Monday, August 15, 2005

The Belinda Bill

There’s an interesting article in the Hill Times on a pair of private members bills we can expect to see this fall which would ban MPs from crossing the floor. While it’s abundantly clear that a private members bill this contentious would never come close to becoming law, it will no doubt get a bit of publicity.

While I’ve been fairly critical of certain floor crossers in the past (let’s just call them JL and BS), I do think a bill like this is a bad idea. I can understand the reasoning behind it: Voters generally vote for a party, rather than a candidate. I tend to think Art Hanger would have a tough time carrying Calgary Northeast as a Liberal, just as I suspect several Toronto area Liberal MPs are likely getting elected due to their party name rather than their intelligence and charisma.

But voters base their votes on a lot more just the party too. Say I was really won over by Paul Martin’s stirring rhetoric and promises from the last election. Now, let’s hypothetically go to an alternate world where his time in government since the last election has been less than thrilling. Would that justify a by-election?

More importantly, what if a party changed leaders? Perhaps someone voted for Stephen Harper and would no longer support their local Conservative MP in a party led by Bernard Lord. I think MPs would be justified in leaving their party if they don’t approve of a new leader, just as John Bryden did in 2004. I also think MPs are within their right of quitting their party if they don’t approve of dramatic changes to their party’s platform or their stance on new issues which weren’t even on the table in the last election. While I really don’t think very highly of Pat O’Brien, he was perfectly within his right to quit the Liberals over gay marriage and then indignantly vote against them in every vote until the next election.

A lot of people will concede that point and argue that MPs in those situations should just sit as independents. And, in reality, that’s what most of them do. But is that really any different than switching parties? If Newmarket- Aurora residents voted for a Conservative last election and their MP quits the Conservative Party, she’s not a Conservative regardless of whether or not she’s an independent, a Liberal, or a Bloc Quebecois MP.

The intent may be to prevent the big “pay-off” of a Cabinet post for crossing the floor but anyone who thinks they can write legislate to remove political favours from politics is seriously deluded. Scott Brison waited 6 months for his Cabinet spot and Belinda waited 6 minutes – is there really a huge difference?

So while I can understand the intent of this legislation, I’d much rather keep things the way they are and put a little faith in the Canadian electorate (boy, there’s a bad idea) that they’ll punish ill-intentioned floor crossings come election time.


  • Calgary Grit, I think you're right on the money.

    The current system has it's flaws but I think the Canadian people will get their say at the ballot box sooner or later.

    I don't want to see a proliferation of needless by-elections - at the taxpayer's expense, of course.

    Interestingly, up until R.B. Bennett, when someone was appointed to Cabinet, they had to resign their seat and run in a subsequent by-election.

    Bennett changed this because he was so unpopular, he couldn't get a Cabinet Minister re-elected so no one wanted a Cabinet post.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:14 p.m.  

  • "BJ" really *should* have a right to cross the floor, but quite honestly, who does that.. Shes nothing but a whore, she jumped into a riding which was almost entirely concervative, then when she realizes theres more of a career for her as a liberal, she jumps ship. But, Honestly, who cares, the Canadian system is junk. Yeah, yeah, i know, i'm goona get alot of people angry at me, but its true, just think about it. Also, whats up with PEI having more MPs than BC. I know they were promised a certain number when they joined confederation, but you can atleast give BC its due.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:28 p.m.  

  • Also, the people *wont* get their say in the ballot box because all the partys are essentially the same. All of the American founding fathers agreed that political partys were a bad idea anyway... If it were up to me, we'd wipe "Canada" off the map and restart. Id rather live in "adanaC" anyway.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:31 p.m.  

  • I think that the possibility of crossing the floor adds dynamism to the political process. Its true most people vote for a party but that shows that all that is important is that you are a partisan. I think we should elect people so that coalitions are formed and the true thoughts of the member are known, not just we have to buy this selection of policies or that selection. Party politics is the problem in this country right now. I'd like to see many more independents in parliament

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:09 p.m.  

  • As much as I dislike MP's "crossing the floor" in the foirst place, this has to be one of the dumbest bills ever (Next to the "River Day" Bill, I must add).

    So, if an MP sits as an Independent for a year (or a week), and then crosses, would the law apply then?

    What about parties that merge or disolve?

    By Blogger daveberta, at 6:14 p.m.  

  • Also the situtaion where a party merges with another. The Reform morphed mid term into the Alliance then CPC. Same with the PC's that merged with the Alliance.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:07 a.m.  

  • How about more of a compromise position like this one? An MP who switches sides or becomes an independent has to have a by-election in three months as long as three requirements are met:

    1) The former party and former leader agree to it.
    2) A valid petition with enough signatures from the constituents is obtained.
    3) The by-election will not be within 2 months of an federal election.

    Just something to throw out there.

    By Blogger C. Banana, at 2:35 a.m.  

  • [Stronach]... jumped into a riding which was almost entirely conservative

    Uh, no. No, no, no. She ran in the riding of Newmarket-Aurora in Ontario.

    21805 - Conservatives
    21103 - Liberals
    5100 - NDP
    2284 - Green
    1085 - Progressive Conservatives

    Stronach won by 1.3%, and that was after all the publicity from the Conservative Leadership. The riding is new, but all the old ridings had gone Liberal in 2000. She gave the Conservatives Newmarket-Aurora as a star candidate and then she took it away. She didn't take more than she had given.

    By Blogger LeoPetr, at 1:48 p.m.  

  • We don't need by-elections for floor crossers - these people will be judged by their constituents at election time.

    By Blogger John Murney, at 4:01 p.m.  

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