepted) a free vote. I'm sure the PM and supporters of the bill lobbied the caucus, as did its opponents. That's how the system is supposed to work. In the end, they cast their votes as they wished, and many did indeed vote no.

Cowboy, I hope a whip won't be necessary, hopefully all caucus members will see the wisdom in being united on this issue. Even the anti-SSM MPs should be able to agree this is a settled issue, and just political gamesmanship on Harper's part.

Alberta Girl said...

Jeff - we will agree to disagree on this issue. I do not believe that it is a human rights issue. Human rights are defined as the right to speak out, the right to associate with whom you want to associate, the right to life, the right to clean living conditions, the right to an education, the right.

SSM was about changing the definition of a word - it did not want to take away the right to do anything. Gays/Lesbians can still live together, can still receive all the benefits under law that a married couple receives if they prove a legal union. So what "rights" are being taken away.

The right to use a word in no way fits any conceivable definition of "human rights"

And re- your comment about my comment about discouraging debate on your blog - I was responding to anon. comment about conservatives commenting on your blog. I appreciate the opportunity to have a debate.

Jason Hickman said...

Sorry, I said I'd be quiet, but I should also admit when I was wrong.

In my usual bass-ackwards way, I did my fact-checking after I posted: the capital punishment debate was "entirely free", but it looks like cabinet was required to support the abortion legislation in '90 (not '89). The source for that info is here (for cap punishment) and
here for abortion, if you're interested.

So I guess that adds to Jeff's argument, since whipping the cabinet has been done for at least one "conscious issue" vote before SSM. But since such issues have also been decided on the free-vote-for-all way, I still prefer that one!

A BCer in Toronto said...

Now Jason, I didn't say which category I placed you in. :)

But as a general principle, I think it's a mistake to say "Parliament has spoken once, and shall speak no more."

Fair enough, and capital punishment would be an example of just such a case. But I think, on such fundamental rights issues, before revisiting it (or, in this case, holding a vote to revisit it) there needs to be something new, something changed, an evolution of thought in society. Not just the side that lost hoping the numbers will be a bit different this time and refusing to accept the defeat. With capital punishment, society had evolved, it made sense to revisit it. It's been a year since the SSM, I have not heard a new argument that wasn't made last year that would support the need to open this one back up.

Really though, on free votes, I say whip it (if necessary) because this isn't a rights issue, IMO. As I said it's a Harper political sharade, so caucus shouldn't pretend it is a rights issue.

As for Parliament being a circus at times, I think the whole debate/vote of Harper's is a circus, so it would serve the Liberals well not to get in the ring. It takes two to make circus, after all.

As I mentioned before, if this wasn't a circus, Harper would commit to using the notwithstanding clause to overturn SSM if that's the will of the House. He hasn't, so this is all academic, as that's the only way SSM can be overturned.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Alberta, indeed we'll have to agree to disagree. I'll just say though that seperate but equal isn't really equal.

Ed King said...

Wow. Some people still think there was no debate on SSM. Amazing.

On the subject of free votes, cabinet solidarity must be enforced for all votes on BILLS. Capital punishment was a non-binding MOTION, like Harper's SSM motion. If the capital punishment motion had passed, it would've had no legal weight whatsoever and capital punishment would've remained illegal. Similarly, if the SSM motion passes, SSM will still be legal until a BILL is passed by the Commons and Senate and given royal assent. Cabinet would have to vote as one on that bill in accordance with hundreds of years of parliamentary tradition.

Ed King said...

The abortion issue raised by Jason is much more relevant to SSM than the capital punishment debate. In both cases, courts ruled that the law had to be changed. The governments, unliek Harper with SSM or Mulroney with capital punishment, did not have the luxury of asking the House if it wanted to consider the issue. Cabinet was forced to make a decision by the courts. In the case of abortion, a bill to place certain restrictions on abortion was introduced. In the case of marriage, same-sex civil marriage legislation was presented.

If a motion in favour of SSM had been introduced by the Lib government, thereby allowing a free vote by cabinet, and had been defeated, SSM would still be legal in all the jurisdictions where the courts have struck down the law. There would be no constitutionally-valid marriage laws in Canada, just like there are no federal abortion laws. Only a BILL making use of the notwithstanding clause could've outlawed SSM. This would have been a pointless exercise since cabinet solidarity has to be observed on a bill, and the government made it clear that it was not willing to use the clause.

Jason Hickman said...

