Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Great Floor Crossing Debate

Spinks and I are having a "point/counter point" on floor crossing and what should be done about it in the future over at CanadaEast.

You can read Spinks' original post here and my rebuttal here.

(a copy of my rebuttal from CanadaEast follows)

Floor crossing, an emotional subject

This past weekend the New Brunswick Cry Babies' Progressive Conservative Party had their annual meeting and one of the measures discussed was a scheme to penalize future floor crossers by making them pay back any monies spent by Tories to get them elected.

This is a very problematic policy. Primarily because it would be illegal if the amount spent was more than $6000 (because that is the maximum an individual can donate to a party) and that it would be impossible to differentiate between donations made to the riding association because people were good Tories and those made because people were friends with, or fans of, the candidate.

However, the PC executive director says that he isn't even sure if they will enforce this policy - even in opposition they are going to bend their own rules! - so that discussion is moot.

Spinks and I agree that this particular motion is a bit silly on the part of the Tories. It makes them look petty and it became the main focus of their convention. As I have said before, though I think the Graham Government is doing well, it is not perfect and there is a lot to criticize. Rather than say "THEY RAISED YOUR TAXES!" and repeat it over and over and over, the Tories instead focus on mundane, nitpicky things. It is no wonder the Liberals lead the Tories by a margin of 2-to-1 in the polls.

However, where Spinks and I disagree is on the merits of floor crossing. Spinks says:

However I don't think floor crossing should be totally scrapped. If your
political party is doing something that is so totally counter to your conscience
and/or the desires of your consituents, a politican with integrity needs to be
able to bail IF they have done all they can to make things work. If that means
going to another political party then fine.

But there's one thing that politican needs to do first.

They need to ask permission from the people who voted them in.

Some people vote for a local candidate and a lot vote for a political party
so when MacAlpine-Stiles says those with a beef about the crossing are only "a
few people who have an axe to grind," I disagree. I suspect there are a lot of
people in the two ridings who aren't pleased with what happened or more
importantly that they had no say.

Spinks is right that more people vote for the party than the person in their local ridings; a lot of folks vote for a particular party because they want that party to form the government and they could care less who the candidate is. However, after the election that doesn't really make much difference.

We'll use Wally Stiles as the main example here because he is from the more conservative riding and won by a much larger margin. I think it is fair to say that the majority of people in Petitcodiac wanted a PC government and that a good chunk of those who voted for Stiles would have voted for any candidate the Tories put up.

However, the situation here is a matter of the Tories being an opposition of 25 seats (before the Stiles crossed) or 23 seats (after they crossed). The fact that they changed their affiliation is completely irrelevant to the status of the PC Party in the legislature. Whether they crossed the floor or not, their voters - who voted to elect a PC government - were not going to get what they wanted.

If it was a situation where they crossed the floor and changed the balance of power in the legislature, or if it was a case like when Peter Trites crossed from the NDP to the Liberals and cut the size of the NDP in half by doing so, then I think you can make the argument that the people had their way and then it was wrongly taken from them. In this case, the people never got what they wanted in the first place and the floor crossing didn't really change anything.

By-elections are expensive things that result in people being without a representative for at least 6 weeks, which is not something that should happen automatically. When Tanker Malley left the Tory caucus in the winter of 2006, I think you would have found that most of his constituents supported it, at least initially. If he had had to resign and go through a by-election, he wouldn't have returned to the legislature before the budget vote and could not have done for his constituents what they wanted him to do.

So, I think, a policy of forcing floor crossers to go back to the people who elected them is routed in emotion and not logic. An alternative might be possible, such as creating a recall mechanism for floor crossers, but an automatic by-election just doesn't make sense to me.

What do you think?


NB taxpayer said...

Scott Brison is a unique case because his party's tent folded. However, on average, floor crossing or coat turning is usually the beginning of the end for a political career.

Another longterm survivor that comes to mind is David Kilgor who almost ended up crossing the floor twice ala Winston Churchill.

nbpolitico said...

Also Bill Matthews, former PC MP from Newfoundland who was re-elected as a Liberal in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

In New Brunswick provincial politics the only floor crosser I can think of that sought re-elect was Peter Trites, elected as NDP in 1984, re-elected in 1987 and 1991 as a Liberal.

nbt said...

Good one. Also, I think Stronach would have been welcomed back (and eventually accepted in Liberal inner party circles), well, as long as daddy's $$$ kept flowing.

Although, I can't say the same for NB MP John Heron, Quebec MPs David Price, Diane St-Jacques and André Harvey.

nbpolitico said...

All you mention except Heron were re-elected as Liberals though.

nbt said...

Good point and one that I was fully aware of since they had offices down the hall from where I worked. Although, the bigger question here is: where are they now? Working for the 'I quit Joe Clark's party to run as a Liberal'?

IMO, if they had stuck to their guns back in 2000, those three I mentioned above would be good material to run in La Belle province as a tory (although Harvey would be getting up there in age)

Which is why I wouldn't recommend changing parties for short-term gain. Because in the long run you end up being respected by absolutely no one. Longterm political pain as I put it.

nbpolitico said...

Now I see what you are coming at - I gotcha.