As of this morning, the NDP is down another MP and the country is up another federal political party: Jean-François Larose, elected under the NDP banner in Repentigny, Que., in 2011, turned up at a news conference this morning with Jean-François Fortin, the former Bloc Québécois MP, to announce the creation of Forces et Démocratie. The new outfit seems to take regional and democratic empowerment as its primary motivations. A month ago, Fortin tabled an intriguing proposal to give backbench MPs some new measures of independence.
That makes five MPs who’ve left the NDP since the 2011 election, following Lise St-Denis, Bruce Hyer, Claude Patry and Sana Hassainia. A sixth, Manon Perreault, was suspended from caucus in June pending the resolution of criminal charges. I remain basically unsure of whether this constitutes evidence of serious trouble within the NDP or merely the predictable result (as it pertains to rookie MPs St-Denis, Patry, Hassainia and Larose) of the sudden and unexpected election of several dozen new MPs.
In response to this morning’s news, the NDP is accusing Larose of betraying the memory of former leader Jack Layton. That seems a bit much, though the NDP is right that Larose voted in favour of a motion that would have required MPs to face a by-election before changing party affiliation.
Unofficially, that makes six parties in the House of Commons: the Conservatives (161), NDP (96), Liberals (37), Greens (2), Bloc Québécois (2) and Forces et Démocratie (2). But to be recognized as a party within Parliament—and thus, be entitled to consideration in allotting debate time, committee representation and opposition days—there must be at least 12 MPs under a particular banner.
Then again, Larose’s defection from the NDP makes 12 MPs who are not members of a recognized party: Larose and Fortin, Green MPs Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer, Bloc MPs Louis Plamondon and Claude Patry, former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, former Bloc MPs Maria Mourani and Andre Béllavance, former NDP MP Sana Hassainia, suspended NDP MP Manon Perreault and suspended Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro.
Could those 12 functionally independent MPs get together and form some kind of parliamentary party? I’ve half-jokingly wondered about this on Twitter and it’s at least a fun thought experiment.
In a ruling in 2001—when a 12-member Progressive Conservative caucus tried to get party status for its coalition with a group of former Canadian Alliance MPs—Peter Milliken set out four requirements for party status:
Deliberations in the Chamber and in committee are governed by the standing orders and by House procedure and practice. In these procedural authorities, the terms “party” or “recognized party” refer to a group of members with a number of identifying features: First, there are at least 12 members in the group; second, they appoint a slate of House officers as their official spokespersons; third, they work as a cohesive unit; and fourth, they serve under the same banner.
So, at the very least, the 12 independents would have to pick a leader, a House leader and a whip. Whether they could meet the “cohesive unit” and “same banner” requirements would be more interesting.
But you can file all that alongside a number of issues in a larger discussion about the rights and privileges of independent MPs and candidates. Last month, Elizabeth May raised a question of privilege on the time provided for independent MPs in debate. Last year, the Conservatives moved to limit the ability of independent MPs to propose amendments to bills. And Brent Rathgeber has questioned the limits independent candidates face in raising money.