Friday, March 30, 2007

In defense of floor crossers

Tim Peterson's defection from the McGuinty Liberals will no doubt spark the same howls of protest that accompanied other recent floor crossings.

(The fact that Peterson plans to sit as an independent until the October election will mollify some, but it's really irrelevant. He's already announced that he'll run as a PC. He appeared with John Tory at the announcement. Presumably he'll vote with the Tories in the legislature. The only thing that will differentiate him from the rest of the Conservative caucus is that he won't have access to the caucus research and communications services and he won't sit in caucus meetings. At least not officially. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck...)

But the condemnation of floor-crossers (with one exception I'll get to in a minute) has always rung hollow for me.

In our parliamentary democracy, each us votes for one Member of Parliament, based of course on their party affiliation and the leader of that party, but also because they are the individual we want to represent our interests in the House of Commons. That's right, we elect free-thinking individuals as our representatives. Through our vote, we empower them to make decisions on our behalf and choose to trust them to make those decisions to the best of their ability.

We choose humans to represent us, not automatons.

So, if in the course of doing the jobs their constituents empowered them to do, they decide that their party or their leader has veered off course (despite their best efforts to course-correct within caucus), and that another party has it right, then a reasonable case can be made that crossing the floor is with the best interests of constituents in mind. It's certainly within the range of decisions our votes empower them to make.

Of course personal ambition is a factor. And why shouldn't it be, as long as it's balanced against their responsibilities to constituents? Who amongst us doesn't factor our personal goals into our professional decision-making. Again, we choose humans to represent us, not automatons.

In the end, we have plenty of opportunities to express our views on how they should represent us, most importantly through our vote in the next election.

On balance, as a Liberal, I'd say we've gotten the better end of the deal. We get Scott Brison and Belinda Stronach. They get Wajid Khan. And it sounds like Peterson is not much of a prize for the provincial Tories — a pale shadow of his brothers by all accounts.

So I can criticise the decisions I don't like, but I can't condemn any of them for the choices they made, as disappointing as some of them may be.

With one notable exception that proves the rule. You can't even pretend to make the case that you're course-correcting just weeks after the election, and before the parliamentary session has even begun. Harper's and Emerson's actions in this were a blatant betrayal of voters and an insult to democracy.

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