After much prodding by other bloggers, I set this up for my own writings. The name is in honour of the two women that mentored me throughout my life on politics and intelligence issues, as well as being wonderful family members, now alas deceased. I hope to live up to their standards at this site.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Is Emerson's cross typical or not?

I have been reading a lot of material in the last seven days regarding Emerson and the propriety of floor crossing (this includes the comments at these sites and not just the original posts), far more places then I have chosen to comment at about this issue. I have seen many defences of Emerson based on the "many that have crossed the floor previously in our history, including recent history" premise. So I have a simple set of questions that once answered can tell us exactly how usual or unusual Emerson's cross was.

1) In the history of the federal Parliament of Canada how many members have crossed from one party to another?

2) Of those crosses, how many were from an opposition party to a government as opposed to a member of a governing party crossing to an opposition party or as an independent?

3) Of those that crossed into the government how many were immediately given Cabinet positions?

4) Of those that received Cabinet positions how many gave as their sole reason for crossing as the benefit of being in Cabinet and made clear that if their own party had been government that they would not have crossed, thereby making it clear that it was the Cabinet position that was the deciding factor in this cross?

5) Of all those that ever crossed the floor, how many did so on the first day of a new government being sworn in, well before Parliament itself reconvenes? For that matter what is the shortest time from an election to a cross in our history and how does Emerson's compare with it?

6) Finally, how many Cabinet ministers in Canadian Parliamentary history have gone from being a Minister in a government to winning their seat but their party losing office thereby losing the Cabinet seat, to immediately being sworn in the first Cabinet of the new incoming government along with changing their party affiliation (this of course also requires that the parties have changed with the government)? I add the change of affiliation because that is also significant, it is not like Emerson was asked to join but stay a Liberal, which I believe is the sort of thing that has happened in our history in a coalition minority government.

That is the best way to see how typical Emerson's crossing is in Canadian Parliamentary history. While I know there are many examples of floor crossing, I rather doubt they were motivated solely by the unwillingness of the crosser to lose a Cabinet position and a PM willing to offer one in exchange for crossing. This was supposedly one of the main objections to the idea of Stronach having left the CPC for any reason other than her "lust for power" as it was characterized by her detractors in the CPC party and movement/supporters. While I thought she crossed mainly out of principle, I also thought at the time it was not the smartest thing of Martin to do to put her in Cabinet. .Although I could understand it, if only so as to rub the CPC's nose in their loss as well as reminding Canadians that a former leadership contender AND founding member of the CPC (indeed, she did play a role in helping it come together that seems to be forgotten by many) felt the Liberal brand was superior. That is not incidentally a defence of Martin, simply that I could understand why he did it even though it opened him up to the argument that he bought her with a Cabinet seat. The fact that I don't think that was the main reason she left does not change the fact it certainly had that appearance, and so it was not unreasonable (edited at 11:31 pm Feb 12 06 from "reasonable", sorry for any confusion) for CPCers to think that is exactly what happened.

So suddenly though many of those CPC voices that thought buying a crossing with a Ministry was such a vile and evil thing to do to Canadian democracy have zero problem with their guy doing the same thing. Worse, their guy does it and provides no other explanation other than he thought he would be good in Cabinet so he offered him a Cabinet position that the crosser would be losing if he stayed in the Liberal party/opposition he had been elected as a member of. Emerson also made it clear that he would not have crossed into the CPC without the Cabinet position being there. I have made this point elsewhere by challenging others to provide any evidence that Emerson would be in the CPC caucus now if there had NOT been a Cabinet seat offered to him. To date zero evidence has been offered by anyone. This is why I say Emerson was bought by Harper, pure and simple. It is not that I can't conceive of any other possibilities, but that all the evidence available makes it impossible to come to any other conclusion. The notion that Emerson will be a great Minister is irrelevant to the underlying issue, and while it is a great smokescreen, ultimately that is all the CPC defenders of this act have to offer, smoke.

It is also important to understand that in terms of affecting the balance of power in Parliament there is zero difference between Emerson and Stronach. When Stronach crossed it brought the Libs and NDP combined to within one vote of a working majority, in this case to block a CPC/BQ vote of Non Confidence. In this case Emerson's crossing brings the CPC to within one vote of a working majority with the NDP in the House (assuming that the Speaker will be coming from the CPC side, which is probable since I doubt either remaining opposition party wants to give Harper a working majority with the NDP). As in both Parliaments there was an independent that could tip it either way, Cadman back then and the radio host from Quebec City (sorry, still haven't gotten his name straight yet) nowadays. The argument that there is any difference because of the Confidence vote and so was much worse than two weeks after an election is another nice piece of smoke. If anything the fact this was right after the election, clearly done by Emerson to retain a Cabinet position and by Harper to increase his weak minority by a seat be willing to offer a Cabinet seat to a Liberal that he thinks he can get to accept such a (let's be honest here, one can speculate about noble motives but it still comes down in the end to being such) bribe, Emerson. In many ways it is Harper's act that is the most offensive. He went looking for a Liberal that would cross the floor to his party and was willing to offer a Cabinet seat to get him to cross. Seeing as Emerson himself made clear that he would not have crossed without the Cabinet seat to make any other argument seems rather dishonest to me.

The problem is not just his crossing after two weeks from the election, although that on its own is pretty underhanded/unethical in its own right. It is that he is clearly crossing because the new PM waved a Cabinet seat under his nose if he were to cross into his new governing party and first Cabinet. I spent a lot of time last spring reading about how buying a floor crossing with a Cabinet position was so unethical, so dishonest, so contemptible. I find it saddening though hardly surprising that many of the stronger voices that thought it was evil incarnate last year suddenly consider it great strategy and a sign of Harper's brilliance and his ability to play the Liberals like they played him and the CPC. One problem with that line of reasons though, Harper was elected primarily on the belief that he would be different from the Liberals, that he would not be embracing time worn Parliamentary tricks and games like the Liberals did. So his doing this on the first day is not a small problem for him, and contrary to the thoughts of many in the CPC, this will not be soon forgotten. The symbolism of the first day of a new government tends to be one of the things that helps define that government for the rest of its term. Harper's definition of the CPC was to confirm what so many of the opponents said about the CPC/Harper pledge of ethical accountable, transparent government being empty rhetoric and how Harper would be no better if not worse once in power. This was a major opportunity for Harper to dispel these negative perceptions in the electorate, instead he confirms them for all except the hardcore Harperites/CPC party loyalists. Every person that voted CPC this time out with some degree of skepticism and unease though just got given a great reason to not vote CPC again, especially not with Harper as the leader. Does anyone really think this is not obvious to all the opposition parties to the CPC/Harper and that they will not make as much use of it as they can get from it? Really.

Crossing the floor over matters of principle is something with a long and noble tradition in our system. Crossing out of a lust for power and a willingness to satisfy that lust by tempting it though does not have that same kind of history. More Canadians understand this then I think those of us in the political chattering classes are willing to believe. I for one have never agreed with the idea that the voters are basically sheep, or that most voters do not think about their votes and who they vote for. I find that line of reasoning incredibly arrogant, incredibly condescending, and incredibly hostile to the very idea of citizens being the ones governments are accountable to. To hear this from Conservatives seems more than a little amusing given that Conservatives are generally big on the idea of personal accountability and allowing the individual the power to make their decisions instead of the government/State.

Incidentally, if there are people that truly believe that after an eight week election campaign where the election question was accountability and ethical government that two weeks is enough time for most Canadian voters to forget that, then I really have to question your political understanding and competence to be considered having an informed political opinion. What makes this particularly bad is that effectively since it was born the CPC has run an ethics/morals campaign against the Liberals, something that has penetrated the general electorate. So after two years of this "crusade" against immorality and unethical sleaze in government by Harper and the CPC their very first decisions are ones seen outside of the hardcore CPC/Harper loyalists as immoral, unethical and sleazy. Worse, the defences by the CPC rely on these being things done prior by Liberals and therefore have precedent behind them which in turn makes them alright, indeed brilliant politics as some have claimed it to be. For those that are committed believers that works, for the rest of the country including many that gave the CPC/Harper the benefit of the doubt with their votes though this looks exactly like what it is, more of the same from those that spent years claiming to Canadians they would be anything but the same old same old Liberal style government if they were given power. Doing this with a weak minority is an additional act of arrogance in most eyes, seeing as the will of the electorate was that they wanted the Liberals out of power but still a strong Opposition and the CPC given government but a weak one so they could see whether they might be interested in a CPC majority next time out. This did nothing to help make that sale, indeed it most likely turned those voters away from the product.


Blogger JD said...

I wonder how long it will take the news media to figure out that they've been "had" by Harper's campaign? As I've been saying a lot lately, Emerson has done what no other Liberal has been able to do lately - help unify the Liberal Party and give it a focus as opposed to playing the "blame game".

Sun Feb 12, 11:55:00 PM 2006  

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