Tag Archives: party-hopping

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

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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

Forcing Voters to Sing a Different Tune

By Jason Menard

Apparently l’affaire Emerson shows that the real game in politics is the ol’ bait and switch – and we still don’t seem to care.

The Conservatives were the ones who worked themselves into an almost apoplectic lather back in the day – you know, when Belinda Stronach crossed the floor. So how will they react now that the shoe is on a much more familiar foot? How will the public react?

More importantly, why do we let our elected representatives get away with this? Why do we have such a low expectation towards honesty?

As a public, we question the integrity of newspapers if they accidentally misquote someone, or misrepresent the person’s intentions in text. Yet, when an elected representative misrepresents him or herself throughout an entire campaign, we sit back, grumble a bit, but don’t really do anything about it.

How do you think David Emerson’s constituents feel? Cheated? Lied to? Played for fools? How do you think they feel now that the voices they lent to him are now forced to sing a different tune.

When we cast a ballot during an election, we are not giving our elected representatives carte blanche to do what they want. We are consciously giving them the right to represent us as constituents based upon the will and desire of the electorate – not personal preferences. Emerson’s actions essentially took all those Liberal votes – many of which were probably cast in opposition to the Conservatives, not just because of a coin flip – and turned them into Conservatives.

This action is no different than either the aforementioned Stronach or former London-Fanshawe Member of Parliament Pat O’Brien. All three assumed the voters of their region voted for them personally, not for the party. And that’s an assumption that’s plain wrong.

In large part, many of the voters of Canada vote by party or by leader. They are not sufficiently aware of the individual nuances of the candidate’s platform or personality. And, while this doesn’t excuse voter disinterest, it does place an added burden on the successful candidate to understand that a significant reason behind their election is the federal party platform and leader.

So what’s the solution? Simple. If they’re not going to do it on their own, we need to force our candidates to be accountable to their electorate. Understanding that philosophies change, life changes, and opinions change, candidates should be allowed to cross to another side, or run as an independent. But – and this is a big but – the voters should have the right to cast their ballot based upon these new factors.

The candidates were voted into Parliament with the voices of the electorate – and they must to ensure that those voices are heard when any change of affiliation is made. The best way to do that? Mandate the calling of a by-election within one month of a candidate’s decision to change party affiliation. That way, if they truly have the will of the people behind them, then their new stance will be granted the added validity of an expressed vote of confidence. And if their actions runs counter to the will and desire of the constituency, then they should be forced to be accountable to their new situation.

We have election campaigns so that voters can inform themselves about the issues and stances of each party. But when a candidate then changes their stance, it invalidates that previous vote because the candidate has run on false pretences.

This isn’t about Right or Left – this is about doing the right thing. This is certainly not a partisan issue and it’s essential that action must be taken to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.

Of course, if we let this slide by again, we deserve the government we get. If you want to make a difference, please sign my on-line petition athttp://www.petitiononline.com/Canvote/petition.html and make your voice heard.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Putting New Words in the Electorate’s Mouth

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?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved