‘No one ever tells me what to say, what to speak, I write my own’

What would happen if MPs were truly free?

That’s Conservative MP Costas Menegakis, speaking with reporters yesterday, apparently on the subject of Mark Warawa’s question of privilege.

Another Conservative MP, Costas Menegakis, said he has never been told by the Prime Minister’s Office what he can and cannot say in Commons. “No one ever tells me what to say, what to speak, I write my own,” he told reporters while heading into what was likely to be a tense caucus meeting.

Here is a member’s statement Mr. Menegakis delivered in January. Each of the links I’ve embedded will take you to similar uses of the same phrases.

Mr. Speaker, over the past six weeks I have had the opportunity to speak and consult with hundreds of constituents and hard-working Canadians. One thing is very clear. They do not want to see the NDP’s $21 billion carbon tax. We all know that the NDP leader is planning to generate billions through a carbon tax that would increase the price of everything for Canadian families, including gas, groceries and electricity. It is written in black and white in their election platform, and the NDP leader actually promised to go beyond the NDP’s carbon tax scheme to win the party’s leadership. Last March he also clearly stated that of course he had a cap-and-trade program that would produce billions. Canadians can count on our government to lower taxes so they can keep more of their hard-earned dollars in their pockets. We will continue to oppose the NDP leader’s $21 billion carbon tax scheme.

This is not to pick on Mr. Menegakis in particular. It is entirely possible he wrote that statement on his own. (Perhaps he has been ghostwriting all Conservative statement on this subject.) He is not the only Conservative MP to repeat what seem to be talking points. And talking points are not the creation, nor the sole property, of the Conservative party of Canada—Nathan Cullen acknowledged that the NDP leadership might “work with” the MP who delivers the official opposition’s last statement each afternoon. (You might even mount a defence of the talking point as a useful addition to the practice of conveying politics to the general public.)

But it seems unlikely, from where I sit, that Mr. Menegakis just happened to stand that day, immediately before Question Period, and say those things without the knowledge of anyone on the government side as to what he might say with his minute.

Mr. Menegakis’ views are not fundamentally illegitimate (however ridiculous the government’s argument is on this point). And if he truly desires to use his time in the House to convey these sentiments, he should be entirely free to do so. It should be his right. But it should be his right. And given the amount of control the parties seem to exert over what MPs say in the House of Commons, it is to wonder what those 15 minutes each day might be used for if the MPs called on to speak were not being called on at the agreement of their party whips. We know at the very least that one minute last Thursday would have been used by Mark Warawa to talk about his motion on sex-selective abortion.

It is to wonder what sort of questions Conservative and opposition backbenchers might ask during Question Period—would they still ask questions like this and this?—if those 45 minutes were not entirely controlled by party whips. It is to wonder what the debates and votes that otherwise fill the days and evenings of the House might be like if the party whips and party leaders were of less power and influence.

We can know what our House of Commons is like now. If we are satisfied with that, then we can carry on with it. But if we should find our parliamentary democracy to be a bit less than inspiring in its present state—if we should feel that perhaps the talking point, repeated ad nauseum, has become the defining characteristic of our politics and a corrosive, stifling one at that—then we might start changing some of the rules and seeing what happens.

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