“We are accused sometimes in Parliament of avoiding tough issues and when we avoid them, we are accused of that very thing, and when we talk about them we are accused of bringing up issues that people think we shouldn’t discuss. In Parliament, in my mind, that’s where those discussions should take place.”
» Brandon-Souris MP Merv Tweed, on why he voted in favour of M-312
As a news organization that publishes opinions — both our own and those of the public at large — we understand what it can mean for people to express their thoughts in public.
At times, for a company employee, concerned citizen or local politician to put a choice or an opinion on display for the public to see takes some courage, especially when the topic prompts emotionally-charged responses from the general public.
All too often, these heated responses only serve to stand in the way of a broader and much-needed debate on the issue in question — in this case, the abortion question and the House of Commons vote held on Wednesday.
As the Sun reported yesterday, the controversial motion, M-312, could have reopened the debate on when life begins, and studies whether a fetus should have legal rights before it is born. If passed, it would have set up a House of Commons Committee to review Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code and its declaration that life begins, “only at the moment of complete birth.”
While the motion was defeated yesterday by a 203-91 margin in a free vote — for Conservatives and Liberals, but not the NDP — that crossed party lines, there were a few interesting details that arose out of that vote.
As the Globe and Mail reported yesterday, Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose surprised a lot of Canadians when she voted in favour of the motion, simply because of the file she is responsible for. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile, kept his promise and voted against the motion, while Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who is seen as a possible future leader of the party, voted in favour of the motion, and against the wishes of his prime minister.
And Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who had earlier this year promised to consult his constituents on the issue before voting, was notably absent from the House of Commons for the vote in question. He was apparently on government business in the U.K.
But perhaps, more important to Westman citizens was the choice of Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed who voted in favour of the motion.
We finally learned more about Tweed’s stance on the motion and his decision to vote in favour of it on Thursday. As you can read in today’s Sun, for him it was both a matter of following his own personal conscience and the will of his constituents. In his view, he’d rather see all the energy and money used to fight the pros and cons of the issues instead go to educating young families. It’s a nuanced position that seeks a broader debate. There is nothing wrong with that.
If only he had been so forthright earlier. For until this week, Tweed had chosen not to publicly disclose his feelings on abortion and ducked media questions on the issue in advance of the vote.
Our job as Canadian citizens is to elect local men and women who best represent the majority of our community views in government. When the system works, they act as our collective voices, speaking to the issues of the day in the hope that they are doing the best they can for their constituents. And they do this because they are answerable to the electorate.
It would be pure folly to assume that our elected government representatives don’t hold views of their own, for reasons of their own. But as voters, we have a right to know what those views are, so we can make choices that best suit us at the ballot box. While a healthy democracy should also be able to hold a healthy and civilized debate on issues of the day, it sometimes also requires pointed questions of those who seek to represent us.
Whether Tweed’s support of the motion will change the voting intentions of Brandon-Souris residents in the next election is unknown, but it has now become a possibility.
That we in the Brandon media and voting public did not ask Tweed to clarify his position on abortion during previous election cycles was a failure to hold him accountable. That Tweed refused to clarify his position to a Brandon Sun reporter only months before a House of Commons vote, in our opinion, lacked transparency.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 28, 2012