Has Stephen Harper lost control of his caucus?

·Politics Reporter

It seems Stephen Harper's caucus has gone 'off-script.'

Over the past two weeks, several Tory MPs and Senators have made controversial comments that don't necessarily jive with Conservative policy.

On February 1, Conservative senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu told reporters that murderers should be given tools to kill themselves, igniting a debate about the death penalty.

Around the same time, Saskatchewn's MP Brad Trost publicly questioned the "ironclad" party discipline that prevails in Ottawa, saying it stifles debate and prevents independent thinking.

On February 6, Tory MP Stephen Woodworth called for a special committee to examine when human life begins, a call opponents say is an excuse to reopen the debate over abortion.

And last week, Justice Minister Bob Nicholson seemed to be promoting vigilante justice when he said in some cases it was reasonable to fire warning shots at trespassers.

Has Stephen Harper lost control of his caucus?

PostMedia's Stephen Maher argues that Harper has in fact loosened the reigns on his MPs.

"As prime minister, [Harper] turned the screws tighter, letting young staffers in his office deliver telephone tongue lashings to those who stray from talking points, even dressing down cabinet ministers," Maher wrote in a recent column.

"That level of control was possible because MPs understood it was necessary.

"Now that the Conservatives have a majority, it is getting harder for them to see why they should be walking around with duct tape over their mouths."

Certainly over the years Stephen Harper has worked hard to shed the perception that his Reform party/Conservative Alliance/Conservative Party were full of extremists and crack-pots.

Remember the old days of the Reform Party?

There was MP Cheryl Gallant who compared abortion to a beheading. Then MP Randy White said the Conservatives would overrule the courts on same sex marriage.

And who can forget the always quotable Bob Ringma when he said he would "fire" or "move to the back of the shop" a homosexual or member of an ethnic minority whose presence turned off bigoted customers.

"If I had a business and a homosexual was there working for me and he was responsible for my losing business, then indeed I would think of letting him go, just as I would think of letting go anyone else who was losing business for me," the Reform MP told reporter Peter O'Neil in 1996.

He was then asked what he would do if he were a shop owner and a black employee was driving away business.

"Well, you know, don't you think an employer should have that sort of freedom — that if someone's working for him and responsible for his business failing, that he should be able to just say, `Hey, I don't need you in my employ' or `I'm going to switch you to the back of the shop' or `I'm going to do something to make sure you don't lose more business for me."

Hopefully we're not going back to the old days.

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