The Backbench Spring: Defiance in Canada

First off, H/T to Aaron Wherry who invented the phrase, it’s perfect.

Canada’s parliament has long been one of the more executive-dominated, so it was wonderful when Conservative Mark Warawa MP stood up in the House of Commons and asserted, in effect, he wanted an end to the party muzzling of duly elected members of parliament. He was complaining of his party whips essentially vetting his members statement, and denying him a place on the list of members from each party sent to the Speaker. By convention, the Speaker has chosen the members on the lists sent to him to speak, whether it be for members statements, question period, or debates on bills.

After many of his colleagues came out in support of him, the Speaker has finally ruled on the issue: while nothing stops the party whips sending him lists and vetting who they put on that list, if Mark Warawa would simply stand up and tried to catch the Speaker’s eye, the Speaker has the discretion to choose him to speak and has done since Confederation and his pre-confederation predecessors.

The convention which allowed party whips to control who spoke in the Commons for a generation now is showing signs of cracks, and if the normally meek vote fodder on the backbenches shows signs of life and asserts their undeniable right to catch the Speaker’s eye it might very well break.

Of course, there is still a long way to go in MPs’ getting some degree of freedom from the party whips. Perhaps most importantly, party whips can still choose who sits on which committee and remove them at will. That too needs to change, but there are signs of stirring

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