Notes on a floor-crossing -

Notes on a floor-crossing

Considering the case of Claude Patry


Thomas Mulcair’s principal secretary sends his regards to Claude Patry. The Star’s editorial board likewise suggests Mr. Patry should resign and face a by-election. Chantal Hebert offers some background on the backbencher and some consideration of the future. And Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro offers his analysis.

News that another NDP MP has abandonned them, this time to go to the BLOC demonstrates how undemocratic the NDP really is. Because their members are always foced to follow the party line when voting in parliament the only choice that members have when they disagree is to leave.

It is true that New Democrats have tended to vote alike in this current Parliament, while several Conservatives have voted the party line a mere 98% or 99% of the time, but it’s not clear that Mr. Patry’s situation was a matter of party discipline run amok. He seems to have had a fairly fundamental difference of opinion over fundamental party policy—in this case sovereignty for Quebec and how that might be achieved. Maybe he could have remained both a resolute sovereigntist and a member of the NDP, presuming that the party hadn’t tabled its Unity Bill or taken the position on Churchill Falls that it did, but Mr. Del Mastro probably wouldn’t have approved of that either.

Usually three instances of something is sufficient grounds to declare a trend, but it’s not clear to me that there is a common denominator between Lise St. Denis, Bruce Hyer and Mr. Patry. Ms. St. Denis got to Ottawa and decided she wanted to be a Liberal. Mr. Hyer decided to become an independent because he didn’t like Mr. Mulcair’s style of leadership and position on the long-gun registry. (Conversely, John Rafferty, the other long-gun registry dissident in the NDP, opted to stay with the New Democrats.) Mr. Patry decided that the NDP’s views on Quebec didn’t match his own.

If two more Quebec New Democrats bolt for the Bloc, there will be an obvious and particular trend. But for now we have three MPs of varying backgrounds who’ve gone in three different directions (even if they all were running away from the same place). If we’re searching for a narrative here, I’ll submit this: after a dramatic and unexpected increase in the size of their caucus and a sudden change in leadership, there was bound to be some shaking out within the NDP. In the process of everyone figuring out where they fit and who does what, a few have apparently decided they would be better off elsewhere. If they remain a few, there’s maybe not much of a problem. If this keeps happening and the sample of three turns into a sample of four or five or more, it will become easier to identify a more obviously negative trend.

As for whether Mr. Patry should step down and face a by-election, his vote a year ago in this regard should make it difficult for him to argue otherwise. There are a lot of questions to be asked about this idea, but as a general principle it has some merit.


Notes on a floor-crossing

  1. The Toronto Star telling Quebec MP’s what to do is sure to go over well in Quebec! -).

    With friends like the Toronto Star…does Mulcair need enemies?

  2. I’ve been saying this ever since l’affair David Emerson (2006, Vancouver Kingsway): MP’s that cross the floor to another party should resign and run in a by-election.

    Candidates run to be MP’s based largely on party platforms these days, particularly those who don’t already have a name made for themselves. In renouncing one party for another the MP is saying I’m no longer going to support the principles and objectives of the party they were elected with.

    In Emerson’s case he’d run as a particularly partisan candidate who vowed to be Stephen Harper’s worst enemy in parliament and in Paul Martin’s Liberal government had been a sitting cabinet minister.

    Whatever reason brought Patry to the House of Commons, it is clear that he arrived riding in part on the NDP’s coattails. Sure, he’s no David Emerson and the situation in Quebec during the last election was pretty unique, but the bottom line remains: his constituents did not vote him in as a supporting member of le Bloc.

    Patry should not devalue the meaning of his constituents votes, rather he should honour the citizens in his riding by seeking a new mandate to represent them.

    • Just as importantly, prior to that election (and following Stronach’s crossing), Harper was adamant that MPs should step down and seek re-election if they want to cross the floor. Until it was to his advantage.

      For me, that was the point when I realized just what Harper stands for – pure opportunism. He has done nothing since to disprove that impression.

      • In fairness to Harper, it’s my recollection that he’s always taken the opposite view, that floor-crossing is a member’s prerogative even though it may strike political opponents as illegitimate.

