Thursday, February 09, 2006

Crossing the Floor

There is a lot of talk in Canada at the moment about "crossing the floor," due to a couple of high-profile instances in recent politics. Since I'm talking about important developments in the English and British Parliaments in class, I thought a post on this might be relevant, or at least fun.

Here's the background for those who don't know: Back in 2005, after Stephen Harper became leader of the revamped Conservative Party, Belinda Stronach, one of his rivals, left the Conservatives and crossed the floor to the governing Liberals, where she instantly became a cabinet minister. Her vote saved the government from a non-confidence situation soon afterwards.

This week, Stephen Harper and the first Conservative government in 13 years was sworn in. Among the new cabinet ministers was David Emerson, who had just been elected as the Liberal MP for Vancouver-Kingsway. Harper had made an offer to Emerson because the Conservatives had no members in Vancouver (or Toronto or Montreal, for that matter).

There was a big fuss over Stronach's defection last year, but an even bigger one over Emerson's. Emerson's riding (=constituency) has many NDP voters who supported him and the Liberals rather reluctantly, and only to keep the Conservatives out of power. The Liberal constituency organization wants Emerson to return the $100,000 they spent on his election, and individuals who contributed to Emerson's campaign are pretty steamed, too.

The relationship between elected legislators and the people who vote for them is a classic question. In the late 18th century, the English Parliamentarian Edmund Burke told the electors of Bristol that he was not the Member for Bristol but a Member of Parliament and that he would use his judgement, not follow theirs. (They gave him the boot, and Burke got into Parliament in a "pocket borough" or safe seat controlled by a peer.)

A quick look shows that in countries where individual legislators are elected by name and not as part of a party list, the issue is still alive. On the Web I found material on South African developments of a few years back, and an official research piece on Australian floor crossing. CBC News In Depth has a summary of recent Canadian incidents, though it doesn't discuss the recent brouhaha.

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