Friday, December 11, 2009

Tell us something we don't know

Keith Martin: House of Commons 'warped, twisted and undemocratic'

When B.C. taxpayers expected courage, three MPs wimped out

By Michael Smyth,
The Province
December 11, 2009

The House of Commons has become a "warped, twisted and undemocratic" place where MPs act like mindless "lemmings" forced to do the bidding of their parties instead of the people.

That's the bitter view of Liberal MP Keith Martin, a day after he boycotted a Parliament Hill vote on the HST — a tax he believes will brutalize British Columbians already reeling from the recession.

Martin told me yesterday he was "heartbroken" to see his colleagues support the new tax, and that he tried to convince Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to oppose it. When he lost that battle, Martin said he told his party puppetmasters he wouldn't dance their jig.

"It was a whipped vote, but I said I could not vote for it and I wasn't going to show up."

A "whipped vote" is one where MPs are required by their parties to vote as they're told. Martin said he expects to be reprimanded for his no-show.

But if he feels so strongly about the HST, why didn't he stand up for his Victoria-area constituents and vote against it?

"Because it could have destroyed my ability to do my job," he said.

"The penalty to go against the party leader is severe: You can be kicked out of caucus, kicked off committees, stripped of your critic portfolio, prevented from asking questions in Question Period. You become ostracized in your own party and your ability to move up the ladder to a job with more responsibility and influence is destroyed.

"You're left in an ethical conundrum. This is the toxic sickness of Parliament."

He went on: "The Parliament we have today is warped, twisted and undemocratic. We're paid to represent our constituents. But the public is not getting proper representation or value for their money.

"MPs are forced to do the bidding of the party over the bidding of the people. It breaks my heart."

Strong words. But at the end of day, Martin was still hiding in his office when he had a chance to take a stand for democracy — and vote against a tax the vast majority of British Columbians despise.

The harmonized sales tax will combine the seven-per-cent provincial sales tax and the five-per-cent GST starting July 1. The new 12-per-cent tax will apply to hundreds of goods and services now exempt from PST — everything from haircuts to funerals — and load an estimated $2 billion onto the backs of recession-weary consumers.

That's why HST opponents were thrilled to hear Conservative Dona Cadman was ready to take on her own government over the unpopular tax. Earlier this week, the Surrey North MP vowed to vote against the HST — come hell or high water.

"I will vote with the people or for the people," Cadman told the Surrey Now. Asked if she was concerned about retaliation for opposing her own Tory government, she expressed no fear: "We'll see what happens."

Spoken in the true maverick spirit of her late husband, Chuck Cadman! Known for his trademark ponytail and blue jeans in a sea of Parliament Hill power suits, Chuck Cadman took pride in voting his constituents' wishes.

But when it came time for her to vote against the HST, Dona Cadman did the same as Martin. And took a powder.

Cadman said she decided to skip the HST vote out of respect for her Conservative colleagues. She said she received a verbal reprimand for her actions.

From maverick to mouse in 24 hours — but Cadman said voters should expect little else.

"I did the best I could," she said. "I am a team player. They're doing a good job, but I just disagree with them [the Conservatives] on this."

And then there's Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, a former B.C. premier and one of the first federal voices raised against the HST. I interviewed Dosanjh in August when he said the tax was being inflicted at the worst possible time.

"People are hurting," he said. "This is not the time to raise their taxes."

Don't forget Dosanjh was once attacked with an iron bar for speaking out against violence in the Sikh community. He has not been afraid to stand up for his beliefs in the past.

But on Wednesday, he stood in the House of Commons and voted against his beliefs — and for the HST.

Will Dosanjh, Cadman and Martin pay a price at election time for their actions — or lack thereof? Perhaps. The HST is opposed by an overwhelming 82 per cent of British Columbians, according to a new Canwest News Service poll.

But it now appears the only way the HST will be stopped is if eight Liberal MLAs in Gordon Campbell's provincial government break ranks in Victoria.

After this week's show of political "bravery" in Ottawa, I wouldn't hold my breath.
© Copyright (c) The Province


Steve V said...