        I would not fall over in shock if he was quoted saying otherwise, but I think he has been fairly consistent in this view, at least in my memory.

        • if I recall correctly the “hill” they chose to stand on (HA!) was the idea that it was wrong because of offering enticements, and then pretty clearly offered Emerson a cabinet post to become an MP. So, again IIRC, you are probably closer to the truth, the CPC didn’t attack floor crossing as a whole but chose a detail to “harp” on (HA! again!), then changed their tune a few months later.

    • I actually disagree.. because I think floor crossings are one of the few times when the public is reminded that “No, you elected a person, an MP, not just a party cipher.. and if you thought otherwise, you were wrong.”

      Personally, I wish it would happen more so that constituents would start evaluating the MPs first and foremost, and the party second.

  3. Mulcair tried to appeal to Quebec voters, and has lost two seats. Mulroney tried to appeal to Quebec voters and lost all but two seats.

  4. I hope the flirtation Canadians had with the NDP in 2011 was just a one-time thing because of Jack Layton. Voting NDP in 2011 has ended up giving us Mulcair and a pro-separatist NDP caucus. It also split the vote and elected a Conservative Majority.

    • I sure hope voting Liberal has ended. It split the vote and elected a Conservative majority.

      • I hope we Cooperate for Canada!

        • Liberals leave Quebec alone! NDP stay out of the 905!

  5. The role of an MP is to represent his constituents. All his constituents – not only those who voted for him, but also those who voted for another candidate or those who did not vote. How does floor-crossing alter the ability of an MP to represent alll his constitutuents?
    If we were to forbid floor crossing, we would change the role of the MP. He would be there only to serve the interests of those who voted for him, and those who financed him.

    • Very true. Not to mention if floor-crossers were forced to call a by-election, there would be a severe disincentive to cross the floor, even when it was clearly the right thing to do. Especially since the floor crosser has likely lost a significant portion of his volunteers, organizers, and financial support by bailing on the party who’s banner they’d run under.

      The last thing we need to do is create an environment where it’s harder for MPs to do what they believe is right for their constituents.

  6. It’s unfortunate the Harper Conservatives continue to beat the drum of hatred ,exclusion, and anger in relation to the Quebec nationalists in the NDP caucus.

    I wish this party could find the level of statesmanship and restraint which all federalist parties were able to summon even back to Creditiste Real Caouette.

    Heck, going back to MacDonald Cartier.

    Lucien Bouchard, then Gilles Duceppe and all the other Bloc members were always treated with an attitude that said, “you are welcome here, you have every right to be here and treated with respect, perhaps someday we can win you over to the this wonderful country we call Canada.”

    Peter Van Loan, Pierre Poilievre Stephen Harper, truly the “small men of Confederation” can’t summon anything but partisan vitriol. In order to weaken the opposition they obviously want to drive any fence sitters right back into the arms of the BQ and PQ. They want them to say, “This Canada of yours, we sure don’t belong here, it’s not for us.”

  7. While there have been some floor crossings that have come across as widely opportunistic, I remain against legislation that would effectively ban floor crossings. A few reasons why:

    First, banning floor crossing further centralizes power in the office of the party leader. To
    further weaken the power of the individual MP by taking away their ability to leave caucus if disagreements become too pronounced would hurt, not help, the functioning of Parliament.

    Second, the NDP argument, in my view, has some flaws. Yes, an MP is elected as a representative of a party, and it’s fair to say that party brand is critical. That being said, if party brand is that important than the same logic should follow that a party should not be able to kick MPs out of caucus.

    Thirdly, the notion that a floor crossing MP should simply resign and seek a new mandate ignores one important fact. It’s not up to an MP, or an Opposition party, when a by-election will be held. That discretion lies solely with the Prime Minister. If an MP were to resign today, the Prime Minister would not have to call a by-election until September, which would leave a riding without an MP until the fall session.

    The NDP position on the matter would lead to further restrictions on the power of the individual MP. This would come without offering a similar restriction over a leader’s power over said MP. I understand when people get upset with floor crossings, but the “cure” is worse than the disease itself.

  8. “Because their members are always foced [sic] to follow the party line
    when voting in parliament the only choice that members have when they
    disagree is to leave.”

    Pot, meet kettle.