2/13/2006

Crossing the Floor: Is it Ever Right?

The NDP are planning to introduce legislation that would prohibit MP's from crossing the floor.
On the surface, the plan sounds like it might be a good idea. Problems like the ones created when Stronach crossed the floor, or more recently the Emerson debacle, would be avoided. The democratic process would be preserved because, as we all know, people vote for the party.
Or do they?
Is there ever a case where crossing the floor might be a good thing? Historically we know there have been cases. Winston Churchill crossed the floor at least twice. It can certainly happen that an MP might feel that a party's policy has so diverged from what it was that he or she can no longer be a party of the group. They may choose to join another party, or they may choose to sit as an independent. It may even happen that an MP's constituents may feel that a party's policy has so diverged from what it was that they no longer wish their MP to remain a member of that party. The MP may then change parties in order to better reflect the desires of their constituents.
Lately, however, changing parties has not happened for these reasons. It has happened so that particular MP's may further their career. Power and prestige have been placed ahead of the common good. This is no doubt why the NDP are proposing a ban on floor crossing. Please note however that sitting as an Independent could have the same effect. As an Independent, what is to prevent an MP from voting according to the party they would have switched to? What is to prevent other parties from trying to influence the vote of an Independent?
I would want to see the proposed NDP legislation before I render judgment. It is my opinion though that even if it were a good idea (and I'm not saying it isn't), it is unlikely to have the desired effect.

2 comments:

Babbling Brooks said...

Both times Churchill crossed were on principle. The first time he went from a Conservative government to the Liberals in opposition over the question of trade barriers (he didn't agree with the protectionist Conservatives). The second time, he went from Liberal to Conservative as the Liberals were overtaken by Labour as the dominant political force opposite the Conservatives. Churchill's hatred of socialism is legendary, and he saw the Conservatives as the natural opposition to that movement as the Liberal party crumbled. Besides, between leaving the Liberals and joining the Conservatives, he ran - and lost - as an "Independent Anti-Socialist" in a very credible and almost successful campaign.

Neither time did Churchill walk from a seat on the opposition benches into a cabinet slot with the government. Even someone who was arguably the most ambitious politician of the 20th century wouldn't put his own career ahead of the interest of his constituents to that degree.

Shane said...

I believe in the current system. The system as it stands elects an individual, not a party. That person is free to join or unjoin any party he or she wishes - he represents his constituents, not any particular party.

Look at David Kilgour in Alberta. He was a PC, joined the Libs on principle, and then quit the Libs to sit as an independent on principle. That is how the system is supposed to work.

What needs to be strengthened is investigation and punishment of bribery or coercion involved with floor-crossing. That subverts democracy and should be stopped.

I am not in favour of a ban on floor-crossing, but I am in favour of wait times, forcing a 6 month sit as an independent before joining another party, or an automatic byelection to verify the constituency's support for the party-switch. Recall legislation could also have the same effect - if enough constituents were against the party switch, they could recall him or her.

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