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Harper to censor Conservative MP speeches PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Monday, 14 February 2005 02:01

Harper to censor Conservative MP speeches

Harper wants to make sure we don't hear what Conservative MPs really think of same-sex marriage. In what is a very unusual action, he has required all Conservative MPs speaking on the same-sex marriage legislation to provide their speeches ahead of time for approval.

It is clear Harper is worried the MPs will say something that will cause Canadians to reconsider their support of the Conservative party on the issue. During the federal election last year, Harper told his MPs to keep quiet on gay rights as well as abortion.

Judging from what the former members of the Alliance/Reform have said on the issues in the past I am not surprised Harper wants to keep a lid on what most Canadians would call intolerance and homophobia.

Rick Barnes works in Community Development and is editor of GLBTQ issues for PEJ NEWS

Harper to vet speeches by MPs

OTTAWA -- Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, bracing for the launch this week of a parliamentary debate on gay marriage, has made the controversial and unprecedented move of requiring his MPs to vet their speeches with his office.

The decision, announced at last week's caucus meeting, got a mixed response from MPs in a party that is rooted in Western Canada's tradition of populism and grassroots politics.

Some say the move is prudent, given how some MPs from the former Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties have caused enormous controversy and damaged the party's interests during past debates on minority-rights issues.

But other MPs complain the move is heavy-handed, shows disrespect for the judgment of caucus members and runs contrary to the party's Reform/Canadian Alliance tradition prior to last year's merger with the Progressive Conservatives.

Geoff Norquay, senior spokesperson for Harper, confirmed Sunday that speeches must be vetted by the leader's office.

"All of our MPs who wish to address the House will be able to do so," Norquay told the Vancouver Sun.

"We simply want to ensure that the arguments we make are clearly focused on the real issue -- the definition of marriage as opposed to the spurious arguments being advanced by the Liberals."

The Liberal legislation, which will be debated starting Wednesday, would legalize same-sex marriage across Canada.

Harper and the vast majority of his 98 MPs oppose the legislation.

But the bill is expected to pass by a narrow margin on the strength of support from most Liberals and an overwhelming majority of Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party MPs.

While Prime Minister Paul Martin's cabinet is required to vote with the government, all other MPs with the exception of Jack Layton's NDP caucus have been told they can vote freely according to their conscience and/or their constituents' wishes.

MPs contacted by the Vancouver Sun said the response to Harper's declaration was mixed.

"Some felt it showed a lack of confidence," said one, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

They said MPs who have gotten in trouble on minority-rights issues rarely stumbled in Parliament, where the television cameras are always running, speeches are planned in advance, and every word is recorded in Hansard.

Former Alliance MP Larry Spencer, for instance, never got in trouble with his speeches or comments after getting elected in 2000.

It was only when the Saskatchewan MP gave a lengthy interview regarding his personal views on homosexuality, in 2003, that he was booted from caucus.

Two MPs said they had never been ordered by Harper or his two predecessors, Stockwell Day and Preston Manning, to provide copies of their speeches in advance.

Norquay said he didn't know if there were precedents, and refused to comment on the complaints of some MPs.

Last Updated on Monday, 14 February 2005 02:01

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