The (os)Borne Identity

A little rant on floor crossing

This article was originally published April 25, 2013.

I mean, other than the news reports that aver he “crossed the floor” to sit as an independent, Osborne effectively quit caucus. There was no floor crossing, per se. But ever since he quit the PC caucus there have been tid bits of news here and there that Osborne might actually consider crossing the floor to join either the Liberals or the NDP.

This is an obvious political tactic to test the waters, with the opposition parties, constituents, and the general public.  It’s perfectly valid too, and actually quite responsible of him considering what he is proposing to do. I would contend, however, that it is unlikely to happen. (Or if it does it’ll be extremely unwise of him to do.) Here’s a couple reasons why.

Floor crossers get punished

Take for example this blog about the 2008 federal election. Three pretty major moves by people who quit or were turfed by their caucus to join another party were punished in the subsequent election. Another recent example is Claude Patry who quit the NDP to join the Bloc Quebecois. This riding voted 82% for parties other than the Bloc. I think it’s clear they won’t be supporting him in the next election.

It’s not always been like this: I found this Globe article about history smiling on party defectors. But let’s be clear, most such examples are literally that – old history. That same article points out that while historically those defectors tend to win they get less support (8% less, on average) in the next election. Which puts Osborne in a possible losing position (he got 57.9% in the 2011 election) unless he turns NDP (though much of that support came out specifically for NDP candidate Keith Dunne).

In THIS province, specifically…

You’ve got a two to one chance of having your political career trashed beyond repair if you change your political stripes. Peter Fenwick, Leo Barry, Sam Drover, and my old favourite political blunderer Tom Burgess, all switched their political ideology and for one reason or another were not permitted by the public to continue. Tom Rideout, Ross Wiseman, and John Crosbie are the exceptions to that rule.

This is the crux of it really: one has to be exceptional to weather the storm that one creates – and history shows that even exceptional people aren’t always accepted.

Party identity and integrity

There’s a couple of points to make here. The first and most obvious one is that if another party accepts Osborne, it would be quite insulting to the candidates who (supposedly) carried that party’s true colours into the last election but were defeated by PC Osborne. It would also likely cause internal strife for a part to accept into its fold someone who ran against policies the party holds dear. Essentially, your party would look like it was making a desperate grab to gain (or maintain) some political power (for Liberals it would give them their first seat in the northeast Avalon since 2003).

‘Power grabbing’ is optically worse for the NDP though because a) it would give them an even number of seats with the Liberals, raising the question of who exactly is the official opposition, and b) it goes against the core values of their party. The NDP have, since 1997, tried to introduce legislation that specifically blocks MPs from crossing the floor – forcing them to resign and run for re-election under the new banner or run out their term as an independent. The provincial opposition parties are part and parcel of their federal opposition parties – which means their policies are essentially one and the same.

Despite all the optics and party policy bending however, both the Liberals and NDP are open to gaining a seat.

It’s robbery

The plain and simple crux of floor crossing is that you rob the public of their single most powerful element in democracy – their vote. In our parliamentary democracy, we don’t know if people voted for Osborne, or if they voted PC, or both (or against the other parties perhaps). Can you tell me that 2,966 people all voted for Tom? If that’s the case, then so be it, he can go to whatever party he feels fit.

Otherwise, it’s misrepresentation. Even if 2,965 people voted for Tom, and one voted just because he was on the PC ticket, you rob that one person. If it were anything other than crossing the floor, misrepresenting what you were voting for would be considered election fraud (like, say, robocalls, misdirecting the electorate, or any number of other things of that nature).

Let’s take it a small step further

How would you, a voter, feel if a candidate ran, and won, under one party’s banner in a district that has always been supportive of that party? Let’s say, for example, Cartwright–L’anse au Clair as a pretty Liberal district, or Kilbride as a pretty PC district. Two days following the election, that person simply walks across the floor to join another party. You’d feel absolutely robbed. It is pretty clear from the outset that the candidate intended to defraud you.

What’s the difference between them doing it on day one, or half way through a term, from that perspective?

I understand – and applaud actually – any member who quits caucus (or gets thrown out) because they feel their party has crossed some line. Whether it be for a lack of faith in their leader, or some policy direction the party has changed mid-course, or whether it’s because a decision adversely affects their constituents.

But crossing the floor is unpalatable

Especially if it acts as an “upgrade” for the member from opposition to a governing party, which suggests that there are individual gains to be made by the member within that party (cabinet posts, influence, etc.) There is nothing to stop any member who quits for the reasons I outlined above from remaining as an independent and simply voting freely, which may include regularly voting in support one of the other parties.

In this case I’d rather see Mr. Osborne sit as an independent, and vote alongside the party (or the individual motion) he feels is best for his constituents, which incidentally best aligns with the platform he campaigned on. Whichever party he may form a “coalition” with (essentially) can then simply share their House of Assembly floor time with him as if he were a member of their party.

In fact, I think this is quite an important issue and I would certainly like to see this as part of provincial law.

Which, incidentally, could work against parties such as the Labrador Party by blocking a ‘natural move’ for Labrador MHAs who are discontented with their island-based party and want an alternative, in the same way the Bloc Quebecois started, and continues to draw MPs.

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