The winter sitting of Parliament got off to a subdued start Monday, with the fiercest attack on the government coming from one of its own Conservative backbenchers.

Saskatoon MP Maurice Vellacott gave notice of a motion aimed at preventing the government from muzzling backbenchers by blocking their private members' bills and motions.

The motion would reform the current system, in which a handful of MPs on a Conservative-dominated sub-committee get to decide which private members' business will be put to a vote in the House of Commons.

"That kind of muzzling is a blight on democracy," Vellacott said in a written statement, calling the process "arbitrary,"
"capricious" and open to political interference.

Vellacott's surprise attack came shortly after a low-key question period, which elicited little new information and no real fireworks. The most notable development was Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's announcement that he'll bring down the 2014 budget on Feb. 11 -- smack in the middle of the Winter Olympics.

Backbench troubles

Vellacott was one of about 20 Conservative MPs who were infuriated last spring when a private member's motion condemning sex-selective abortion was declared ineligible for a vote by the procedure and House affairs sub-committee.

That decision to block fellow Tory MP Mark Warawa's motion triggered a mini-rebellion against stifling party discipline, which eventually led Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber to quit the Tory caucus.

Fuelled by the revolt, Ontario backbencher Michael Chong last fall proposed a private member's bill aimed at empowering MPs and diluting the power of party leaders. Among other things, his bill would give each party's caucus the power to turf its leader.

Chong's bill is not expected to make it into the legislative line-up until the spring, at the earliest.

Vellacott's missile likely didn't go down well with a government trying to keep the focus on the economy, using the budget as the cornerstone of the winter sitting.