04/24/2013 15:07 EDT | Updated 06/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Liberal motion on MPs' speech loses support in wake of ruling

The Liberals went ahead with a motion that would allow MPs to make statements on any subject they like without first obtaining their party's permission, despite Speaker Andrew Scheer's ruling Tuesday that MPs are already free to speak their minds as long as they catch his attention.

The Liberal motion suggests creating an alphabetical list of MPs who are to speak in the House of Commons every day during the 15-minute period reserved for statements that are usually about events or celebrations in members' ridings.

The motion is intended to do away with the list of approved speakers that's handed to the Speaker by the party whip, the designated MPs who control each party's backbenchers.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was supposed to bring forward the motion Monday, but was pre-empted by the government's sudden decision to debate its anti-terrorism law. Trudeau, who is campaigning Wednesday on behalf of a Liberal candidate in the Labrador byelection, handed the task over to Stéphane Dion, his democratic reform critic.

Conservative MPs back off support

Scheer made his ruling Tuesday in response to a complaint from Conservative MP Mark Warawa, who was prevented by his party's whip from making a member's statement about his condemnation of sex-selection abortions. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed his government will not reopen the abortion question.

Warawa had seemed to be leaning towards supporting the Liberal motion as a free-speech issue, but he told reporters Wednesday he now thinks it's unnecessary. "I find it a little mischievous," he said, saying there was no need to "rush in and take a knee-jerk reaction."

Warawa told reporters that he would try to be recognized by the Speaker, but that if he was successful, he wouldn't speak about abortion but about something important to his Langley, B.C., riding, perhaps a canoeing accident that took two lives, he said.

However, when Warawa was given the nod by the Speaker he spent his 60 seconds lauding a charity event in his district called Langley's Got Talent, not the kind of statement the Conservative party whip would likely have censored.

Another Conservative MP stood and read a statement attacking Trudeau, using what is now the Conservative's catchphrase, "He's in over his head." It was difficult to see how the time allotted for members' statements was any different, or more open to MPs' rights to free speech, than it was before the Speaker's ruling.

Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, who had indicated he might also support the Liberal motion, also seemed happy with the Speaker's ruling. Rathgeber told reporters he probably would stand and try to get the Speaker's attention at some point, but not on Wednesday.

In the debate on the Liberal motion Wednesday, Conservative MP John Williamson, who, along with about ten other Conservative backbenchers, had initially expressed some enthusiam for it, said he now considers the matter settled by the Speaker's ruling.

An attempt to 'change the channel'

Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan said the Liberal motion was an attempt to "change the channel" by Justin Trudeau after the "terrible" week the new Liberal leader had experienced making "excuses for terrorists" said Van Loan, referring to Trudeau's remarks about finding the root causes for terrorism.

Van Loan also wondered why the Liberal Party had not implemented an alphabetical list for its own members' statements. He further excoriated the Liberals for not applying their motion to questions asked in question period since, he said, that would not "be helpful for their own partisan interests."

In fact, the Speaker did make it clear that his ability to recognize an MP without consulting whips' lists extends to questions asked in question period. But Wednesday, when independent MP Bruce Hyer and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May rose again and again, hoping to ask a question, he ignored them.

The NDP has indicated that it will support the Liberal motion. However, without some Conservative support, the motion has little hope of passing.