Ed:

That's a good defence of Jeff's initial position, and I had noticed the diff between a motion and a bill as well.

However, and I suspect we'll end up simply disagreeing on this point, there is nothing that says cabinet has to be united on a bill, whether we're talking about abortion, SSM, cap punishment or any other measure that isn't seen as one of confidence in the cabinet (i.e., the government) itself.

Had the capital punishment motion passed, and had legislation been drafted accordingly, I don't think it would have necessarily been seen as a confidence measure at all, any more than SSM was when Martin intro'd his legislation.

And the whole "The-Court-made-me-do-it" argument rings hollow (and I say that as a lawyer!). We should demand that Parliament address these sorts of serious issues without being goosed by the courts. It seems to me much more likely that Parliaments would only be willing and able to do so in a somewhat reasoned fashion is if you allow MPs to vote freely.

Like I said, you make a good point. I just don't think that it's good (or in this particular case, necessary) policy.

Loraine Lamontagne said...

Jason Hickman: Regarding your claim that 'there is nothing that says cabinet has to be united on a bill", would you please provide an example of a cabinet voting freely on a government-sponsored bill? Any country in the world with a Westminster-style parliament will do.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Cabinet solidarity is a fundamental tenent of the Westminister system, going back to Whig PM Robert Walpole in 1721.

We could certaintly revisit it if what is the will of the House, but the cabinet would have to vote with the government...

Jason Hickman said...

Loraine: I cannot, at the moment. Off the top of my head, I can't recall when a minister voted against a govt-introduced bill (without quitting or being fired), so you may well have me there.

Naturally, if I do think of (or find) an example, I will let you know.

Loraine Lamontagne said...

You are correct re Walpole, BCer. But let's create a scenario where there is no convention of cabinet solidarity. Let's say, the PM is in favour of SSM and promotes a bill to that effect using the resources of her ministry, the Privy Council; the minister of Justice in this scenario is against SSM and she uses the resources of her ministry to fight the PM.... Enough, I think you can see that it would not work. The convention of cabinet solidarity has been observed in all countries with Westminster-style parliaments for hundreds of years, and for good reasons.

Ed King said...

Jason,

Just to clarify, I did not say the courts forced the governments, wether it's Mulroney's on CP or Martin's on SSM, to legislate in one way or another. The courts cannot do that in this country. As I said in my comment, the courts forced the government and Parliament to consider the issue and make a decision when they struck down the laws but they did not, and cannot, dictate to the government which legislative choice it will make. Martin could've ignored the courts and used the NWC to suppress SSM. He chose not to.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Karen Redman would love this post, Jeff. I agree. Whip the party. Democracy is highly over-rated. I'm sure Paul Steckle and Tom Wappel would agree.

Cool Blue said...

...unless whipping the vote is what Harper wanted you to do all along.

There's a lot of anti-SSM Lib MPs (among others) who are rumoured to be looking at the government-side of the aisle.

Would whipping the vote be the straw that broke the camel back?

How many Lib MPs voted against SSM? Around 30 right?

How many seats is Harper short for a majority?

A BCer in Toronto said...

Joanne, as a gentleman I'd be polite to Karen, but I could care less what Paul Steckle or Tom Wappel think. And don't feed me the democracy line. This isn't about democracy. Anyway, ask the growing list of Conservatives that had had their attempts to contest the nomination of incumbents accross the country what they think about democracy, Conservative style.

Coolblue, did we ever legalize marijuana or not? I forget. Anyway, glad to see you're taking advantage. You're welcome.

A BCer in Toronto said...

*I should have said had their attempts to contest the nominations DENIED, that would be the key word there.

As you were.

Jason Hickman said...

Ed:

My point re: the Courts is that due to a chronic (i.e., going back further than this government, or the one before it) unwillingness to deal with certain issues, or to deal with them in an effective way, the Courts have had little choice but to step in and give things a shove.

That, to me, doesn't demonstrate a problem with the Courts; it shows that legislatures aren't willing or able, for a number of reasons, to properly deal with numerous contentious issues. In most cases, the Courts are doing their job (even if I may disagree with a ruling in a particular case). My concern is with the other branches of our system.

On another point, the more I think about the points that you and Loraine made, the more I think you may well be right vis a vis cabinet having to be unanimous in supporting (or opposing) bills that are government-sponsered (and that phrase is important). I still want to ponder it a bit, but maybe when I do I'll actually wake up my dormant blog, instead of leeching Jeff's readership :)