Monday, October 05, 2009

Demers abstains on first Senate vote

CP has an interesting story en francais on former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers' first vote in the chamber of sober second thought since his appointment earlier thus year by Stephen Harper as a Conservative Senator.

The vote was to send to committee a bill by Liberal senator Jean LaPointe that seeks bill that amend the Criminal Code to restrict video lottery terminals to designated gaming facilities (casino, race tracks) and remove them from other licensed establishments (bar, restaurants) as a step toward countering compulsive gambling.

In a Quebec television interview, Demers indicated he was concered about the problem of compulsive gambling and seemed generally supportive of LaPointe's bill. However, it seems the Conservative Party is opposed to the bill and, before the vote, a Conservative colleague took him aside to explain how things work in the Harper caucus (via Google Translate:)

If voted in favor of the bill, he would vote against his party for his first vote as a senator, which would send a strange signal to his fellow conservatives. If he voted against the bill, some would call him in the nose statements to Radio-Canada.

"Senator Nolin explained exactly why we voted, I explained the situation, and I realized," Jacques Demers recounted in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"Had it not been for the intervention of Senator Nolin, I would have picked up myself. People have said:" But he said it on television ", he agreed.

Not clear in these circumstances to find a balance between his personal beliefs and position of a party.

"I want to be a team player, for sure, for the Conservatives," assured Mr. Demers, who does not pass for "a rebel".

"I want to be fair, but I want to be honest with myself [...]. I do not want to be just a guy who is there to vote, I want to know why I vote. I do not want to be stubborn, I use my trial, "he argued.
Certainly I give credit to Demers for abstaining on a vote where he disagreed on the party line rather than voting with the party line against his beliefs and opinion. What I find passing odd, though, and particularly as I remember the mantra about free-votes and empowering members that was the hallmark of the Reform Party of which Stephen Harper was an architect, is that the Conservatives would insist Demers either toe the party-line or abstain on a realitevly minor matter such as banning VLTs from bars.

Do they whip every vote, no matter how mundane? Confidence matters I can understand, Money bills, certaintly. But this seems a little extreme, and makes for a rocky introduction for Demers to the Conservative Senate caucus.

And moreover, why doesn't the Conservative Party support getting VLTs out of bars? Booze and addctive gambling hardly seem like a winning combination, and bars don't have the resources to monitor and moderate their use that casinos do.

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Kim Leaman said...

I had no idea that the partys exerted this kind of pressure over Senators, or even that senators were really considered members of one party or another. They are not elected so they should be free to vote their conscience. Of course this would mean that they needed to be qualified to make such Decisions.

Now I know how it is possible to have Senators who lack these skills, at least for those who's strings are being pulled from the PMO.

The Harper Government gives me something to Question Every day of the year.

RuralSandi said...

Speaking of votes - has Duffy voted on anything yet? He's a busy fundraising man, we know, but does he ever sit in senate?

ricky said...

Guess if I were there I would not want to vote against a party position on my first vote. Abstaining was a good start as it does appear he may well support the bill at a later stage.

I would like Senators to be more independent and occasionally you see that.

Barcs said...

Donas ... is that question "Why are there so many hacks from both parties in the senate???"

I can answer that for you: HArper really did learn alot from Chretien. didn't he??