The Tories v. Stephen Harper

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What do the recent tensions inside the Conservative Party mean for Stephen Harper. 

Article: Liam Fitz-Gerald – Contributor

Stephen Harper doing his best to be like Putin. Maybe he’s throwing that baseball at a backbencher. /Source: vice.com

Stephen Harper doing his best to be like Putin. Maybe he’s throwing that baseball at a backbencher. /Source: vice.com

By now, it’s no secret that tensions exist between the Prime Minister, his cabinet and backbench Conservatives. In July, Conservative M.P. Brent Rathgeber became an Independent. His reason? The government had changed his Private Member’s Bill “The CBC & Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act.” Originally, employees of the CBC and civil servants making over $188,000 a year would have had to disclose their salaries via publication. The Party voted to increase this limit to $400,000 instead. This, coupled with the summer Senate controversies, was intolerable. Rathgeber claimed his parliamentary duties were undermined by the government who did not let backbenchers speak on certain issues.

Although a majority of Conservatives voted to modify Rathgeber’s Bill, he believes they simply took orders from the leadership.

In July, an “enemy list” linked to the PMO was discovered by the media. Aids for new Conservative ministers were asked to brainstorm potential “enemies” ranging from bureaucrats to outside organizations. Outgoing Environment Minister Peter Kent gave his opinions on such a list. He called it “juvenile” and linked the PMO’s conduct to that of former US President Richard Nixon. Nixon, too, possessed an enemy list during his presidency. Rathgeber also made it clear that this was improper conduct. Furthermore, the Party is also divided on social issues. Last September, Ontario M.P. Stephen Woodsworth wanted to conduct a study on when human life began. Some of his fiercest critics were his own party members. Tory whip and M.P. Gordon O’Connor charged that a debate on abortion laws would result.

This was something the Prime Minister promised would not be revisited during his tenure. O’Connor argued the issue was settled and Canadians had other concerns. Mr. Harper himself indicated he would not support the study and it died. Yet, tensions continued. In January, three Conservative M.P.’s asked the RCMP to investigate some late term abortions as homicides. The Prime Minister reminded his M.Ps in parliament that Canadian law recognizes abortion as legal.

On economic issues, trade with China also seems contentious. According to the CBC, NDP M.P. Don Davies claimed that the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), passed in April, had unnerved some Conservative backbenchers.

Some Conservatives took issue with China’s human rights record and Nexen’s acquisition by China National Offshore Oil Company late last year stirred some anxieties. If discontent is present with the backbenchers, what is it like with the grass roots?

So, what’s the big deal? In 1986, anger over Winnipeg’s loss of a potential CF-18 air force base was the catalyst for a new party called Reform. Grass roots conservatives, disillusioned with the Progressive Conservatives, turned to Preston Manning in droves, mostly in Western Canada. Yet, as journalist Peter C. Newman notes in his book “The Canadian Revolution,” Reform was “a cause looking for a movement years before it became a party.”

Indeed, Reform usurped the P.C. Party out west and was largely socially conservative. As Newman points out “gays, gun control, and government spending” were three primary issues for the party. The recent Senate issues could be to the Conservatives what the CF-18 issue was to the Progressive Conservatives. There is tension in the Party and while the Prime Minister could continue to squeeze, whatever is in his hands may slip. In April, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau forwarded a motion to let MP’s speak without being forced to follow party line. Gee, what could have motivated this action?

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