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The House: The meaning of Lise St-Denis


 

Once more to our periodic series on the House of Commons.

Lise St-Denis’ constituents are anecdotally displeased.

“It is completely ridiculous,” said Pierre Huot, director of the student association at Collège Shawinigan. “If she wants to join the Liberals, she should run in a by-election.”

Mr. Huot apparently voted for the Bloc Quebecois last time around.

The Liberal result in Saint-Maurice-Champlain was rather dismal in May—Yves Tousignant finished fourth with just 11.9% of the vote. Not since 2004 has the Liberal candidate in the riding finished better than third.

All of which, once again, raises all those questions about who and what one votes for when one marks one’s ballot. A lot of the same questions that were raised, for different reasons, by the election of Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

The case of Ms. Brosseau was obviously more straightforward. Her name was on the ballot, a sufficient number of citizens cast a vote for her and thus she was entitled to take a seat in the House of Commons. Ms. St-Denis can’t—by her own admission—claim much more credit for her election than Ms. Brosseau can claim for hers, but now she has gone and actually dumped the party affiliation that is mostly responsible for the 18,628 votes she received in May.

In timing (relatively soon after an election) and circumstance (she concedes the public didn’t vote for her) and for the lack of an unexpected crisis that motivated her to change, hers is thus something like a worst case scenario. The people of Saint-Maurice-Champlain voted for a New Democrat and, eight months later, they got a Liberal. It will likely be more than three years before they can hope to really do anything about that.

So what to do about this? She could, if such a requirement was legislated, be compelled to sit as an independent and then made to face a by-election. Only with the blessing of constituents would she then be allowed to sit with her new party. In theory, I think this might make a lot of sense.

But what about other situations in which an MP becomes estranged from the party they represented at the last election? What if an MP is expelled from caucus? What if that MP was expelled from caucus because he or she refused to retreat from or contradict a promise made in the party’s election platform? What if an MP is expelled because he or she decides to side with the majority view of constituents instead of party discipline? What if an MP simply decides that he or she no longer wishes to belong to the party for which they were elected and, as a result, resigns from the caucus?

Conceivably, the MP in these cases could choose to sit as an independent MP. And you could argue that that is different from actually switching allegiance from one party to another. But if a plurality of voters in a riding choose a Conservative MP are they thus entitled to expect that they will have a member of the Conservative party representing them until the next election? If so, does any break between candidate and party represent a break with voters? Does it matter how and why the break occurred or only that it happened?

There are plenty of question marks here, but I think there are two basic questions: What do voters bestow in voting? And what are voters owed as a result?


 

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