Defections, turncoats, about-facing. Just another day in politics...

Toula Foscolos
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They say a week is an eternity in politics, but this past week must have gone by in painfully slow motion for certain federal and provincial party leaders, who saw their members defect.

Toula's Take

NDP MP Lise St-Denis stunned everyone this past Tuesday as she crossed the floor to the Liberals, arguing that she couldn't stay part of a party whose policies she didn't agree with. Too bad she didn't have the same qualms about joining a party whose policies she didn't agree with.

St-Denis candidly admitted that she didn't even expect to win a seat during the last elections, and has been contemplating switching parties for the past six months. Are you doing the math? Because I did. This means she started contemplating switching barely two months after being elected.

"They voted for Jack Layton. Jack Layton is dead," St-Denis said at a news conference. Ouch! All sentiment aside, she's bang on. The "Jack factor" was and is undisputable. No one can say with certainty how many people were moved to vote for the NDP because of Layton's charisma and the faith he inspired in the political process.

But many Canadians also voted for the NDP because of its policies, and, at the very least, those who voted for St-Denis deserve a candidate who supported (or perhaps had taken the time to read?) those policies, too. It's worth noting that one item on the NDP platform includes preventing MPs from crossing the floor without going back to the polls. Oh, the irony...

St-Denis also demonstrated bad judgement and conveniently-timed tunnel vision, by not recognizing that by stating voters "voted for Jack" she's also stating that they most certainly did not vote for her. By her reasoning, what, if any, democratic mandate does she even have?

"Changing political affiliation is a blatant lack of respect for democracy," said NDP MP Guy Caron.

"It's a sign of great fluidity and great change in Quebec," said Liberal interim leader Bob Rae in predictable fashion, since he was gaining, not losing a member.

Around the same time, the PQ lost another member in a high-profile defection. Francois Rebello jumped ship to join the newly-formed and currently-leading-in-the-polls Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ). Rebello is now the third PQ member to join the new party, prompting Journal de Montréal columnist Richard Martineau, whom I rarely agree with, to write: "Un nouveau resto vient d'ouvrir: la CAQ. Spécialités: cuisine fusion et mets réchauffés..."

Moral debates aside, one can argue that, just like voters are often prone to doing (never more so than here in Quebec), politicians are also allowed to flip flop and re-assess their choices and their allegiances. Should they not be allowed to do so?

La Presse columnist Vincent Marissal tweeted : "Mémo à Legault : les électeurs n'ont pas beaucoup de sympathie pour les vire-capots. On attend toujours un "vrai" candidat."

All indignation aside, switching party allegiance is nothing new in politics. Remember Bob Rae, Belinda Stronach, Richard Holden, Lucien Bouchard, René Levesque? Winston Churchill was the most famous floor crosser of all. He went from Conservatives to Liberals before crossing back to Conservative, commenting with the sardonic wit that he was known for that "anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat."

Moral debates aside, one can argue that, just like voters are often prone to doing (never more so than here in Quebec), politicians are also allowed to flip flop and re-assess their choices and their allegiances. Should they not be allowed to do so? Here, in my opinion, is the multiple-choice question it boils down to: should they be allowed to simply cross over with no consequences, should they be allowed to leave only as an independent, or should they be forced to fight for their seat in a by-election? Are voters more comfortable with the financial costs of a by-election or more comfortable with letting someone cross over? It's up to us to decide. We make the rules.

Whatever the future holds, I'm seeing signs of a shifting political landscape, where perhaps both voter and member attachment to political parties may not be as strong as it once was. Not a reality that may inspire all that much faith in our political process, but what other choice do we have?

To quote Churchill once again: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Point taken.

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  • Murray Levine
    12 janvier 2012 - 19:07

    I beg to differ. In the parliamentary system when one votes they are voting for an individual and not for a party or for a leader. Parties make promises that they can not keep and always can claim a lack of funds available down the line in case anyone recalls their promises. Bob Rae was a provincial NDP and went to the federal Liberals. So what? JJean Charest went from the federal Conservatives to the Provincial Liberals. The 2 levels are unrelated (or at least should be)