By Jason Menard
Pat O’Brien’s decision to jump ship from the Liberal Party hasn’t silenced the voices of his constituency – his actions have his electorate singing a different tune, and some of his electorate may be choking on the words.
When does one’s obligations to their constituents outweigh the need to satisfy one’s personal beliefs? The line is often blurred when we look at the actions of our politicians. Elected on a specific mandate – usually determined, in large part, by their Party affiliation — our elected representatives convene on Parliament Hill to debate our nation’s future.
However, at times the ideals of an elected official outweigh their mandate to represent their electorate. Or the beliefs of the Party run counter to the representative’s personal opinions. It is with that conflict, based upon his disagreement with the Liberal Party leadership over the issue of gay marriage that London Fanshawe MP Pat O’Brien has chosen to leave the Liberal Party of Canada and sit as an independent.
While I disagree with O’Brien’s politics, I commend him for standing up for his beliefs. However he did not do enough. To be fair to the constituents who elected him as a representative of the Liberal government he must not simply continue his term as an independent, but rather resign his seat and request a by-election.
Our electoral system, however flawed we may feel it is at times, is based in large part on Party representation. An unfortunate number of the electorate couldn’t tell you who their Member of Parliament is, but are well aware of the differences between the various political parties. They vote red, blue, orange, or green – not for individual candidates.
As such, federal representatives like O’Brien and, on the flip side, Belinda Stronach, have deceived a large number of people who cast their ballots based on the belief that party-hopping was not on the agenda. Instead of working to affect change from within, these politicians – and others like them in the past – have flipped sides for their own advantage, not for the benefit of their constituents.
Both O’Brien and Stronach have not just ignored the voices of those who have voted for them in the past – they have bastardized their message and converted it to a cause that may be anathema to their voters’ personal beliefs. A Conservative supporter who voted for Stronach, no matter how centre-left she appeared to be, has every expectation that their vote for the Conservative candidate will be just that – and it won’t eventually evolve into support for the opposition!
The voice of the electorate has not just been muted – it’s been completely changed and words have been force-fed into the mouths of the voters. To make sure the right message is heard, it is imperative that the electorate in these particular ridings are allowed to opportunity to participate in a by-election.
That way, those who voted for Mr. O’Brien – the man, would be able to do so again, either as an independent candidate or, more likely, under the guise as the Conservative candidate he’s always appeared to be and seems destined to become. And those who voted for Mr. O’Brien – the Liberal, need to have the right to continue to support their party with their votes, as they believed they had during the last election.
Both Belinda Stronach and Mr. O’Brien need to do the right thing and step down. If they truly represent the will of the people, they will be duly elected by their constituency and can then – in good conscience – govern with the mandate of the people.
Both of these candidates made their respective jumps because they felt the need to stand up for what they believe in. But we did not vote these people in to act as freelance contractors, jumping from side to side depending on which way the political breeze is blowing. O’Brien and Stronach have forgotten that they are elected representatives – and that they represent voters who made their choices based upon now-flawed logic and expectations.
If these candidates are truly so high-minded in their belief of doing the right thing, then surely being fair to their constituents should not be too much to ask?
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