02.22.2016 08:18 AM

Everything is political. Everything is a Charter issue.


I’m glad they backed away from making the assisted-suicide vote a whipped vote. That would have been appalling, frankly. It wasn’t in the platform, it wasn’t promised by Trudeau, and it isn’t remotely necessary.

That said, this revelation in today’s Hill Times is worrying:

“But Mr. Oliphant and other Liberal MPs The Hill Times spoke with earlier in the week say they are comfortable with the whipped vote, because as they were told at the start of the session, the Liberal caucus will have whipped votes on: Charter issues, platform issues, and confidence matters.

Obviously its a Charter issue so I expect, and we’ve been told there are three things that will be whipped: Charter issues, platform issues, and confidence matters, and this is a Charter issue, Mr. Oliphant said before the news broke on Friday, but later he expressed relief.”

“We’ve been told that it will be whipped.” Rob Oliphant is a very thoughtful person, and he will immediately know what the problem is, here: namely, every single issue the Liberal caucus looks at is, by definition, a Charter issue. There is nothing they vote on, in fact, that isn’t.

Your fundamental freedoms. Your democratic rights. Your mobility rights. Your legal rights. Your equality rights. Your language rights. Your educational rights. Your aboriginal or multicultural heritage. Your gender rights. There is pretty much nothing, when you think of it, that an MP does that can’t have a Charter connection.

Don’t believe me? Then section 32 should help:

32. (1) This Charter applies

(a) to the Parliament and government of Canada in respect of all matters within the authority of Parliament

See the problem? The implication, here, is that everything will become an (aptly-named) “whipped” vote. If the democratic implications of that don’t unsettle you, then this should: right now, everywhere in Canada, judges are still attempting to apply the Charter’s provisions to real life. They are still interpreting it.

In other words, not even the learned experts at the Supreme Court of Canada knows what the constitutional outcome should be in cases they haven’t  heard yet. How, then, is the Liberal caucus supposed to know which way to vote? How do they know what is the correct Charter interpretation, when the judges themselves don’t?

I anticipate Dominic LeBlanc will walk this one back – just as he has with the voting change diktat, and now assisted suicide.

Because everything – everything – is Charter-related.


  1. Matt says:

    Have they really stepped back from forcing a whipped vote though?

    They are now saying it’s too early to decide if it will be a whippied vote, so in the end, it could still be whipped.

  2. Steve T says:

    Whipped votes are an affront to democracy whenever they occur, on any matter (including the budget). They are what make me, and many other voters I imagine, very suspicious of any candidate that comes to my door during an election.

    Don’t tell me all your personal virtues, and views on political matters, in a system where your vote can be whipped. It is irrelevant. I might as well be voting for a trained monkey.

    So long as we continue to have whipped votes, I will vote based on the party platform, and perhaps the leader – that’s it. I really don’t care who the local candidate is. And we wonder why it’s so hard to attract good people to politics.

    • Maps Onburt says:

      Good points Steve. I’m not happy with them either – on any issue. That said, I was also happy when Harper told his caucus that the government would vote against any bill that went against the party platform on social issues. While I’m not a right to lifer, I’m also not in favour of a woman’s right to choose at any stage of the pregnancy. I suspect I’m just like 50-60% of regular Canadians on this issue. The status quo works and I’m perfectly happy with that. I definitely don’t want fringe candidates from either side driving the conversation on these topics. Trudeau, hate him or not, made it perfectly clear that if you vote Liberal you are getting full on Woman’s right to choose… so caveat emptor. (and I’m fine with that).

  3. Jack D says:

    I’m not a big fan of whipped votes myself, but I get them.

    It ensures caucus solidarity on issues that a party needs to present a unified front on. It consequentially eliminates nuances of opinions in the general discussion, but the alternative would be death to political parties. Imagine a situation where votes were never whipped; governments would crumble from inner-party quarrels fuelled by differing opinions. Sometimes its necessary to impose vote whipping in order to progress a party’s agenda. Public confidence would be shaken in a party that can’t come to a consensus amongst themselves.

    So while, as voters we demand perfection in our democracy, we should recognize that in practicality its far from.

  4. HarryR says:

    Whip or no whip, the outcome will be the same. I call it The Butt Kiss Imperative. Sadly, instrumental in all walks of life but exceptionally destructive to democratic process.

  5. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Why would this government need to whip anything. Didn’t they win an impressive majority? Aren’t MPs satisifed with Trudeau’s leadership and keen to pass the party’s agenda?

    We’re not talking the UK or Australia here. (Watch Cameron get royally fucked in the EU referendum. But I digress.)

    • Jack D says:

      Exact same thing could be said of Harper’s 2011 majority and whipped votes that took place subsequently.

      Its not about satisfaction; it has absolutely nothing to do with that. Its about matters of conscience and assisted suicide is a nuanced issue. MPs would like to vote along with their personal perspectives on the matter.

      In the big picture, whipping votes assure that the government is able to implement its agenda. If MPs are given opportunities to contradict a party’s stated platform more often than not, it undermines their credibility. Truth of the matter is, in Ottawa, MPs are expected to be team players to varying degrees across all parties.

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