Whips, and the ball and chain

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The debate continues in Ottawa: are party whips stifling MP’s freedom of speech.

Party whips serve a tremendous purpose in partisan politics. They ensure enough party members are present for votes, assign offices and schedule speakers to bills and motions. They “whip” the party into shape. Not so long ago, when the newly formed Conservative Party was still vying for control of government, former MP and local Cumberland County resident Bill Casey had a heck of a job ahead of him as deputy whip of the Official Opposition to present the party as a unified voice.

The Reform Party and Progressive Conservatives brought two unique, albeit right wing, political philosophies to the table when they merged into the Conservative Party. Of the leadership hopefuls from both sides, Stephen Harper was elected and it was by presenting a unified front on some of Canada’s most contentious issues – including abortion and same-sex marriage – the Conservatives brought an end to the Liberal reign, netting their first minority government in 2006. Mind you, uniting the right already boded well for Conservatives; it was their united front on issues big and small that stood out and gave their minority government legs.

That’s what a good party whip does. 

The real question in front of us now, after Conservative MP Mark Warawa filed complaint whips are stifling MPs, should whips still be allowed to corral MPs?

The answer is yes.

There are a myriad of ways for an MP to have their voice raised in the House, regardless of what the whip tells them or schedules with the Speaker of the House, including drastic measures like crossing the floor or standing as an independent. It’s over the top, but if the MP has picked the good fight, Canadians will appreciate them for it.

The grim realty is if an MP wants to enjoy the benefits of standing under a party’s umbrella, they need to be reminded every now and then it’s a club, not a charity. If an MP wants to speak out from under that umbrella, sometimes they have to do it knowing they won’t have the same coverage when they try to go back. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is part of the game.

Organizations: Progressive Conservatives, Conservative Party, Reform Party

Geographic location: Ottawa, Cumberland County, Canada

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