09/23/2014 09:54 EDT | Updated 09/23/2014 10:59 EDT

Ex-Bloc MP Jean-Francois Fortin Wants 'Gag' Removed For All MPs


OTTAWA — A Bloc Québécois MP who quit his caucus earlier this year wants more powers for elected representatives in the House of Commons.

Jean-François Fortin, the member of Parliament for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, plans to introduce a motion that he says would allow MPs to properly represent their constituents in Parliament.

“I am not proposing anything extraordinary” he writes in a letter to all MPs obtained by The Huffington Post Canada.

All Fortin wants, he says, is to allow MPs to speak freely on behalf of their constituents “rather than be gagged by the party establishment.”

“We need to have the tools we need to do our job without being constantly subjected to arbitrary sanctions imposed by the inner circle surrounding the leaders, House leaders, whips and caucus chairs,” he writes.

In recent years, the powers of individual MPs have been in steady decline with power increasingly concentrated within the party leader’s inner circle, Fortin says.

“As a result, we have a situation where the inner circle imposes its will by depriving those MPs not in its good graces — or those who do not matter in the short-term political calculations — of the valuable time that should be spent addressing the needs of those who elected us,” Fortin writes.

He notes that spots on committees and the distribution of who gets to ask a question in the House are handed out depending on which MP is favoured at the time.

In order to fix the problem, Fortin suggests several ways in which all MPs could be made a bit more influential. He wants:

- A caucus majority to agree to the leader’s pick for house leader, deputy house leader, whip, deputy whip and caucus chair;

- Each opposition member to be given the right to ask at least one question in question period per week, irrespective of whether or not their party leadership selects them to ask a question;

- An expansion of the membership of Commons committees to give MPs a say on which committee they wish to sit and to allow independent members to sit on committees.

“There is something wrong when the ability of MPs to do their job properly is entirely dependent on the whims of the party leader and when they can be made to suffer for such minor considerations as whom they supported during a leadership race or as a result of electoral calculations,” Fortin says in his letter.

Contrary to Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Parliamentary reform bill, Fortin says his motion doesn’t require the consent of the Senate or a committee study to change the rules. If his motion is adopted by a simple vote in the Commons — something likely to happen before the end of the year — the changes would immediately be made to the House’s Standing Orders.

During his press conference Tuesday morning, Fortin said he had been subjected to party pressure on at least one file which forced him to vote contrary to his personal opinions, but he refused to elaborate.

He said he was calling on all party leaders to allow their MPs a “truly free” vote. Already, he said, some 10 MPs ave told him they would support his motion, including several Conservative MPs.

Fortin quit the Bloc in August saying he couldn’t work with the new party leader Mario Beaulieu, whom he accused of having an intransigeant unidimensional approach.

“The Bloc Québécois in which i believed, in which we believed, no longer exists,” he wrote at the time.

Fortin had backed his caucus colleague André Bellavance during the 2014 leadership race. In 2011, however, Fortin ran for the Bloc leadership and lost to Daniel Paillé, who later resigned for health reasons.

He told reporters Monday that if he had won the leadership in 2011, he would have brought similar changes to allow for a more participatory democracy.