Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Should Dion whip the gay marriage vote?

This is a very important question both tactically and morally.

Does the right of an MP to vote his or her conscience trump the right of gays and lesbians to equality? I would argue that if the right of an MP to vote his or her conscience does not trump the necessity of caucus solidarity on matters of confidence, then it doesn't trump human rights, either.

As to the tactical question, however, that's a bit different. There are two factors to consider here. The first is party unity. The second is electoral politics.

So far as party unity goes, the issue is obvious. The last thing Dion wants to do right now is cause a split within the party. However, I don't think a whiped vote would cause too big of a split. Consider this: There are 29 sitting Liberal MPs (out of a caucus of 102) who voted against same-sex marriage last year.* That's almost 1/3 of the caucus. Four of these MPs (Bryon Wilfert, Charles Hubbard, Francis Scarpaleggia and Paul Steckle) made up part of Dion's 11 MP caucus support. By the final ballot, his caucus support had swelled to 25 MPs. Among the 14 newcomers, however, only Jim Karygiannis opposed gay marriage, for a total of 5 out 25. That's still 20% of his caucus support, but it's not as drastic. Moreover, those men are generally not considered to be among the social conservative hardliners in the Liberal caucus, which mostly consists of a small coterie of Toronto-area MPs many of whom I suspect are mostly Liberals of convenience, since they could never win their ridings as Conservatives.

Basically, I think that most of the anti-SSM MPs could be convinced that this issue has been dealt with already and should stay closed (Paul Szabo, a leading social conservative, has already stated he will vote against re-opening the debate). The ones who would be most likely dissent from this party line (I'm thinking chiefly of Dan McTeague and Tom Wappel here) to be perfectly blunt would not really represent a huge loss, certainly not significant enough to warrant unnecessarily ceding any ground on the left to the NDP, which brings me to the second factor.

Tactically, the Liberals need to be able to use same-sex marriage as a card against Stephen Harper in the next election. It's becoming increasingly obvious that Dion plans to try and make the ballot issue of the next election a clear question of ideology (and equally clear that Harper wants to make the ballot issue a question of honesty) and while same-sex marriage is not an important issue for most Canadians, it plays into a rich tapestry of what-we-believe, opposed to what-they-believe. We need to be able to say that the next election is a choice between a real child care program, or just $4 a day; a choice between environmental sustainability, or environmental recklessness; a choice between treating aboriginals with respect, or treating them like third class citizens; a choice between a compassionate Canada, or a selfish Canada; a choice between equality for all citizens, or meanspirited homophobia.

The NDP is fond of blunting that last point by saying that the Liberals aren't really standing up for equality because 1/3 of Liberal MPs voted against it. They have a point; having 1/3 of your caucus oppose you on an issue you're using in a campaign is embarassing. What I'm saying is, it would be nice if Jack Layton wasn't able to make Dion look like a hypocrite if the issue is raised in a leaders' debate. Worth, I think, a few hard feelings.

*Raymond Bonin (Nickel Belt, ON) Ken Boshcoff (Thunder Bay--Rainy River, ON) Gerry Byrne (Humber--St. Barbe--Baie Verte, NF) John Cannis (Scarborough Centre, ON) Brenda Chamberlain (Guelph, ON) Joe Comuzzi (Thunder Bay--Superior North, ON) Roy Cullen (Etobicoke North, ON) Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton--Canso, NS) Charles Hubbard (Miramichi, NB) Jim Karygiannis (Scarborough--Agincourt, ON) Wajid Khan (Mississauga--Streetsville, ON) Derek Lee (Scarborough--Rouge River, ON) Lawrence MacAulay (Cardigan, PE) Gurbax Malhi (Bramalea--Gore--Malton, ON) John Maloney (Welland, ON) Bill Matthews (Random--Burin--St. George's, NF) John McKay (Scarborough--Guildwood, ON) Dan McTeague (Pickering--Scarborough East, ON) Massimo Pacetti (Saint-Leonard--Saint-Michel, PQ) Bernard Patry (Pierrefonds--Dollard, PQ) Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis, PQ) Raymond Simard (Saint Boniface, MB) Scott Simms (Bonavista--Exploits, NF) Paul Steckle (Huron--Bruce, ON) Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, ON) Alan Tonks (York South--Weston, ON) Tom Wappel (Scarborough Southwest, ON) Bryon Wilfert (Richmond Hill, ON) Paul Zed (Saint John, NB)


At 12/05/2006 9:06 a.m., Anonymous Refrozen Seabass said...

Basically, I think that most of the anti-SSM MPs could be convinced that this issue has been dealt with already and should stay closed

Exactly right. A whipped vote would be an indicator that the Liberals aren't interested in flogging this dead horse just because Harper didn't get his way in 2004. Besides, it's Harper that promised a free vote, not the Liberals.

At 12/05/2006 10:41 a.m., Blogger wilson61 said...

I thought Liberals were going to govern from the grassroots up and not the top down!
Same old Liberals, say one thing, do another.

The final analysis will be given to the constituents of the MPs who were forced to vote the party line, instead of representing them.

So all those Liberal cheers for Garth Turner were insincere. I figured so.

At 12/05/2006 12:15 p.m., Anonymous James said...

You talk of 'a real child care program' versus '$4 a day'. Is a mother staying at home with her children, as my daughter does, not a 'real child care program'? Under the Liberals she received nothing from those millions of dollars the Liberals gave to institutionalized daycare. At least Harper's government gave her something, however small. But I forgot--your Liberal buddies don't trust moms to spend the money properly. Liberal spokesman Scott Reid said people like my daughter would only spend the money on "beer and popcorn." I can't tell you how disgusted I am at the Liberals' "government knows best" mentality. You were a Conservative once--surely you must feel some repulsion over their top down attitude.

At 12/05/2006 3:53 p.m., Blogger Clear Grit said...

Is a mother staying at home with her children, as my daughter does, not a 'real child care program'?

No. It's a mother staying home with her children. There's nothing wrong with it, and it's admirable, but it's not a program.

At 12/05/2006 6:31 p.m., Anonymous Erik said...

You talk of 'a real child care program' versus '$4 a day'. Is a mother staying at home with her children, as my daughter does, not a 'real child care program'?

well, unfortunately for you not all moms stay at home or want to stay at home. I know many mothers who spend a large portion of their salary on daycare, this leads to many of them eventually leaving the workforce and staying at home which inturn reduces our country's productivity.

At 12/05/2006 6:35 p.m., Anonymous Erik said...

I don't think Dion should use the whip. There is no way the conservatives are going to win this vote, my hope is that once a free vote is held and the anti-gay marriage folk have had a vote on their terms most of them will stop being obsessed with this issue and let it go away, that will also help the liberals in many ridings where the conservatives will no longer be able to play the same sex marriage card to win votes.

At 12/05/2006 10:27 p.m., Anonymous James said...

Lord help us, Erik, if Canada's 'productivity' has to rely on moms leaving their children in institutions to go to work.

At 9/28/2008 12:37 p.m., Blogger TeDavi said...

Wait a minute... are we talking about elementary-school children?


Noooooooooo, we're talking about daycare! I think it's fine if a mother (especially if she's single) leaves her tot at daycare, but having taxpayers pay for that?

If we're talking about single mothers, of course taxpayers should help out, but we're talking about tiny babies here!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What ever happened to our country?


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