Floor-crossing … The Canadian National Sport

Well, OK, its not much of a spectator sport, I’ll grant ya, but by the number of times we seem to engage in it, its hard to argue that political floor-crossing hasn’t become a huge part of our Parliament.  A few years ago, Belinda Stronach‘s celebrated defection shored up a shaky Liberal regime for a few extra months, then after the last election campaign, David Emerson abandoned the voters of his riding, who elected him as a Liberal representative, by joining the Conservative party in exchange for a cabinet post.

A few months ago I wrote a post about the particularly Canadian experiment in non-partisanship that was Wajid Khan working with the Conservative government on the thorny problem of Middle East issues, and I talked about how good for democracy I thought it was.  Today, Mr. Khan has decided to formally join the Conservative party, bringing the experiment in non-partisanship to an end.  I’m not sure its a surprise really … political observers expressed more surprise at the notion that Khan would work with Harper as a Liberal than at this eventual decision to drop that distinction.

What I find particularly interesting today is some of the discussion around what Mr Khan has been doing for the past 6 months as a Liberal working with a Conservative Government.  He was forced to give up his position in the Liberal shadow cabinet when he started to work with Harper’s Conservatives in actual governance over conflict of interest charges.  Apparently, his colleagues felt he wasn’t professional enough to keep cabinet confidences while performing his other job.  While thats certainly one call to make, it doesn’t speak very highly of his colleagues opinion of their fellow Liberals, IMO.

While MP’s are certainly elected as representatives of a certain party, the job they are elected for is governance.  Whether they find themselves in the Government, or in the Official Opposition, or even just in the back benches, the job of an MP is to help govern Canada.  While that sometimes means that the adversarial system we have designed between parties serves us well, it sometimes means that people work together for common goals despite differences on other issues.  One of the things that SHOULD characterize the Canadian system is the freedom to belong to an opposing party and still work with government on issues you agree with.

The biggest problem with the adversarial system we seem to have evolved into is that it leaves little room to work together.  The Liberals must define themselves differently from the Conservatives, and while one is in power, any non-partisan moves by the other can be seen as subsuming the party good and watering down its principles.  For the party not in power, its perceived as weak to work with the government and strong to oppose them.  But clearly, as Canadians, there are common goals that we all share, places where the party we belong to should matter less than doing the hard work of governance and compromise.

I submit the Middle East issues that Mr. Khan helped the Conservatives with is exactly one of those places of governance and compromise.  It is a place where Canadians need to move forward with a single voice that advocates dignity, peace, and fairness to all sides, and one which respects the historical sensibilities of the region.  Its a place where we need to speak from a position of intimate knowledge of the situation, and I think that a man like Wajid Khan is precisely the sort of person to help provide some of that balance to Conservative policy.

He will probably still do just as good of a job as a Conservative, and maybe this IS where he is supposed to be, ideologically.  That is for Mr. Khan to decide, not me.  But I do think this notion that a Liberal MP working with the government is a dangerous thing, is itself a dangerous notion.  There are places where the adversarial system of partisanship serves us well, forcing us to hone our ideas in the forge of debate, and despite the childishness sometimes exhibited in Question Period, the Canadian House of Commons is an excellent example of that debate a lot of times.  But at the same time, MP’s are elected to serve and govern Canada, regardless of what party they belong to, and voters expect politicians mature enough to deal with that.  I hope Mr. Khan continues to do a good job serving and governing Canada, but I wonder why he, and his colleagues, felt he couldn’t do it from where he was.

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One Response

  1. “I submit the Middle East…is a place where Canadians need to move forward with a single voice that advocates dignity, peace, and fairness to all sides, and one which respects the historical sensibilities of the region.”

    While I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment, I submit that the Harper government shows no sign of recognizing the need for just governance and compromise in the region, nor did Wajid Khan ever serve to advance such values. Marching lockstep on orders from Washington embarasses Canada on the world stage, and no Canadian government has ever been as servile as “The New Canadian Government™”.

    May we have one less new and more traditionally loyal to Canadian values soon.

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