Though party discipline is hardly new in Canada, there has been a troubling long-term trend of MPs choosing to relinquish the power and authority that they already have under our system of government to party leaders' offices. In reality, MPs do have the power to be more independent — they can speak out in caucus, be more assertive in committee, lobby their Ministers and advance private member’s bills. Instead, as many groups like Samara Canada have noted, they’re often self-censoring and choosing to toe the party line. In contrast, most of the instances where we have seen leadership on the environment and other issues in the last couple of decades, have been due to the actions of individual MPs who have played a determinative role and who facilitated cross-party cooperation. For example, when Parliament passed the Species At Risk Act in 2002 (arguably the last major environmental law passed at the federal level), it was because MPs in all parties – working across party lines – pushed their leaders’ offices to strengthen and pass the bill. Subsequently, the government regulated several highly toxic chemicals, like bisphenol A and perfluorinated compounds, following private member’s bills and other actions that were initiated by backbench MPs.
GreenPAC is addressing this challenge head on by directly supporting individual MPs who are willing to make use of the power they already have, to stand up for the environment. That’s one of the reasons why we focus our criteria for candidate endorsement on leadership, as opposed to whether a candidate can spout back the right words on an issue. One of the best ways to de-politicize environmental action in Ottawa is to harness the broad support that exists across the country for environmental leadership into a politically relevant base, and focusing it on electing a critical mass of MPs from all parties. When party leaders know that they will lose their seats over this issue, they will be a lot more likely to take action.