Chief Government Whip Andrew Leslie scrums with media in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Photo: Matthew Usherwood/CP)The deeply personal played a major role in the decisions of individual Liberals when it came to their votes on Bill C-14, the federal government's response to the Supreme Court ruling that did away with the ban on physician-assisted suicide. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kept his promise to give his caucus a free vote on this matter of conscience, while ensuring his Liberal government avoided embarrassment on a major piece of legislation which could, for better or worse, end up being an important part of its legacy. The political victory could be short-lived, as C-14 is getting a serious grilling in the far-less-predictable Senate, but the moves to quell opposition debate in the House of Commons and the lengthy discussions with caucus offer a glimpse at how the government will handle other thorny issues it will face during its mandate.
Well-time phone calls, late-night information sessions
Rookie Grit felt no pressure to change vote
Right from the beginning, Leslie said, a handful of MPs had deeply personal stories that set them on one path or another, some telling him they were absolutely determined they could not support the government position. There was little anyone could do about them, but there was another, much larger group of Liberals who either felt the government's position had not gone far enough in meeting the ruling from the Supreme Court — including some with concerns about the constitutionality of the bill — or had gone too far. Leslie said he referred those MPs to Philpott, Wilson-Raybould or others who could provide them with more information and arguments. He said he also had to fulfil his basic job of tracking the numbers and that sometimes involved calling cabinet ministers back from overseas trips — especially after an embarrassing near-miss when the New Democrats and Conservatives caught him off guard with a snap vote on an Air Canada bill. The ended in a 139-to-139 tie that Speaker Geoff Regan broke in favour of the government. "We had to win," Leslie said, but added that on such a personal issue, another factor came into play.
"This is the time to stand and be counted, one way or the other."
— Andrew Leslie, chief government whip
MP missed chance to vote against bill"This is the time to stand and be counted, one way or the other," Leslie said. Montreal-area Liberal MP Alexandra Mendes had planned on doing just that. She was one of those who told Leslie right away that she could not support C-14 unless it was amended to include advance directives, an opinion she held to firmly after watching both her grandmothers slip away slowly due to Alzheimer's. But when the final vote came Wednesday night, Mendes said she got a few minutes behind in a seminar she was giving a couple of blocks south of Parliament Hill and then could not run fast enough in her heels to reach the Commons on time. She missed the deadline by seven minutes and was so disappointed and angry with herself that she hid in Leslie's office for half an hour until she calmed down. "So, for the most prosaic of reasons, I ended up missing a vote that was so significant for me on a personal level," Mendes wrote in an email.
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