""Because it could have destroyed my ability to do my job," he said.

Which is a complete admission that he did it because of re-election. What, if you voted with the party, you wouldn't have been permitted to be an MP anymore?

I find Martin's sanctimony BORING and predictable. Such a champion of democracy and the people. Not that I disagree, free votes are required, but this guy is just trying to save his own hide, nothing more, nothing less. Spare me the call to arms.

Anonymous said...

Dosanjh's decision exemplifies the LPC. Talk a great story then when action is needed, well....

CAITI said...


In your haste to criticize this Keith Martin guy, I think you got it backwards;

Re: "Because it could have destroyed my ability to do my job," he said."

That's in reference to why he abstained as opposed to explicitly voting against the bill and the directive of the Liberal Party and not, as you say "Which is a complete admission that he did it because of re-election", as if to suggest there is something wrong with wanting to be re-elected, which is the only control voters are able to exercise, as blunt as such an instrument as that may be.

Re: "if you voted with the party, you wouldn't have been permitted to be an MP anymore?"

I presume you are referring the Liberal Party here? No where did he infer or suggest that his role of MP was in jeopardy, but rather his role withing the party and his obvious desire to move up within the party, etc. was put in jeopardy had he voted against the bill, as opposed to abstaining.

This is what is fundamentally wrong with the party system and with MPs who have ambitions apart from being simply some "back bench" MP.

What's wrong with being a back bench MP?

I would rather have a back bench MP that votes in accordance with the wishes of his constituents time and time again, than I would have some over ambitious "super star" MP who does what he is told to do by the party apparatus, even if it means sticking the knife in the back of his constituents, time and time again.

Lots of examples I could cite that fit that bill.

Finally, not sure what "call to arms" you are referencing here. Are you referring to the quaint idea that democracy involves having people in Parliament that are faithful to the wishes of their constituents, rather than their puppet masters?

What call to arms could be more important than that, shy of a real call to arms?

Steve V said...

I apologize, if I misunderstood what he was saying. I read it like he had to break with the party, or risk losing his job. My bad, if that's the case and apology warranted.

Dr Mike said...

These MPs are wimps.

Almost 80% of the people in both provinces did not want this tax.

These guys are there to represent us & only us---not themselves , not big business , not the party leader---just plain old us.

So get with it ---vote the way we want you to vote.

Damn wimps.

Dr Mike

PS---the way the votes go now says only one thing , they think we are too stupid to make a proper decision & only they know best.

That `s why we are in Afghanistan , why the isotope crisis is on , why we ended up with a Coalition.

Maybe if they just asked us what we thought & actually acted on it , then none of these things would have happened.

CAITI said...

Thanks for that Steve.

CAITI said...



Dosanjh is the big time kowtowing wimp here, and not Keith Martin who did the best with a bad decision.

Plus Martin was candid in his views when he spoke up against the whole corrupt nature of Party lead democracies.

BTW: A trust investor from out west me with his MP, the wimp Dosanjh, a few months ago, and reported back to me saying that Dosanjh couldn't have cared less about the guy's plight and wouldn't lift a finger to champion his cause and pursuing Harper's lies about tax leakage.

Making Dosanjh a total write-off in my opionion.

CAITI said...


Meant to say:

Dosanjh is the big time kowtowing wimp here, and not Keith Martin who did the best with a bad SITUATION.

Anonymous said...

Keith Martin has been my MP for 17 rather fruitless years. Steve, you are correct in your assessment. Keith IS desperate to hold onto his MP position/pension (which is tenuous with only 68 votes last election). What disillusions me is that he talks the talk, but hasn't DONE HIS JOB for a very long time and is not an effective MP for the riding. He tries to take credit for things that others have accomplished and is often inaccurate with his facts. (I know this from personal experience). 10 years ago when he was elected as a Reform MP, he had the same complaint about a dysfunctional parliament. He is not currently a Liberal caucus member or even on a relevant committee. In the Martin gov't, he was in Foreign Affairs, but has been passed over since then. He is well past his best due date.