B.C. Tory MP backs off budget bill criticism

Conservative MP David Wilks said Wednesday he does want his party's controversial budget bill passed, confirming his support for bill C-38 in the face of a media report suggesting he'd be willing to vote against it.

Lack of debate in caucus concerns some backbenchers, Conservative tells constituents

Conservative MP David Wilks shakes hands with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Wilks issued a statement Wednesday aimed at clarifying his support for the budget bill, which was thrown into doubt following a media report. (Prime Minister's Office)

Conservative MP David Wilks said Wednesday he does want his party's controversial budget bill passed, confirming his support for it in the face of a media report suggesting he'd be willing to vote against it.

Wilks, the British Columbia MP for Kootenay–Columbia, posted a statement on his website that he said was intended to clarify his position on bill C-38.

"I support this bill, and the jobs and growth measures that it will bring for Canadians in Kootenay-Columbia and right across the country," the statement says. It defends the budget and says it will ensure that natural resources are developed in a "responsible way that creates well-paying jobs while protecting our environment."

"I look forward to supporting the bill and seeing it passed," Wilks says.

But the statement doesn't explain what he meant when he told constituents at a meeting that was filmed and posted online that if they want to see the budget bill defeated they need to put pressure on a dozen more MPs besides him.

The statement also doesn't deny a media report based on the same meeting that quoted Wilks saying, "I will stand up and say the Harper government should get rid of Bill C-38."

The constituents he met with in Revelstoke this week told Wilks, a new MP who was elected last May, they are concerned about the sweeping changes to numerous policy areas contained in one single bill and that bill C-38 isn't getting the proper scrutiny in Parliament.

'Barrage' of Tory MPs concerned about budget bill

"I think you'll find a barrage of Conservatives that do hold your concerns, and I am one of them," Wilks said in the video, adding that he believes some parts of the bill could be separated out from C-38. 

The NDP tried and failed to convince the government to break the bill down into smaller parts. It has now passed second reading and is in the hands of multiple Senate committees and the Commons finance committee. A subcommittee has been established to study the changes to the environmental assessment regime.

Wilks explains to the group that when a vote is whipped, it means MPs have to follow their party line, and that is the case on the budget bill. One woman asks at what point does he decide to break party loyalty and instead represent his constituents, and Wilks responds, "If you want me as an independent member, I'll do that."

He tells the group that there is no behind-the-scenes debate in the Conservative caucus and he is asked if that worries him.

"Certainly it concerns some of us backbenchers. The decisions are made predominately by cabinet and then they come back to us, informing us how this is going to move forward," he said.

"At the end of the day, in my opinion, they've made up their mind, and this is how it's going to move forward and one person is not going to make a difference, one MP is not going to make a difference."

Some members of the group tell Wilks it will make a difference if he takes the symbolic move of voting against the government on the budget bill. He replies by saying they would need to find 13 MPs to join the Liberals and NDP in their opposition to the budget bill in order to defeat it.

"You collectively as people across Canada, have to find 13, not just me. Me doesn't mean anything, me doesn't change the budget ... if I stand up and say no, it still passes," he said.

Wilks is told he is being filmed and is asked by the person behind the camera if his message can be broadcast online. The MP responds, "If Canadians want it changed, then enough Canadians have to stand to their MPs and say no."

Calls and emails to Wilks' office were not returned.

CBC News spoke to one of the concerned constituents who attended the meeting. Chris Selvig said some parts of the video are taken out of context and that his understanding is that Wilks generally supports the bill but has some concerns about some parts of it.

"I think he was just speaking his mind and I think he should be able to speak his mind candidly and unfortunately the video got out," said Selvig.