I was waiting for and pleased to see a story on their past strong oppositon to the Liberals. I was surprised to see that there really isn't anything substantive there. Other than their reasons for running for the Tories in 1999 - against a totally different set of Liberals - and some fighting of auto insurance in 02-03, there doesn't seem to have been as much bad blood as I thought.
As seems typical of any and all floor crossings, the blogosphere is largely opposed. Here is a sample of some of the reaction:
If they want to (cross the floor) that’s fine but go to the voters and get their blessing. The voters elected you as PC’s not Liberals. - Spinks
(W)hy don't we have the right to recall our elected politicians? I'm not saying that the people of the respective districts are not happy with this. I am, however, saying that if the electors are not happy, they should have recourse before 2011. - Rob commenting at Spink About it
I'm no fan of government wasting money nbpolitico, that is true but having democracy is never a waste of money. - Spinks responding to my comment that a by-election would cost a lot of cash, deprive the the ridings of a representative during the legislative process and possibly/likley return the same MLAs anyway.
"If (the defectors) were real Tories and true leaders, then one of them would have stepped up to the plate and run as a successor to Bernard Lord in the next New Brunswick Progressive Conservative leadership race (rather than quit over dissatisfaction with an interim leader)" - Scott, the sorry centrist
"Of all the reasons to cross the floor, claiming you were unappreciated ranks down there with "my former party is too tough on those who create child porn". Seriously folks, you're in opposition. Nobody appreciates you in opposition." - Eugune at To Be Annnounced
From the Telegraph-Journal page A1:
"It was probably the peace and quiet [while on vacation in February] where we could really think about our futures and how we could best represent our constituents in our respective ridings," [Wally] Stiles said. "That was probably the determining time where you say, let's do this and get this done, enough is enough."
[Joan] MacAlpine-Stiles said she was blown away shortly after the Liberals took power in October how accessible the cabinet ministers were and how attentive they were to her concerns, specifically on resolving the ongoing issue surrounding pensions of former Moncton city police officers.
"I don't think it was one person we specifically spoke to on this. When you are going to make a decision of this magnitude that impacts your futures, we kept this to ourselves," she said.
MacAlpine-Stiles and Stiles said they have never asked for a position and one was never offered. They both have said repeatedly the decision to switch allegiances was strictly on principle against the negative tone espoused by the current Conservative leadership.
"There hasn't been a focus, it has been more of a personal attack on the government members and that to me is, I can't be part of that," MacAlpine-Stiles said. "That was one of the determining factors. You don't try to make other people look bad in order to make you look good."
Stiles said he is most concerned about how people in his rural riding of Petitcodiac will take the news. The three-term MLA won with a massive majority on Sept. 18 and while he acknowledges his move will not be popular with some Tory stalwarts he said it may also win him some new votes in the future.
"I heard - my team has heard (in the last election) - look, 'I would really like to vote for Wally but I could not vote for Bernard Lord.' You don't know how many times I heard that. I think people's voting habits have changed, I think they actually vote for the person and not the party," Stiles said.
From the Times & Transcript page A4:
The couple had been spending a lot of time soul-searching, having felt under-valued by some of their fellow caucus members.
"The last little while we were almost treated like skunks at a garden party," said Stiles.
Neither politician wanted to give details about the way they were treated by some members of the Tories. However they both said they were treated as a "liability," rather than an "asset."
"You can't represent your people and feel that the party you're a part of is not doing constructive things but working on the negative side constantly," said MacAlpine-Stiles.
"You get to the point where you just can't "... that's not just what it's about, and you feel that you have to do something to change that and if you're not able to do that within your own party, then I guess that's when you make the decision."
From the Daily Gleaner page A1:
"The Liberals are blessed with a leader who is clearly focused on the future, and not the past," MacAlpine-Stiles said.
From their former colleagues...
Interim Tory Leader Jeannot Volpé said he was not shocked by the announcement. Volpé said he saw the writing on the wall when Stiles did not win a caucus position as Opposition whip, a post he held when the Tories were in government.
Volpé said the defection isn't a complete surprise, although he had expected the couple to wait until the end of the legislative sitting to make their announcement.
"I knew that it was coming, we saw quite a few signs that they were not happy since last fall," he said. (see my comment on this later...)
Rothesay Tory MLA Margaret-Ann Blaney said she believed the floor-crossing was about money.
"I think they had the For Sale sign out. Wally Stiles said to me two weeks ago, 'I can't afford to be in Opposition.' So I think what they got was two for the price of one."
Government and Opposition backbenchers earn the same basic salary. The only way the two former Tory MLAs could earn extra money, aside from being named to cabinet, is sit on additional committees and collect per diems. However, committee assignments have already been handed out so it is unlikely MacAlpine-Stiles or Stiles will be in line for extra cash any time soon. (the news article does a good enough job tearing MAB's comments apart, I'll not comment)
"When you have bad apples in a basket, maybe it's a good thing to dump those two bad apples," said Paul Robichaud, Tory MLA for Lameque-Shippagan-Miscou.
Robichaud said the caucus supports Volpé and there's no division between the Tory members.
He also said there were times the Tory caucus would meet and then hold a second meeting once the couple had left the room. (uhhh if this is true, can you blame them for leaving?)
From their new colleagues...
Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne was one of the Liberal cabinet ministers who played a role in opening the doors to Graham. Byrne said it was clear to anyone who watched the assembly how the Conservatives were isolating the two MLAs and that became more obvious as they began speaking to them personally.
Byrne said the final deal was brokered Monday when the two Tories met with Graham and a few senior advisors. Once that meeting concluded, Byrne said the Liberal caucus was asked whether they would welcome the two Conservatives and he said the reaction was unanimous.
Tom Bateman, a political scientist at St. Thomas University, said Volpé and the Tory brass will have to accept some responsibility for the floor-crossings, which could hasten the process to elect a leader.
"What this might do is chasten the party establishment a little bit and force it to concentrate perhaps a bit more deeply on the leadership selection process and get that right and make sure that we've got renewal built into the mechanics of leadership selection," Bateman said.
I gave my preliminary thoughts yesterday. In general, I think that the idea of floor crossing is okay if it is done for noble reasons. Unfortuantely, so many of us have become so cynical that no one believes there are noble reasons for anything any more.
Here is the summary of the key points and inferences I've made from the above:
- Like it or not, it is bad news when two of your caucus members leave your party, full stop. Volpé says he had seen this coming since the fall, why didn't he do anything to stop it!? He is really a failure as leader.
- Paul Robichaud says they held the real caucus meetings after Wally and Joan left the room. If that is true, can you really blame them for wanting to leave?
- Volpé says that Wally Stiles wanted to leave because he was not elected as opposition whip. I think Volpé is very confused because the legislative seating arrangement up until yesterday had Stiles sitting in the chair designated for the whip and he was listed on the government website as such as well. Moreover, this was published in the newspapers and was in a news release listing the Tory critic responsibilities back in October, that release has mysteriously disappeared from the PC website.
I think it is pretty funny that even a floor crossing, which most people find widely distasteful, cannot even be properly criticized by this opposition. Three Tory caucus members commented and they all either made no sense in their criticisms (Blaney - they are doing it for money, but will not be paid more; Volpe - he was mad about not being whip, but he was the whip) or justified it (Robichaud - we had private caucus meetings from which they were excluded). I mean honestly.
I do think however that I have finally come up with a position on floor crossing which I think would be a good balance. We should allow recall of MLAs who cross the floor and perhaps under other circumstances. I am opposed to free wheeling recalls and automatic by-elections, but perhaps we can find a compromise with a combination.