Friday, February 10, 2006

Debating the David Emerson defection and banning MPs who switch parties

An articulate reader makes a very convincing case for Emerson to step down:

"What duty of good faith did David Emerson breach? .....

Clear indicators of the absence of good faith on the part of Emerson are:

(i) the timing (negotiations apparently started a few days after the election!);
(ii) the absence of major disagreements of principle with the party’s policies;
(iii) the absence of any proactive steps taken by Emerson to attempt to influence the policies of the party in order to reconcile his principles with such policy;
(iv) the stark contrast between his statements about the Tory policies while running for office as a Liberal candidate, and his speedy acceptance of the policies when elected;
(v) the agreement to accept a reward in the form of a Cabinet posting;
(vi) the absence of any discussions between Emerson and the Liberal party officials in his riding regarding his decision to switch parties.

David Emerson has no moral authority to represent his riding in Parliament, and should resign and seek re-election as a Tory."

I agree with the reader on one important point. It was likely morally wrong. It was dishonest, in some ways. Perhaps he should resign. The problem with resigning, though, is a matter of self-preservation. If MPs are not allowed the freedom to act in their own interests, they become ineffective as representatives and slaves to Party whips.

Thus, I do not think any law should be made banning party switching. How many people in the world are likely to give up job security for what your neighbours think about you? Not many. In many ways, acting benevolent runs contrary to self-preservation. The MP is thus put in a tricky spot: either he loses his job or sits quietly in a party he no longer wishes to be whipped by.

Like all matters of morality and law, there are laws that enforce morality (ie. murder) and morality that is not enforced (blasphemy). MPs switching sides, in my opinion, is best left to the public to decide in general elections, not a law dictating their freedom.

I favour the freedom of MPs. A law restricting the movement of MPs does not really "solve" anything but restrict the liberty of MPs to act as machines rather than personality.

  1. For example, some would ban MPs switching sides. This is because the people voted for an MP of a particular party. It would be dishonest if the MP changed his party affiliation.

    But if the MP's only freedom would be to sit as an independent, I don't see how that changes the above principle. People did not vote for an independent, but an MP with a party affiliation. Sitting as an independent, thus, is just as dishonest as if the MP were to switch parties.
  2. For an MP, then, with crossing the floor or sitting as an independent being dishonest with voters are left with two choices: resigning or sitting with the party that the MP was originally affiliated with. I will take up the latter option: staying in a party. This option must be rejected as a matter of principle.

    If MPs are forced to sit with a party, the leader of that party will exercise considerable control over MPs. MPs will become the voting machines for the party whips and leaders. In essence, a travesty of democracy - when the elite few decide for the rest of the party how to vote, only the interests of the few are truly important. I don't think it is neccessary to elaborate more on why this situation is undesirable and elitist.
  3. The final option is resigning. If MPs can't cross the floor, sit as independents, and can't stomach sitting with the party they were originally affiliated with, there seems to be only one option left: resign and run again.

    This is the most honourable and principled thing to do. But consider the factors into play here: if the MP can't cross the floor or sit as an independent, do you really think he wants to give up his job based on principle? Few do. Canadian history has shown the few politicians in recent memory are real principled through and through. My guess is that MPs would rather stick to the party they dispise rather than face the electors. How man MPs would risk their job for virtue? Not many.

    And the result of a disgruntled MP forced to vote with the party line out of fear of losing his/her job is bad for democracy and ultimately bad for constitutents. He cannot represent them if he lacks the freedom to represent them.
Thus, I am against laws restricting the liberty of MPs, no matter how immoral crossing the floor or sitting as an independent may be.

3 comments:

Gary McHale said...

1st - the argument is that they sit as an independent until a bi-election. It removes the whole argument that someone is crossing to gain a position.

If an MP has a real point, other than for himself, then why can't he have a bi-election. Since almost all the floor crossers claim they are doing it to better represent their riding - why not a bi-election?

Emerson has stated clearly how he is only desires to serve his riding and B.C. - do you hold the belief that the public is so dumb that they cannot accept or reject his view?

Yes - it would make the independence of MPs harder. You state, "I favour the freedom of MPs." - guess what they have no freedom.

The Conservatives ran to make MPs free - free in their vote, free to express their views, free to represent their riding and not the leader. Who then represents this idea of Freedom better: Emerson or Garth Turner?

Emerson voted against the Conservatives on every bill last time - now he will vote for every one. Is this the Freedom we were looking for?

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Jonathan said...

"Who then represents this idea of Freedom better: Emerson or Garth Turner?"

Emerson. He has stretched his liberty as an MP. So what if he voted against every Conservative motion last parliament. That was his job in Cabinet. He was whipped as a Cabinet Minister by the party head. The past does not determine the future.

Turner is certainly free to express his own views. And while he wants to limit the freedom of MPs to change parties, he certainly has exercised his right to speak freely.

I do not condemn him for doing so per se, but really...what good is Turner doing at this point? Standing up for principles? Give me a break. The choice is only up for Emerson and Harper to make. Not Turner.

Is Turner going to go bonkers every time 2 MPs do something that goes against his principles?

Its out of his hands. His position is known already. Now all I can hope for is that he gets on with being an MP.

Anonymous said...

Although I have signed the two on-line petitions that are up and running, I fear that there will be little effect. A more effective approach is to write directly to Minister Emerson at Emerson.D@parl.gc.ca and Prime Minister Harper at pm@pm.gc.ca. Remember to include your name and address so that they know you are real.

I encourage all Canadians to make your views known on this matter. Political figures know and understand that for every one person who writes a letter of complaint there are hundreds who share the same sentiments.

I think we have to continue to push on this issue as it is such a shocking subversion of democratic principles.