I think Peter Stoffer is coming from a good place and I think his intentions are pure, but I feel strongly that banning floor crossing is a bad idea that, rather than improving parliamentary representation and responsibility to constituents, will only further tighten the yoke of party discipline.
A stalwart New Democrat is hoping to ban his colleagues from crossing the floor of the House of Commons without asking voters if they can change parties first.
Peter Stoffer, the New Democrat critic for Veterans Affairs, tabled his private member's bill Monday.
"If I pick up the phone right now and call Mr. Harper's office and if they're in agreement, within an hour I can become a Conservative member of Parliament," Stoffer said Monday. "I don't have to go to my constituents, I don't have to tell my party, I could just sit tomorrow as a Conservative MP.
That's wrong on every count."
I know I was as pissed off as any Liberal when David Emerson crossed the floor from the Liberals to the Conservatives mere days after the 2006 election. Obviously my emotions were somewhat different when Belinda Stronach left the Conservatives to join Paul Martin’s Liberal cabinet. (Mainly stunned disbelief, actually)
I still wouldn’t ban floor crossing though, because it plays into a general ignorance amongst the population, one exploited by the Conservatives during the coalition drama, about how our parliamentary democracy works.
Yes, it’s true that most voters make their decisions based on national party platforms and leaders. The influence of the local candidate in the voting decision is important, but generally minimal in the wider scheme. In a tight race, it can make a difference (many of the Liberals that hung on in May were good constituency people). But generally, the local name on the ballot is secondary (see the NDP in
While many may think we vote for Prime Minister, in fact we don’t. And we don’t vote for a party either. We vote for a Member of Parliament to represent us in
Whatever people may base their voting decision on, the fact is we’re electing a person to represent us. If they change parties, or do something else that we disagree with, then we can defeat them when and if they run for re-election. But taking away their legitimate right to change party affiliations only serves to further re-enforce this fundamental mis-understanding of our political system and further dilute the role and responsibility of individual members of parliament.
Stoffer’s bill would also have another un-intended effect: further tying MPs under the suffocating yoke of party discipline. You shouldn’t need to risk your job to stand against your party. The system of party discipline has already reduced MPs of all parties to little more than trained seals loyally parroting the party line, so it’s little wonder most Canadians see themselves voting more for a party than an individual representative. Banning floor crossing will only further exacerbate this by giving party bosses even more power and control over MPs that may stray from the flock.
I agree with the spirit of Stoffer’s motion, but it’s a bad idea for so many reasons. It’s cheap populism masking horrible policy. Punish floor crossers at the ballot box, and in the interim let’s bring more relevance to the role of Member of Parliament, not less.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers