Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wait, I've Changed My Mind...

Source: CTV News: Floor-Crossing MP Slammed for 'Blatant Lack of Respect'
Source: CTV News: Sask. Premier Wants Federal Cash for Health Innovation

One Federal, One Provincial story to talk about today. Let's start with the one that is garnering more news buzz, though.

I woke up today to discover that Quebec NDP MP Lise St-Denis had decided to cross the floor and join the Liberal Party of Canada. Now, since then I've seen various thoughts and musing on the subject. The traditional "She should step down and run as a Liberal in a by-election" comments have been thrown about. Surprisingly, another argument about the legitimacy of floor crossing has branched into the legitimacy of coalitions too.

Oh, internet.

So, let's first talk about why St-Denis crossed the floor...And it seems the punchline was indeed to get to the other side. Despite a press conference, no one seems to really know the reasons for the defection. She mentioned how Quebecois voted for Jack Layton, and with him no longer leading the party, she felt the need to left. I cleaned that up a little, since her version was what I'd call a bit blunt and disrespectful.

She also went on to talk about how she's watched the Liberal caucus work and admired the way they did so. So, a few blanket clauses and statements. What was truly confusing was her need to ensure people that her 'politics haven't changed'. Essentially, that rules out the idea that she was unhappy with a policy the NDP was working towards...Or something that the party stood for.

If it wasn't policy related, why did she leave?

In most cases, you would look to the leader for that question. But Nycole Turmel's tenure in the post is quickly coming to a close; and no front-runner in the leadership race has garnered enough support to be declared the 'heir apparent'...So, it is unlikely that leadership played a role in her decision.

The general consensus is this: St-Denis made the decision to cross the floor for personal, not political reasons. Furthermore, there is the argument that she never expected to be elected as a NDP candidate in Quebec. And that when she did a certain level of cognitive dissonance caused her to re-examine her positions and found her membership in the NDP lacking.

People are also suggesting that this could be something as a flashpoint for the NDP. St-Denis' crossing is raising the question as to whether fellow Quebec MPs, who found themselves surprisingly elected, might re-examine their own positions and find crossing the floor appealing. Some are saying that this is just the first of many floor crossings from the NDP Quebec caucus...While others are reassuring that this will be the only one we see.

I can't speak to that point; but I can speak to another, if compelling reason, for the floor crossing.

Over New Years, a friend and I were discussing the future of the NDP in Quebec. Essentially, we came to this conclusion: A number of the elected Quebec NDP MPs are not going to win their nomination contests before the next election.

NDP MPs in Quebec took a lot of flack for being inexperienced, and in some cases not visiting their riding prior to the election. This is a due to a strategy a lot of parties use in ridings they don't expect to win: They simply take whoever steps forward and use them as a name on the ballot. So, it was rather surprisingly when a lot of those 'names' became MPs.

But this also sets an interesting precedence. The NDP is now in play in Quebec, and that means there's going to be a lot more interest in running as a candidate for the NDP in the next election within the province. As such, a lot of these 'name' MPs are going to find themselves in nomination battles against potentially stronger candidates and many of them are going to lose out.

Whether or not these stronger candidates will be elected remains to be seen, but I think it's a safe bet to assume that after this sitting of Parliament we will not see some of these Quebec MPs again after the next election.

So, was this something that St-Denis concluded as well?

The Liberals are known for their top-down control over nomination contests, and despite some talk about changing it, it remains to be seen whether or not the Liberals will remove such controls before the next election. So, perhaps St-Denis saw a switch to the Liberals as the only chance to secure her nomination as a candidate in the next federal election?

The problem with this theory, however, is that it suggests that we will see quite a few defections from the NDP to other parties in the years before the next election. After all, if all the 'name' candidates come to the realization that they will not win a nomination contest, they're either going to jump ship to parties that can guarantee their nomination OR take one for the team and quietly bow out of public life for the time being.

As for St-Denis, this was a way to generate buzz about an MP who didn't expect to get elected, managed to win, and is likely on the way out (either due to a nomination battle or a change in electorate support) in the next election. So, perhaps the reason for her floor crossing was as simple as vanity. Who knows, only she does for sure.

Which brings me to the next part I want to talk about, now that we've gotten my theory for the crossing out of the way. Since people have crossed the floor, there has been a demand to make them accountable to the riding which elected them. Simply put, people are demanding that St-Denis step down as a MP and run in a by-election as a Liberal.

We've seen this before; perhaps most famously when David Emerson jumped from the Liberals to the Conservatives in BC (Emerson, of course, was tossed out in the next federal election). And that brings us to an interesting question, should MPs who cross the floor have to face the electorate in a by-election to maintain their seat?

There are a lot of supporters for this argument, there's also some detractors. I happen to be in favour of it and I will attempt to explain why. Let's look at some of the arguments and counter-arguments for having flor-crossing MPs face a by-election.

1.) Argument: Making MPs face a by-election gives too much power to party leaders and restricts an MPs ability to represent their riding.

Counter-Argument: MPs were elected under a certain party banner to represent their riding. Furthermore, the fact that they were nominated as their party's candidate suggests that that person was considered the strongest candidate for that party. Party leaders already have too much power, as they can lure MPs over to their side through the promise of cabinet positions, shadow cabinet positions, and other perks that they are not currently receiving.

