The House: On weakness

A footnote on the meaning of Brad Trost.

Here is a question put to the government by the NDP’s Francoise Boivin last Thursday. Emphasis mine.

Mr. Speaker, women’s rights should not be open for debate, yet members of the government seem to think they are. The Supreme Court of Canada has clearly ruled that access to abortion is a fundamental right. Either the Prime Minister has lost control of his caucus or his government’s new policy is to outlaw abortion and turn back the clock on women’s rights. Which is it?

This attempt to define Brad Trost’s public stance as a reflection on the Prime Minister’s leadership is especially interesting given the party to which Ms. Boivin belongs. A year ago it was Jack Layton who was apparently failing to keep sufficient control of his caucus.

At the time, the House was preparing for a vote on Bill C-391, an act to eliminate the long-gun registry. As C-391 was, at least officially, a private member’s bill, all MPs were, at least theoretically, free to vote according to their own views. That said, the Conservatives were destined to vote as unified bloc and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had decided to whip his caucus. Mr. Layton, on the other hand, decided to leave the matter a free vote for NDP MPs. And with a dozen New Democrat votes thus made pivotal to the bill’s passage or failure, the issue was made out to be a test of Mr. Layton’s manhood and principles.

To wit.

Liberals devoted a lot of time over their two-day caucus meeting to attacking NDP Leader Jack Layton and his deputy, Thomas Mulcair, for refusing to force their MPs to vote to keep the long-gun registry.

In news conferences and speeches, Mr. Ignatieff accused Mr. Layton of lacking leadership and principles. At a rally Monday night, the Liberal Leader echoed what he said he heard from a supporter in Manitoba: “You know the problem with the NDP? Do you know what it stands for? No darn principle.”

Or put another way.

“Make up your mind, Jack. The hour is getting late,” Ignatieff said during an address to the Liberal caucus on the first day of the party’s summer retreat in Baddeck, N.S.

Mr. Layton held to his position and defended his handling of the issue as a better kind of leadership (and ultimately enough of his MPs came around to defeat C-391).

A year later, the Prime Minister’s apparent willingness to allow his MPs to speak freely on a divisive issue is, from the NDP’s perspective, a demonstration of weakness.

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