By Chad Ingram
Published Sept. 20, 2018
Earlier this week, Ontario MP Leona Alleslev crossed the floor in the House of Commons, leaving Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, to join the Conservative benches.
Floor crossings are not frequent, but certainly not unheard of. They happen occasionally, and they are a risky manoeuvre for the politician switching parties. Some constituents who voted for a Liberal government will undoubtedly be upset at this week’s turn of events. Floor crossings typically happen out of conviction, with a politician’s frustration finally outweighing the inherent risk.
Alleslev cited discontent with the government’s work on the economy and foreign affairs among the reasons she was switching parties. She said her attempts to raise concerns were met with silence.
“To my Liberal colleagues, thank you, but my oath is to country, not party and my sacred obligation is to serve my constituents,” she said in a speech.
Fair enough. But the reality is that Alleslev is leaving one party where her concerns were met with silence to another where any concerns she might raise will likely also be met with silence.
Political parties in this country, at both the federal and provincial level, dominate their members. All members of all parties toe the party line at all times. Compliance is demanded and dissent is punished. This is completely unhealthy and does not allow for a thoughtful, pragmatic democracy.
A red Tory and a blue Liberal probably agree on a host of issues, and those individuals should be free to vote accordingly. At all times. Instead, free votes or votes where members are allowed to vote their conscience are special occasions, often reserved for controversial issues such as abortion rights.
In the “free” vote that Ontario PC members partook in last week to enact the notwithstanding clause to override the decision of a judge, every member present voted in favour of the bill.
This system of overbearing partisan control means that constituents come second to party. Each and every MPP and MP, at one point or another, and on multiple occasions, will vote in favour of motions that are actually harmful to their constituencies; that hurt the people they were elected to represent.
In the case of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott, the PC government’s hasty cancellation of the basic income pilot project is a prime example of this. Lindsay was one of three pilot communities for the program, and thousands of people who believed they would have a steady income for three years, and were using that opportunity to better their lives in various ways, are now out of luck.
In what is becoming a familiar scenario, there is also a lawsuit against the government on that issue.
As voters, we must try to convince our political leaders that it is us, their constituents, who should come first. People have come second to party for too long.