Tag Archives: Garth Turner

Go Ahead and Cross the Floor MPs. Just Ask First

By Jason Menard

What’s that old adage? Two wrongs don’t make a right? As good-intentioned as the Cross the Floor petition may be, encouraging elected representatives to bastardize the voices given to them by the Canadian electorate can’t be condoned.

I don’t think it will come as a shock to anyone familiar with my writing that I’m not exactly a Conservative supporter. I’ve long considered myself socially and culturally liberal, but fiscally conservative. Continue reading

Flip, Flop – If Only we Could Make ‘em Fly

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?

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Missed Opportunity for Political Reform

By Jason Menard

That’s it?

All this cloak-and-dagger intrigue? Everything he said about revelations from the back rooms that were going to be brought forth? All he had to say about how so many would not be happy with him on Parliament Hill?

And that’s it?

Former Conservative MP Garth Turner played the media like a rented fiddle and came out with the whopping announcement that he was tearing up his Conservative Party card and sitting as an independent!

OK. So he’s essentially said, you can’t fire me because I quit to Stephen Harper. And then he rattled on about sitting as an independent, how much more he’s been able to do as an independent, and a bunch of other statements, all of which were pleasant and all, but certainly nothing substantive.

The mysterious letters? Nothing more than the inner machinations of a jilted party deciding to turf one of their rowdier members. Sure, the fact that this means that they’re ignoring the will of a significant number of voters in Turner’s riding is noteworthy, but it’s not the first time it’s been done, now, has it?

No, in the end Turner missed out on a grand opportunity. He had a chance, and the forum, to call for real, substantive changes. He had a chance to rally a disenfranchised voting public around him and call for true reform to the Canadian political system. He had a chance to start the ball rolling for a future where MPs actually represent the best interests of their constituents.

And he dropped the ball.

He watered down his remarks, insisting that this was a cross-party issue. He stopped far short of calling out his own party, preferring to lob gentle accusations, the nature of which the public has known for months now.

On the bright side, Turner did announce the launching of a new Web site,www.promiseskept.ca, which at the time of this writing featured an image that looked like it was ripped from an inspirational poster – you know, the ones that say Determination or Focus – along with teaser text hearkening a new dawn for a public voice and political accountability in Canada.

But to what end? What should have been done? And if Turner’s serious about returning representation to the role of Member of Parliament, how should that be mandated?

The solutions aren’t simple and require a dramatic change in the way we look at politics in this country. Party politics are counter-productive and only serve to get parties elected. The system doesn’t actually work for representing the needs of individual groups or regions. You can vote in an MP, but if the will and intent of the riding contravenes that of the Party of which your elected representative is a member then Party trumps voters.

In fact, there’s even a role in politics that encourages this type of counterintuitive representation – the Whip. That’s the little weasel (or muscle, but I prefer to be derogatory when discussing this scourge on the political scene) who keeps the party members “in line.” It is the Whip’s role to let the party peons know what the big boys and girls – oh, sorry… I should have stuck to boys in this Old Boys’ Club… It’s up to the Whip to keep all the party members abreast of the voting preferences of the party leadership and ensure that all the members abide by that directive. And the directive of the voters, who may not agree? Not important to the Whip.

So what’s the solution? Abolishing party politics isn’t the answer. First off, the financial incentives for keeping this style around are too great, and secondly there are times when there is an advantage of having a group of similarly inclined politicians working together on common causes. So the key is to give MPs more freedom – the freedom to vote according to the will of the majority of their constituents.

Please note that I did not say they can vote on their personal beliefs, but rather any decision must be a fair representation of the constituency that the candidate represents. A plebiscite or poll on every question would be far too cumbersome, but there has to be a way for MPs to gauge the will of the people they’re supposed to represent.

The problem with this is that our system still encourages – in fact, is based upon – the notion that plurality of voters are all that’s needed to earn representation. No majority rule here, just more than the other guys. And that results, frequently, in a situation where the constituency is represented by someone for whom a majority of the constituents did not vote. How is that representative? And in that case how can any MP go to Ottawa thinking they represent the will of a constituency?

