The Conservative party under leader Andrew Scheer is like a dictatorship, punishing those who break ranks to vote in line with their constituents and their own conscience, according to a long-serving Tory MP.
In an essay posted to his website this week, Ottawa-area MP Scott Reid said he was dismissed from his role as Democratic Institutions critic for the Conservative shadow cabinet in January 2018 because he voted in favour of legalizing cannabis. While a block of Conservative MPs wanted to vote for Bill C-45, the majority, including Scheer, were opposed.
It’s a situation that reflects the overall state of the Conservative caucus — “dictatorial in its demands” and “opaque in its management practices,” wrote Reid, who represents Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston.
“Today, an MP who votes with his or her conscience, or the will of his or her constituents, on any matter where the leader wants a different outcome will, in punishment for his or her disobedience, be tossed out of shadow cabinet and possibly off of committees.”
Scheer’s office told HuffPost Canada that it had nothing to add. Reid’s office said he is currently out of the country and not available for comment.
Reid included his personal experience as part of his wider analysis of how Conservatives “should be leading, instead of lagging, on democracy issues.” Reid said he’s not writing out of dislike for Scheer, but because he has a number of suggestions for the next leader, including supporting an elected Senate and citizen-led referendums, and restoring free voting among MPs.
Scheer resigned last month, after resisting criticism and calls to step aside over a disappointing election campaign, and as media reports surfaced that he was using party money to pay for his children’s private school fees.
An MP since 2000, Reid has consistently supported cannabis legalization.
He told HuffPost Canada’s ”Backbenchers″ show in October 2018: “I’ve always believed it is unreasonable to have victimless crimes, to have people arrested and punished for doing something that’s not being done to anybody else; they’re doing it to themselves.
“Obviously if you look at smoking cigarettes, that’s enormously unhealthy, but it would be wrong and disastrous from a public policy point of view to make the consumption of tobacco unlawful, so instead we try other things to nudge them in a safer direction and I think the same applies to marijuana.”
Watch Reid’s interview at the 8:17 mark. Story continues below.
In the fall of 2017, Reid polled his constituents on what position he should take on the Cannabis Act. Fifty-five per cent said to vote for legalization. In Ottawa, however, Reid and many other MPs were instructed by Conservative Party leadership to vote against the bill, despite never partaking in a cabinet vote to decide the matter democratically, he wrote.
“Had I voted against my constituents, I would have destroyed my credibility as my party’s spokesman on democracy issues. My ability to advocate internally on democracy issues—writing this essay, for example—would have been destroyed,” Reid wrote.
“None of this mattered to the leader. I was summoned to his office, informed by him that the constituency referendum … was worthless as a gauge of public opinion.”
He was dismissed from his post two months later and relegated to the backbench, although he initially did not go public about what had happened, out of loyalty to Scheer. Reid supported Scheer in the 2017 party leadership race, and again last month when the party agreed Scheer could stay on as leader until a new one is selected.
Potential leadership candidates are testing the waters, including Erin O’Toole who placed third in the 2017 race behind Scheer and Maxime Bernier.
Conservative strategist and former Scheer campaign staffer Jamie Ellerton told CTV News that such post-mortem evaluations, like Reid’s essay, are unsurprising as the party takes stock of its values and principles as part of a wider self-examination.
“One of the things you will see is an ongoing desire amongst Conservatives across the country to be able to speak out and have more democratic engagement as opposed to top-down style leadership,” Ellerton told the outlet.
Reid said in his essay: “In the crazy, Leninist world of Canada’s leader-centric parliamentary politics, maybe the only proper role for any MP other than the one who has been selected as leader is to be silent and obedient — like a Victorian child, to be seen and not heard, except when they are reading a speech prepared for them by a staffer from the PMO or the Leader’s Office …
“But I’m hoping that each of the candidates running to be the next leader of the Conservative Party will decide otherwise and will pledge to drag our parliamentary wing back from the situation into which it has fallen.”
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