Members of Parliament will vote on a Conservative backbencher’s motion to introduce free votes on matters of conscience next month. Photo/Flickr via Sam [http://bit.ly/1OURzOY]

Tory MP seeks free vote on conscience matters

By 
  • April 19, 2015

OTTAWA - With legalized euthanasia looming large over the House of Commons, a Tory backbencher has tabled a motion to affirm the right of free votes on matters of conscience.

Conservative MP Ed Komarnicki’s Motion-590 comes up for its first hour of debate May 27. That debate may highlight the Liberal Leader’s abandonment of his party’s long-standing tradition of allowing free votes on moral issues such as abortion.

Introduced March 26, M-590 reads, “That, in the opinion of the House, all Members of Parliament should be allowed to vote freely on all matters of conscience.”

“I am hopeful and expect all Members of Parliament to support Motion-590,” said Komarnicki in an e-mail. “The motion is straightforward and unambiguous. Matters of conscience should for obvious reasons be subject to free votes.

“I think it’s timely for a motion such as this,” said the MP, who declined to comment further until after he speaks in the House in May.

“Motion-590 will be another opportunity for MPs to consider whom they serve,” said Campaign Life Coalition’s Ottawa lobbyist Johanne Brownrigg. “There is the ongoing discussion of whether MPs represent their party to their constituents or their constituents to their party. That is a determining factor in proper representation in an enduring democracy.

“The rare occasion when a vote touches on a matter of conscience, it is vital that an individual be given the freedom to exercise that, whether in business, in law, in medicine or in Parliament,” she said. “Denying this for one weakens the freedom for all. Mr. Komarnicki’s motion will hopefully spur a lively discussion but also deeper thinking.”

Since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down some of Canada’s laws against assisted suicide in February, paving the way for doctor-assisted death, or voluntary euthanasia, the conscientious rights of MPs will face a new test when the government prepares legislation to respond to the Court’s decision.

The Motion could also have an impact on the October federal election because of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s decision a year ago to only greenlight Liberal candidates who support the so-called “right” to abortion. The New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois have not allowed conscience votes on abortion or marriage.

“I kind of work on naive assumption MPs can vote on matters of conscience and not just on the big ‘A’ issue, but on assisted suicide or some sexual orientation issue that comes up,” said Liberal MP John McKay. “If you’re going to vote your conscience you just have to pay your price.” 

While the motion could be a way to try to drive a wedge among the Liberals, MacKay said Komarnicki “does not strike me as the kind of guy who does political mischief.”

Kormarnicki announced in February 2013 he would not run again in the next federal election. He is among more than 30 Conservatives, many of whom were former Reform Party members, who are stepping aside from federal politics in October. Brownrigg said 20 of the Tories who are not running are identified as pro-life.

“You see the flocks of Conservative Reformers, the Reform wing of the Conservative party resigning in droves,” McKay said. “My sense of it is, it’s disproportionally related to the folks who have abdicated the big ‘A’ issue.

“I would think those who are interested in the abortion issue, the pro-life side, are usually disappointed in Mr. Harper,” said McKay. 

“He could do what he wanted to do. In other fields he has done exactly what he wants to do, and frequently run roughshod over caucus and cabinet.”

While McKay contended Harper had solicited the pro-life vote, he has given little in return.

“At least Trudeau has been upfront,” he said. He acknowledged the Liberal Leader’s stance is “consistent with party policy.”

“It’s not a policy I agree with but at least it’s consistent,” said McKay, who has a solid pro-life, pro-family voting record.

Asked whether MPs will be allowed to vote their conscience on this motion, he replied, “That’s a good question,” noting the vote — should it come up before Parliament dissolves — could be whipped or a free vote. “Were I a leader, and I am not, I would say, ‘Do whatever you want.’ ”

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