By Jason Menard
We’ve been burned before, but somehow this transgression burns a little hotter and seems even more egregious than those in the past. With Independent, né Conservative, now Liberal MP Garth Turner jumping ship, any semblance of credibility and responsibility is lost amongst this nation of party hoppers.
Why is this particular floor crossing so bad? Because Turner was one of the most outspoken of all when it came to condemning party hoppers. Of course, in retrospect, this change of heart should come as no surprise – after all, even the staunchest critics learn to walk in step once the shoe is firmly on the other foot.
Over the years, I’ve been a firm advocate of the idea that elected representatives should have to run in a by-election in their riding once they’ve changed parties. After all, party affiliation is a significant factor in the decision-making process for a number of voters. And many average voters appear to agree with me – a fact I discovered when I decided to stop watching and start taking action.
An on-line petition that I started when Liberal MP David Emerson succumbed to the lure of a Conservative Cabinet petition drew roughly 1,000 signatures from across this country, and a significant amount of media attention. In most of my conversations, people felt that they had been deceived. In addition, this was the second such petition I championed. The first one I penned when my MP, Pat O’Brien, decided to leave the Liberal Party for independent status.
In both cases, I was against the idea of a voter’s voice being made to sing a different song than what first was intended. But while voter indignation remains, MP support seems to be blown aside whenever the winds of opportunity comes. During my attempt to make Mr. O’Brien do the right thing through letters and a petition, one of my staunchest supporters was Conservative MP Joe Preston.
This was the same Joe Preston who co-sponsored a private member’s bill by Helena Guergis which would have attempted to curtail activities like – at the time – Belinda Stronach’s defection. But oh what a difference a year makes. I e-mailed, repeatedly, Mr. Preston when the Prime Minister raided David Emerson. And guess what kind of response I got.
And now we come to Mr. Turner – a man who has staked his political reputation on integrity. A man who was expelled from the Conservative Party due to his unwillingness to toe the party line has now danced all over the concept of integrity.
How do you think the Conservatives in Mr. Turner’s riding — who probably weren’t too pleased with his independent status – feel about their votes being cast for someone wearing Liberal red? Is that their best representation?
The simple solution is to have a by-election. Allow the representatives in the riding to voice their opinion. If they feel that Turner is their best representative, then affording the constituents the opportunity to express their true feelings would validate his position. And if they choose to vote in another manner, then at least the riding will have the representation it chooses.
This shouldn’t be a matter of legislation. There shouldn’t be a law enacted to demand that any candidate who changes party must call a by-election. That’s why I choose not to start another petition – it’s time for politicians to choose to do the right thing instead of being forced to do so through legislation. It should be a matter of integrity and honesty.
Unfortunately, that’s something that seems to be in short supply. And actions like this – party hopping for opportunistic reasons, whether it’s for personal gain or to increase one’s status in parliament – simply undermines the integrity of all the MPs in Parliament. In addition, for a voting public that already has shown remarkable apathy towards the electoral process, actions like this that completely undermine the act of voting only serve to further disenfranchise the average citizen.
Simply put, if someone’s willing to jump parties for their principles, then they should also be willing to stand behind them. And when it comes to this issue, the only way to stand is to run – by calling a by-election and allowing the voters to have their say.
O’Brien, Stronach, Emerson, and now Turner. Who’s next? How many times must the parliament floor be crossed before one’s vote is rendered meaningless. When a Liberal vote can turn Conservative blue – and vice versa – on a candidate’s whim, what’s the point of casting a ballot?
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