Muzzling rogue or otherwise difficult MPs to the outside world can be seen as effective message management. Muzzling them in caucus meetings, though, is much more difficult to rationalize:
Describe a typical caucus meeting when you were in government.Now, yes, this is Garth Turner speaking, and if anybody has a bone to pick with Harper these days, it's him. But it's difficult to claim that this is nothing but sour grapes when it jives so well with what we're seeing with our very own eyes.
National caucus is not a place for debate. In fact, in my time during the national caucus I never saw a free-wheeling debate on policy. During the Israeli–Lebanon conflict we did not have a policy debate. An attempt was made to have one during the summer at a caucus meeting, but it was shut down.
Who shut it down, Harper?
No, it was shut down by the caucus chairperson, Rahim Jaffer. It’s his job to control the meetings; so, there has been no debate. My view of caucus is a place where everybody goes and they are all equal and they hash things out, and the party comes up with a position, but national caucus is not like that. It is a time for party administration and the cabinet ministers to tell other people what they’re doing. They take a few questions, but there’s not a debate.
You would think that caucus would be the one place where backbench MPs could speak freely behind closed doors.
That is the traditional definition of a caucus, and traditionally it should be open for debate, but the caucus that Mr. Harper runs is from the top down; it’s not from the bottom up. And it is for caucus to be instructed, not for the party administration to be told.
You ever seen a caucus treated like this before?
No, this is new to me. I’ve never seen a caucus this controlled or with such little debate or consultation. I also never seen a caucus where someone was thrown out because they had differences of opinion on policy that was not fundamental. I could see, if during the Mulroney years, somebody said, “You’re an idiot for bringing in the GST and I’m going to the media and say so,” they’d probably be thrown out. It was a key plank. But I haven’t done that, and I haven’t done anything in my view that merited my being thrown out, nor have I been given any evidence. It is just simply because they did not like somebody expressing their opinion.