OTTAWA — A Liberal backbencher has been informed of the price he’ll pay for breaking ranks with the Trudeau government on an opposition motion calling for more consultation on controversial tax proposals.
Wayne Long has been notified of the punishment he faces for voting against the government, a staffer in the MP’s Saint John, N.B. constituency office said Thursday. But Jim Hennessy, Long’s executive assistant, declined to share details of the penalty.
“Wayne has been made aware of the consequences and at this time it’s an internal matter,” Hennessy said.
Liberal whip Pablo Rodriguez defended the decision to mete out punishment, although he, too, refused to go into details.
“Whenever there’s a whipped vote, there will always be consequences (for defying the whip) related to that,” Rodriguez said.
The CBC reported Thursday that Long was removed from two parliamentary committees for supporting the opposition motion.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has relaxed party discipline considerably, allowing free votes on most matters. But he still insists that Liberal MPs toe the party line when it comes to traditional confidence votes on things like the budget, votes related to implementing promises made in the Liberals’ election platform and votes that impact protections guaranteed in the charter of rights.
Votes in which MPs are expected to support their party are referred to as whipped votes.
Earlier this week, Long was the only Liberal to support a Conservative motion to extend consultations on proposed tax reforms that have unleashed a flood of criticism from farmers, doctors, accountants, shop owners and other small businesses and even from some other Liberal backbenchers.
Rodriguez said the vote on the motion was whipped “because it was in the platform.”
The 2015 Liberal platform included a promise to ensure that high-income earners couldn’t continue to use incorporation of their businesses to reduce their personal income tax burden — which Finance Minister Bill Morneau maintains is the objective of the reforms he’s proposed.
However, the platform did not specify what measures would be taken to achieve that end. Nor did it say anything about consultations, much less specify how long they should last.
Long has said he voted for the Conservative motion because he and his constituents wanted the consultation, which ended Monday, extended amid concerns that the unintended consequences of the proposed changes will hurt small businesses.
The consequences of breaking ranks on a whipped vote range from relatively mild punishments, such as not being allowed to go on a parliamentary junket or being relegated to a minor Commons committee, to the ultimate penalty of being kicked out of the party caucus.
In Long’s case the penalty is intended as a warning to him and any other Liberal backbenchers that there’ll be a heavier price to pay should anyone break ranks when the tax proposals themselves are eventually put to a series of votes.
Morneau insists the proposals are designed to create a fairer tax system, while critics warn the plan will hurt entrepreneurs who take personal financial risks when they decide to open a business and have to save for retirement and prepare for economic downturns.
Morneau has said there will be some changes to the proposals to address some of the concerns.
The Canadian Press