Monday, February 09, 2015

Crossing the Floor

"I can no longer support mean-spirited leadership that divides people instead of bringing them together" --Eve Adams, on her transformation from Conservative to Liberal Member of Parliament

Curious wording, that. Doesn't that mean that she could support mean-spirited leadership up until just now?

Everyone knows by now that I am not a fan of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, which means I'm probably supposed to be cheering that they're down an MP this morning. I'm not, at all.

"Crossing the floor" happens so often in Canadian politics that it's almost as if the chairs have lice or something. Federally, though, it's a little more rare and it's big news when it happens. The tea leaves are read and the auguries augured: what does this mean for the scorned party? Is the adopted party any better off with someone whose very political identity is changeable? (Was (s)he bought?)

I don't agree with crossing the floor. While it's a perfectly natural inclination when you come to realize that "your" party and leader no longer reflect your beliefs and values, it is also a betrayal to that party and especially to its voters, who elected you under what suddenly turn out to be false pretences. A person with integrity, in this situation, would announce that she could no longer sit as a Conservative MP, declare her independence, and then run as a Liberal (if that was her intention) in the next election--which is slated for the fall of this year but could very well come earlier if the Duffy affair threatens to get too dicey.

In Adams' case, my restless mind turns to her home life today. Her fiancĂ© is a former communications director for the Prime Minister (which in and of itself is no great shakes, since Harper's had eight of those over his tenure)...but he was also the Executive Director of the Conservative Party (until he was forced to resign for allegedly trying to interfere in Eve's nomination bid.  Somehow I don't imagine that's a happy little home right now. EDIT: A tweet from Soudas this afternoon confirms he "fully supports" her decision...which means, in effect, that Trudeau just got two for the price of one. Albeit both of them have rather tarnished professional reputations...

The concerns that Eve says pushed her over the edge were income splitting and a woman's right to choose. Again, I find this curious.

Income splitting is classic Harper politics. Like the GST cut before it, it has been vilified by many economists (including, in this case, Harper's late, lamented Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who was one of few Conservatives respected on all sides of the House). Income splitting is inequality by design: its benefits go almost entirely to those making above the median income. It's also boutique politics in that it's aimed at only 15% of the electorate--and whatever your political stripe, remodelling the tax code into something that selectively rewards chosen segments of society -- the ones who just happened to vote for you first and foremost, of course -- is dangerous and shortsighted.

But income splitting is far from the first dangerous and shortsighted policy to come out of the PMO since Harper was elected (and to be fair, Harper only perfected the policies and processes of Jean ChrĂ©tien: the two leaders are worlds apart politically but close cousins procedurally). What is it about income splitting that caused Eve Adams to say "enough is enough"?

"A woman's right to choose" is an even more interesting case. Now, it's true that Trudeau has been unequivocal on this matter. He has, in fact, insisted his members to vote pro-choice on any bill that should arise. Dire consequences await someone who does not toe the line--that sounds remarkably like something Harper routinely threatens his party with.  On this issue, I'm perfectly okay with Trudeau's stance because -- and this is something few people seem to grasp -- pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. It is very easy to be pro-choice and  anti-abortion. Just ask my wife, who is both. All it requires is a burning lack of desire to shove your sense of morality down people's collective throats.

(I have my own thoughts on abortion, thoughts I have never seen voiced anywhere else. TL; DR: why doesn't anyone ever imagine the baby might have a say?)

Regardless, it is worth noting that Stephen Harper has done nothing to curtail "a woman's right to choose", despite some pressure to that effect from his backbench and an ironclad certainty from us non-Conservative types that he would ban it somewhere between banning science and elections. (We really do go overboard in our criticisms in this country: the electorate is becoming so polarized that it's almost impossible to find consensus on anything. Sad state of affairs.)

Harper during the last election:

 “As you know, in our party, as in any broadly based party, there are people with a range of views on this issue,” Harper said. “But I think I’ve been very clear as party leader.… As long as I’m prime minister we are not reopening the abortion debate.”

Seems pretty cut-and-dried to me.  Evidently not to Eve Adams, mind you.

What does this defection mean going forward? Unless Eve is merely the first of a stampede (which I quite frankly can't even imagine), in practical terms, not a whole hell of a lot. Harper is probably brushing off his hands and saying "good riddance", and it's not as if Trudeau has landed a star Conservative; Adams was only the Parliamentary Secretary for Health. It's dangerous for Trudeau to say too loudly, as he did this morning, that "She wanted to be her community's voice in Ottawa, not the prime minister's voice in her community". Dangerous because Trudeau has already shown an authoritarian streak himself, not just on abortion (as people commonly understand his stance there) but on supposedly "open" nominations. He'll also have to fend off arguments (already being advanced) that there is little difference between his Liberals and Harper's Conservatives. Eve Adams may well end up being more trouble for Trudeau than she's worth.

I would very much like to see it enshrined in law that one may not "cross the floor" at any time outside of an election campaign. Brampton South voted in a Conservative. Not a Liberal. Eve Adams may well feel that her party and its leader betrayed her. One betrayal does not justify another.

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