Having a by-election is tantamount to a referendum on the MPs decision to cross the floor; and thus, more representative of what the people of the riding want. In Canada, some ridings are dominated by PARTIES over CANDIDATES. As such, people for a PARTY not a CANDIDATE. It wouldn't matter if the candidate was a cardboard cut out, so long as they identified with the correct party they would win the election.

As such, when a candidate changes their party (to one they were not elected to represent) it is a clear rejection of what the electorate voted for. As such, the electorate should have a chance to voice whether they want the CANDIDATE or the PARTY.

2.) Argument: The riding voted the person in, not the party, and asking them to step down and run again is against what the people of the riding want.

Counter-Argument: *See the last two paragraphs above, or the small summary here: People sometimes vote for PARTY over CANDIDATE; as such, the riding deserves to express, through a by-election, whether they voted for the PARTY or the CANDIDATE.

And this is an argument I saw online that I feel the need to address:

"If floor crossing is bad and must be stopped, do we also need a bill to ban coalitions? People vote for a party, not a coalition."

Now, this is tricky, as it includes my argument for why a by-election is necessary...The fact that people sometimes vote for a party specifically. As I've said before on this blog, living under a Parliamentary System can produce some interesting results in an election.

From a Parliamentary perspective, the largest group represented in the House of Commons is given the task of forming government. Whether that group is one single party, or two parties or more who have reached an agreement doesn't matter. What does matter is that the largest group in Parliament is reflecting its position and asking to form government.

Furthermore, in some cases (as we've seen in the last several elections) the opposition parties have garnered more national support combined than the Conservatives who have formed government. As such, it's pretty clear that the 60% of Canadians who didn't vote Conservative, would favour a government that wasn't made up of Conservative members.

Voter intent alone shows that the majority of Canadians wanted a government not formed by Stephen Harper and his party. Yet, because of our antiquated voting system, that's what we ended up getting.

It is true, we may not vote for a coalition...Unless two parties explicitly run on the agreement to form one after the election results come in. But, if they represent the largest voting block in Parliament, then they do indeed have the right to try and form a government.

As such, the idea that banning floor-crossing means we need to address coalitions as well is kind of a ridiculous argument. In a coalition, people still retain their MP and the MP maintains the status for the party they were elected under; the only thing that changes is that they likely go from an opposition MP to a potential cabinet minister or government member.

And of course, come the next election cycle...The parties involved will either be helped or hindered by their coalition government and either a similar situation will occur...Or one party will be able to form government on their own.

Anyways, now that we've strayed far off topic, let's switch gears to our provincial topic for the day.

Premier Brad Wall has spoken out, sort of, about Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's plan to fund the provinces with health care dollars over the next ten years.Until 2016 - 2017, the provinces will continue to receive a 6% (under a deal which was struck by the Martin Government in 2004) and then payments to the provinces will be tied to reflect nominal GDP.

Naturally, Flaherty presented this plan to the provinces without any negotiation or notice. Of course, this caused some chagrin among certain provincial representatives who were quick to denounce the plan and come out swinging against Ottawa.

Saskatchewan, however, was one of the voices that didn't step forward. And now, Wall has come out and said that the plan is 'not unreasonable', but he would like to see money for health innovation come from Ottawa as well.

On the face of it, Wall is making a valid point. The provinces do need help with spurring on new methods of delivery and decreasing wait times in hospitals. However, once you scrape away the veneer and look underneath, Wall's proposal becomes considerably darker.

Living in Saskatchewan, you learn to speak Conservative...Even if you don't consider it your natural language. But when Wall speaks to 'health innovation', we all know that he is speaking to the introduction of more private clinics and health professionals who exist outside of the public system.

Essentially, Wall is asking the federal government to pony up money for the provinces to increase privatization of aspects of the medical system.

The fact of the matter is this: There are problems with our health care system as it stands, no one will deny that. And there are different approaches to fixing it.

What I can tell you for sure is that the current system of blinding throwing money into the system isn't working. Yes, we need to ensure that provinces are receiving enough funding to keep medicare going, but at the same time we need to ensure that that money is being spent wisely. Furthermore, we need to address fundamental problems that exist outside of cost.

We need to diversify our health care system; but that does not mean privatization. Rather, it means addressing the problems in a practical way. Expanding the role of nurse practitioners, for example. Expanding pathways into medical school, and providing financial assistance with conditions to these students. Expanding palliative care and home care systems to keep senior citizens out of hospitals. And of course, expanding national health in general with a focus on preventative care rather than reactive care.

All of this can be achieved with out setting up private clinics and is worth trying before we start gutting our public system and saying it is completely broken. And yes, this will require some financial help from Ottawa to work properly. And if Flaherty has his way, the money to set these kinds of programs up will disappear and we will lose services...

And then it's only a matter of time until privatization is the only option left...And those on the right are doing everything possible to make that day come just a little bit faster. 


Anonymous said...

A detailed and IMHO very good analysis, Scott. Thanks !

Gyor said...

She's sick and elderly, she was never going to run again. She knows this is her one chance to milk her lottery win. I suspect that her "reasons" invovled envelops filled with cash and/or the promise of future patronage.

This is corruption plain and simple. To the liberals this couragous and bravery. Of course naturally bravery and treachery mean the same thing as do courage and dishonesty. This is why no one trusts the liberals.