The Commons: Lise St. Denis’ day

‘I wasn’t an NDP member, I was a member elected to represent all people in my riding’

by Aaron Wherry

“This decision,” she explained at the outset, “has been made serenely.”

And so Lise St. Denis, dressed here in black and white, elected as a New Democrat some eight months ago, slipped from one party to the other. To her left sat Denis Coderre, beaming. To her right, Bob Rae listened intently. Both men had helped her with her chair when she arrived at the table. When she finished, the interim Liberal leader patted her on the back. She and they seemed reasonably happy with this little moment.

However serene the undertaking, however justifiable this business of euphemistically crossing the proverbial floor, it was not so easily explained.

Maybe it was something to do with Quebec. “This change in my political life is above all the continuity of my thought process on Canada’s future,” she said, reading from her prepared statement, “and the place that must be taken in our institutions by Quebecois and francophones from all over the country.”

Maybe it was something to do with the “difficulties linked to the globalisation of national economies.” “The decision that I have made is motivated by the challenges that people in my riding will face,” she explained.

Maybe it was something to do with female empowerment. “The choice that I have made today is that of a woman free to express her opinion,” she added.

Pressed by reporters she identified three issues on which she and the New Democratic Party of Canada parted ways: an extension of the mission in Libya, the funding formula for the Champlain Bridge and the future of the Senate. (On Libya, there was some confusion and eventually it fell to Mr. Rae to explain. Apparently Ms. St. Denis had disagreed with the NDP’s decision to vote against an extension of the mission.) She acknowledged that the NDP’s preference for abolishment of the red chamber was in the party platform, but that individual opinions can evolve. She had apparently had time to sit in the House of Commons and listen to the speeches of MPs of different affiliations. And she had apparently come around to thinking that she belonged with the Liberals. So she had a chat with Mr. Rae in December and so, a few weeks later, here we were.

There was not much in the way of criticism of her former party, except as one might derive implied criticism from her praise for her new party’s experience and approach and manner. This was about “profound beliefs and convictions,” Denis Coderre clarified. “There are no attacks here,” he noted. ”I don’t think anybody can say,” Mr. Rae mused, “that to leave the official opposition for the third party is an act of opportunism.”

Ms. St. Denis was though challenged several times to justify a switch after standing for election as a member of the New Democratic Party, an organization for which she’d worked for the last ten years. “Life here is completely different,” she said of Ottawa. “I didn’t imagine it would be what it was,” she added later. She said she would explain to her constituents that this was about “regional issues.” “I wasn’t an NDP member, I was a member elected to represent all people in my riding in Ottawa,” she posited. But, challenged on the circumstances of her election, she later allowed that the 18,628 people who marked an X beside her name probably hadn’t voted for her. “They voted for Jack Layton, who is now deceased,” she explained.

So there is maybe an interesting discussion here of the sort we usually have around these occasions about democracy and legitimacy and elected responsibility. That discussion, if it occurs, will probably be over by tomorrow morning and mostly forgotten by the weekend.

Otherwise, the Liberals now count 35 and the New Democrats number 101. And for now this seems not much more than a matter of simple math.

“It’s certainly not a day where we’re going to make some sort of exaggerated claim as to what trend does this represent,” Bob Rae allowed, momentarily breaking the fourth wall. “I have no idea.”




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The Commons: Lise St. Denis’ day

  1. “The choice that I have made today is that of a woman free to express her opinion,” she added.

    Her constituents might suggest that she expressed it about 8 months too late and that they may have voted differently if she had been more forthright before running under a banner she abandoned two months later.

    If she is such ‘woman’ of conviction, then insist on a by-election.  Let the voters decide – or is that beneath the right and ability of the people who “voted for Jack Layton”?

  2. I wonder if Libs becoming the octogenarian party is going to help them electorally. We shall see. 

  3. I consider this to be very unethical.  I hope the NDP win the next election and change the rules so that MP’s cannot just switch parties and remain as the MP.  It makes a mockery of our democracy.  How can she sleep at night knowing that she has just ripped off over 18,000 people.  If she had any integrity at all she would resign her seat, wait for the by-election and run for the Liberals.  If she wins fine.  But I suspect she’d be solidly trounced.  The Liberals may think of this as a win but I think the NDP’s popularity just spiked a bit.

  4. I don’t think anybody can say,” Mr. Rae mused, “that to leave the official opposition for the third party is an act of opportunism.”

    I think Rae had the best line, one that’s pretty hard to refute really. Still, it’s a pity these things happen, maybe we should have a law against it, maybe not. I was certainly pissed when Emerson betrayed his Vancouver riding.

    • Except that in a majority government the opposition and any given 3rd party have roughly equal power (ie. none). 

      • I can’t agree with that, particularly in the circumstances ; it’s not the LPC that’s auditioning for govt in waiting right now.

  5. tin foil hat mode ON:

    This is Chretien’s old riding.  In L. Martin’s book on Chretien, he described how Chretien got a friend to run as a “fake” conservative candidate to split the vote and allow Chretien to win his first election as MP.
    The Liberals in the that riding are up to the same old tricks.  Run a fake NDP’er.  But the fake won, so they got their fake candidate to switch back to embarrass the NDP.

    • But… 
      A. There was only one Tory on the ballot in Saint-Maurice-Lefleche (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Maurice%E2%80%94Lafl%C3%A8che )
      B. Social Credit, not the Tories, were the main electoral threat to Chretien there.
      C. The Tory running in 1963 appears to have been the husband of the Tory that ran in 1962. 

      • http://books.google.ca/books/about/Chrétien_The_will_to_win.html?id=DhAVAAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y

        “Lawrence Martin’s account is far and away the best explanationof the personality of Chrétien that has appeared. It covers its subjectuntil 1990, on the eve of Chrétien’s accession to the partyleadership. The book has several strengths. For the first time it looksclosely at Chrétien’s growing up in Shawinigan, Quebec, vividlydescribing the working-class and partisan Liberal environment thatmoulded him. Straight from the Heart devoted only 25 pages to the 29years of Chrétien’s life before he entered Parliament. Martinprovides 137, and they make for fascinating reading. The book alsobenefits from the more than 250 interviews with Chrétien’s friends,family, and associates; family members were apparently especiallyforthcoming in their recollections of Jean as a man and as a politician. The picture of Chrétien that emerges is one that shows warts and all.Although Chrétien is respected for his personal integrity, that quality was absent when he persuaded a friend to run against him as a“counterfeit candidate” in St. Maurice in 1972.”

        • Chretien is “respected for his personal integrity”??  By whom?

  6. “ This was about “profound beliefs and convictions,” Denis Coderre clarified.”

    Yes, and we all know the Liberal Party is the place to go for that sort of thing.

  7. Oh boy! They are either too young or too old the NDP MP”s and also what a bad timing. The LPC are so bad at that, terrible strategists, it should be better after the Convention.

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