When I was first elected, the consensus among parliamentary observers was that I would never be heard from again. One MP, so it was said, cannot do anything in Parliament. Fortunately, I did not accept the accepted wisdom. I firmly believe in the essential role of Parliament as the living, breathing expression of our democracy. I cling to principles that exist more in the breach than in the observance – that all MPs are equal, that the prime minister is first among equals, that Parliament is supreme with the prime minister reporting to parliament – and not the other way around.
The right to speak on behalf of my constituents is something I asserted from my first day in the House. As each leader stood to welcome the new Speaker, I stood and was recognized. It is not for the major parties to decide who gets to speak. It is the Speaker who makes that decision – a point made clearly when Conservative MP Mark Warawa complained that his party whip had denied him his right to speak, infringing on his privileges. Speaker Andrew Scheer neatly side-stepped the abuse of power by that party whip, by pointing out that Mr. Warawa should have stood and tried to catch the speaker’s eye. Failing to have done that, the Speaker ruled, he had not actually lost the right to speak because he had not tried hard enough. No one could ever accuse me of insufficient effort. I have been recognized to speak in the House more often than any other member.
On some occasions, it is not solely up to the Speaker. Following statements by ministers, unanimous consent is required. But even there, after a few missteps, such as when I was denied the right to honour our veterans in November, 2011, it has become a customary courtesy to allow me to speak. I am respectful to my colleagues. I never heckle and I do not speak over-long on such occasions, recognizing that the consent that has been granted should not repaid with a long or partisan speech.
I was given the floor on Oct. 3, 2014, following the Prime Minister, Tom Mulcair, and Justin Trudeau, when Stephen Harper first unveiled the “limited” six-month mission against Islamic State. I had every expectation that I would be allowed to respond on Tuesday of this week. As the Speaker reacted to a few “no’s” among the positive chorus, more members shouted “yes!” even more loudly. It became clear that Peter Van Loan was nodding yes, yet a handful of Conservatives in the back rows were yelling “no.” The Speaker ruled there was no consent.
I was shocked.
The debate about extending the military mission in Iraq by 12 months and starting bombing against Syrian targets as well is a solemn and sober one. All voices and viewpoints in the House should be heard and respected. I can only imagine that the excessive hyper-partisanship as an election approaches explains the actions of Conservative members. That and the Prime Minister’s effort at a joke in replying to Tom Mulcair on Wednesday does not bode well for an informed and reasoned discussion.
Originally published in the Globe and Mail.