Is it not time to look at a form of proportional representation, wherein multiple representatives are sent from a region, reflective of how many votes were earned. At its simplest, a region could be large enough for 10 representatives, but instead of a winner-takes-all approach, seats would be allocated by votes. If Party A gets 60 per cent of the votes, they send six representatives. Party B earned 30 per cent and Party C got 10 per cent? Then you end up with 10 seats allocated as follows: six As, three Bs, and one C.

Every vote then truly counts. And every voice is represented. Logistically, it would take a lot of time – including re-drawing electoral maps so that our Parliament isn’t suddenly inundated with 10 times as many MPs. But it could be done.

As Turner said today, the current system – specifically party politics — doesn’t work. But what he didn’t do was go far enough. It’s time for a change in the way we’re represented in this country. And we need to ensure that every vote counts.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Turner Fiasco Shows Tories Fuzzy on Accountability

By Jason Menard

Good for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Nothing says openness and accountability in government better than censure!

Garth Turner, the Member of Parliament representing Halton, Ontario has been suspended from the Conservative caucus. The reason? Being too uppity and not toeing the party line. Funny, I thought the Tories ran their last campaign on bringing accountability back to politics. I guess that accountability doesn’t extend to an MP’s responsibility to their constituents.

His transgressions? Turner voiced displeasure with his party’s apparent about-face on party hopping when it because convenient for them in the form of David Emerson, seemingly swallowing the outrage that overwhelmed them when Belinda Stronach’s defection compelled Conservative MPs Helena Guergis and Joe Preston to bring forth legislation to prevent this sort of then-nefarious activity.

Turner also voiced opposition to the party’s fiscal and environmental policies. And, perish the thought, Turner regularly kept his constituents abreast of the inner workings of the political scene via his blog.

What it all boils down to is that Turner has been suspended for one simple reason – representing the will and interest of his constituents, and not making party politics a priority even if it swims against the tide of his electorate.

I suppose Mr. Harper can be excused for thinking that the voters of the Halton region were choosing a party, not a representative. But what we do through the very act of casting our ballot – whether municipally, provincially, or federally – is voting for someone who can go and represent our interests. Not the interest of the party necessarily, although those will sometime march in time, but more importantly the interests of the region.

So by suspending Turner for using the voice that his constituency gave him, he’s essentially silenced an entire group of voters. More despicably, he’s shown that he doesn’t value their opinions.

A representative is supposed to represent. Not just the few who drink the party Kool-Aid, but the entire constituency – even those who didn’t vote for him or her. They are commissioned, through the electoral process, to work diligently to ensure that our voices are heard loud and clear, and that everything is done to ensure that the needs and desires of our communities are heard on the national stage.

Of course, by forcing Turner to exit Stage Left, the residents of Halton no longer even have a voice in the chorus – they’re forced to watch this production from afar.

How exactly is that accountability? How is that more responsible government? In essence, we need more Garth Turners in Ottawa – and at all levels of government! We need more people who are willing to speak out for the interests of those who voted them into power, even if it means at times not toeing the party line.

And by suspending him from the Conservative caucus, Harper effectively has told Conservative voters in the region that they were wrong during the last election. These are people who voted for Turner, partly because of his Conservative affiliation – and now their voices, which they lend to Turner, will be forced to sing a different tune, whether that’s Green or Liberal, it’s not the same song that they originally requested to hear. And there better not be a peep out of one single Conservative if Turner jumps to another party – they’ve lost that right with Mr. Emerson. Of course, Turner himself may demand a by-election so that the constituents in Halton have an opportunity to have their true voices heard – not one that’s been distorted by the political machine.

Turner was duly elected as a representative first and foremost. Ideally, constituents are voting for the person they feel best represents them, regardless of party affiliation. Usually, a particular party will attract a particular candidate who appeals to the morals, values, and intents of those predisposed to vote a certain way. However, there are no absolutes. No matter what political party you support, chances are you’re hard-pressed to find any one candidate or party that perfectly embodies all your beliefs. There’s give and take.

Unfortunately, by getting the gift of accountability and responsible representation from the candidate for whom they’ve voted, the people of Halton have had their voice in Parliament taken away from them. For a party that preaches accountability, how do you account for that?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved