In Support of a Floor Crossing Bill
David Emerson is in the news again, with his claim that he could win a by-election. With this one day story into week 4, I'd just like to voice my support for a law to force MPs to run in by-elections if they cross the floor.
I don't have a problem with an MP quitting their party over a decision of conscience. We've seen this with the likes of David Kilgour and Pat O'Brien who quit the Liberals to sit as independents (this marks the first, and only time, I will ever use Kilgour and/or Pat O'Brien as examples of honourable politicians). Parties change and the individual MP has a right to quit if he or she doesn't like the direction of the party.
However, when an MP joins another party in the manner that David Emerson or Belinda Stronach did, it really comes down to fraud. Fraud against the party and volunteers who helped elect them - but more importantly, against the voters of the riding. Voters have a right to get what they voted for and when 82% of the riding didn't want a Conservative, you can't have David Emerson decide that it's "better for his riding" to get a Cabinet Minister. Yes, politicians don't always deliver on their promises, but everyone expects politicians to lie. Just like when you buy fruit you're risking that it might not taste great, there's a buyer's risk involved in politicians breaking their promises. And we did see Sheila Copps run in a by-election for a major break of a direct promise.
But there isn't an expectation that a politician will switch parties. Because this goes above and beyond the usual broken promises and failed expectations, it's necessary for the constituents to validate the MP's decision in a by-election. Otherwise, you've violated the entire principle of representative democracy. In our system, voters vote for the party well above the individual MP. So if the MP switches parties, there needs to be some sort of accountability involved and some sort of approval by the voters of their MPs new affiliation.
Otherwise, we'll just see cynical voters feel that votes are being traded for Cabinet positions. Regardless of whether or not Emerson feels he could win a by-election, he should voluntarily run in one. Hopefully we'll see some legislation over the next few years making such a move mandatory.