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Christopher Radojewski | Fulcrum Staff

OVER THE PAST week, a private member’s bill has caused a great stir in the House of Commons. Private member’s bill M-312 motioned to create a special committee to review when life begins as defined in the criminal code. Like a food fight in the cafeteria, all hell broke loose after the vote.

The topic of abortion is quite divisive in Canada. It is a debate that drives Canadians to polar opposite points of view, and for many, compromise is not an option.

No law against abortion has been valid since a challenge at the Supreme court of Canada in 1988; however, in the past few days, the move toward a debate on abortion has occurred, but it wasn’t initiated by the government.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised he would not bring the debate to the House of Commons. Instead, the subject was private members’ business, which is a format for individual Members of Parliament (MPs) to raise questions and matters that are usually on a constituency level. Stephen Woodworth, the Conservative MP for Kitchener Centre, initiated M-312.

The great thing about a private member’s bill is that it allows MPs to speak up and make a difference for their constituents. Otherwise, the political process doesn’t allow much of a chance for backbench MPs to make an impact. Even the process of a private member’s bill only allows MPs to create a motion or bill every couple of years or so, assuming they get elected more than one term.

Many opposition MPs believe M-312 was an underhanded move by the government to bring the issue of abortion to the table, despite Harper’s promise. Niki Ashton, the New Democratic Party’s critic for the status of women, rose each day this past week to express her disgust over the fact that this motion was even allowed to come forward. The government repeatedly told her this was a private bill, yet Ashton insisted discussion on this issue should be suppressed.

“This is not about an issue of conscience, it’s an issue of rights … human rights,” said Ashton. “What Canadian parliamentarians should be thinking about is how we are here to protect rights that are already recognized in our country.”

Ashton is mistaken—any issue should be able to come forward in a private member’s bill, if it represents the views of the MP’s constituency. Declaring what can and cannot be debated shoots democratic rights in the foot. MPs don’t just defend law; it is also their job to create and critique laws to allow changes in society. M-312 may have questioned human rights, but questioning the process of M-312 challenges the right to expression.

Ashton is correct, though, when she says that this is not an issue of conscience. The role of an MP is to represent. This means that when they come to work, they become a window to the views of their constituents. There are bills where MPs are forced to vote a certain way, but when not whipped, the views of their riding take precedence over their own views.

Voltaire said “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Ashton may not like or agree with Woodworth’s motion, but the Canadian parliamentary process wouldn’t be democratic if not for opposing opinions voiced on even ground.

Christopher Radojewski is the Fulcrum’s political columnist. If you have any comments or questions, email politics@thefulcrum.ca