Floor crossing—a benefit to Canada’s democracy

Crossing the floor has historically been beneficial to Canadian voters.

Raymond Ayas Montreal QC

Disclosure: Raymond Ayas is a candidate for the People’s Party of Canada in the riding of Ahuntsic-Cartierville.

Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer both project Canada’s 2019 election to be “nasty,” but I predict it will be exciting due to Maxime Bernier’s floor crossing. The creation of the People’s Party of Canada will undoubtedly introduce a new political offering on the Canadian political marketplace.

Vile, conflicting, fear, division, negativity, and nasty—all words both Conservative and Liberal leaders have used to describe the coming electoral campaign. Despite Canadians’ famed politeness, I believe both leaders are partly correct, given a global trend in political polarization.

Anchored in the historic dualism of Canadian politics, each leader blames his opponent for poisoning the political atmosphere. Meanwhile, Trudeau speaks of his own team striking a “positive tone” and Scheer introduces the concept of “positive conservatism.” Each views his own as the country’s natural governing party.

The threat of division

There is a factor causing them both angst?—especially Andrew Scheer?—and that’s the threat of division within their ranks.

Maxime Bernier left Scheer’s team during the 2018 Conservative convention to form his own party, thereby “splitting the vote” on the so-called right side of the political spectrum. True, the People’s Party holds many conservative values, but it also draws from classical liberalism, splitting the Liberal vote.

Pundits argue that Maxime Bernier should have done more to change the Conservative Party from the inside. He claims the Conservative party refused all his ideas. Bernier crossed the floor as a last resort; his attempts to change things from the inside having miserably failed.

In a recent opinion piece in The Post Millennial, Anthony Daoud makes an argument for coalitions within parties as a vector for change. He specifically criticizes Maxime Bernier’s and Leona Alleslev’s floor crossings. In Daoud’s opinion, internal coalitions would theoretically discourage floor crossing, which he views as “unhealthy for democracy.”

This is my response to his opinion piece.

Floor crossing is democratic

Canada is a representative democracy. This gives citizens the right to elect representatives at each layer of government. Candidates most often run as a slate with others, but voters choose between candidates in each riding?—  not parties.

As such, members of Parliament serve their constituents, not their parties. Furthermore, MP’s have an obligation towards all their constituents, not just those who voted for them according to party lines.

Those elected representatives who feel hampered by their party in their ability to represent all constituents must leave in order to fulfill their mandate.

Making floor crossings illegal and compelling Members of Parliament to resign (as Daoud suggests) in order to call by elections would temporarily remove the voice of tens of thousands of Canadians.

Floor crossing reflects real changes

Parties change over time. Representatives are under no obligation to keep faith with shifting ideologies and political orientations. Parliamentarians must be loyal to their conscience before their party.

Politicians change, too, although voters frown upon radical changes. Maria Mourani was aptly described with the derogatory term turncoat when she left the separatist Bloc Québécois to become a federalist under the NDP banner.

There is however an undeniable a range of political beliefs within each party. Sometimes party lines get fuzzy. A “blue Liberal” may become a “red Tory” and vice-versa … without risking public outcry.

In addition, voters change their minds?—this explains why voting results change at each election. The people they elect are (hopefully) in their image. Given this constant evolution, one may wonder why floor crossings happen so seldom.

Crossing the floor sends a strong message to both party and constituents when something is going dreadfully wrong. For example, Leona Alleslev’s main reason for crossing the floor to the Conservatives was that Justin Trudeau was moving “increasingly to the left and away from the centre.” Maxime Bernier left to make a new party, stating that the Conservative Party was “too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.”

Floor crossings are wake-up calls. They keep the big parties in check and force them to rectify their shortcomings, real or perceived.

Floor crossing creates choice

There is another factor to consider: Canadian culture and society are pluralistic, not dualistic. Crossing the floor to create new parties has actually contributed to the political diversity currently visible in Parliament. In this manner, Parliament is a reflection of a Canadian reality.

I’m referring to a diversity of political worldviews?—opposing economics, national sovereignty, and economic worldviews?—not the racial, religious, or sexual diversities which only interest the lobbies that profit from them.

This is about having options and ideas Canadians can connect with.

Federalists may hate the independence movement, but they can’t deny the Bloc Québécois gave a voice to many Canadian citizens who felt left out. This could not have happened without two Liberals and four Conservatives crossing the floor?—leaving their respective parties?—and creating a movement together which eventually became the Official Opposition.

Exploring other alternatives to protect democratic freedom

I see crossing the floor as an expression of freedom of conscience… and we should never accept any limitation to this freedom in a gambit for political expediency. The result would only entrench the power of existing parties at the expense of Canadians.

Anthony Daoud sees the rise of internal coalitions as possible forces mitigating the accumulation of power by party leaders. He may be right, however, nothing presently stands in their way. Internal coalitions exist today—Marxist forces in the NDP, globalist forces in the Liberal Party, anti-abortion forces in the Conservative Party, LGBT interest groups in all.

Internal coalitions already bear considerable influence… and are perhaps part of what’s protecting the all-powerful leaders we love to criticize.

We should explore other solutions allowing for more freedom within parties. Electing the Senate is one. In the provincial jurisdiction of Québec, François Legault’s CAQ is exploring the implementation of mixed-member proportional representation. Why can’t we do that federally? As a side-note, it makes me very proud my native Québec is again leading the way, as it did with its global gold standard in campaign financing

Many other interesting options exist, but the right place for that debate is within Parliament. Unfortunately, the electoral reform promised by Justin Trudeau prior to the 2015 federal elections has not taken place. I wager the Liberals stole a lot of votes from the NDP with that campaign promise, and never delivered. I promise you there’s a whack of cynical voters over this!

Politics is a marketplace

We may criticize politicians for not sticking with their parties to effect changes from within, but political parties?—like governments?—are notoriously slow beasts. Red tape and various processes slow them down. Internal cliques wield power and often fight each other for influence and maintain the status quo.

Parties need to be shaken up for change to happen.

While people “in the know” understand the who’s, why’s, and how’s of party power plays and machinations, voters are largely shielded from the internal drama and goings-on. They often just want to see change.

After years of voting Liberal out of loyalty —mea culpa, maybe it was in the bottle when I was a baby—I am now much more attracted to ideas, and I want the best ideas to win.

Today I view the political scene as a marketplace for ideas. Voters are like consumers in many ways. They constantly evaluate new products and services before opening their wallets. Similarly, parties are like companies, they propose policies like businesses offer goods and services.

Loyalty to the brand will always exist, but only the best products, services, and ideas survive. Just ask BlackBerry.

Nobody actually cares which employee of a large corporation said and did what, or which VP went to a competitor. In the final analysis, consumers look at what each company has to offer, period. Why should things be any different in politics?

Crossing the floor is part and parcel of Canadian democracy. When done for ideological reasons, as opposed to ambition or personal gain, it’s healthy.

I view Alleslev’s and Bernier’s floor crossings as rooted in freedom of conscience. I believe floor crossings have created major paradigm shifts in Parliament as they have given rise to the Bloc Québécois and the People’s Party of Canada.

Canadians should celebrate this as a win for Democracy. Choice is certainly a value-added benefit to Canadians, and politicians shouldn’t be so condescending as to assume their solutions are the only good ones. That’s up to the voters to decide.

Thus, crossing the floor and participating in the democratic process by creating alternatives actually showcases politicians’ integrity and puts a dent in the truest enemies of democracy: cynicism and voter apathy.


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