Thursday, February 09, 2006

What did Harper really say about switching parties...

Just so there's no confusion. This interview took place on Jan. 19, 2006 on CBC - The National - Your Turn With The Party Leaders:

Peter Mansbridge: Next question is coming from a city you're very familiar with, from Calgary.

Colleen Belisle: Hello, my name is Colleen Belisle and I have a question for Stephen Harper regarding the accountability issue. In the past 18 months, I have noticed a number of MPs crossing the floor after the election. This makes me wonder why I should, as a voter, go and vote when my MP can change parties after the election. Mr. Harper, are there any policies that you plan to enforce after the election regarding this issue? Thank you.

Stephen Harper: My short answer is no. And I understand the voters' frustration. You can imagine I feel that frustration as much as anyone. I was the victim of a number of the particular incidents that the voter is referring to, that Colleen's referring to, but the difficulty, Peter – I know that many members of Parliament have put forward various proposals that would restrict the right of MPs to cross the floor, force elections, or whatever. I haven't seen one yet that convinces me that it would create anything other than a situation where party leaders have even more power over the individual members of Parliament. And, as you know, I've said that, of course, I've said that for a long time that I think our members of Parliament need more authority, need to be able to represent their constituents' views, and they may make very bad decisions in crossing from a good party to a bad party or, more particularly, a winning party to a losing party. But that all said, I haven't seen one yet that I'm convinced creates a bigger problem than it's actually trying to fix.

Peter Mansbridge: Do you think voters are as uncomfortable as Ms. Belisle points out when these kinds of things happen? Because if they are, one assumes that they are looking for direction from their political leaders to prevent this from happening. As you pointed out, some parties, the NDP has said it would force an immediate election. Do you think something has to be done?

Stephen Harper: Let me give a concrete example of an alternative situation. The Conservative Party of Canada, the new Conservative Party was created because people left actually no less than three separate old caucuses, two old parties, and joined with a new party, and I think there is widespread consensus among not just members of the old parties, but members of the public as well that this was a good thing to create a stronger opposition, to end the fragmentation of the conservative movement in the country.

Now, you know, this kind of law could have forced us into a situation where we were having 75 byelections. So, you know, that's a problem with any of these proposals. We understand, I understand why people want them, and, believe me, there's a couple of cases that have happened where I'd love to have a law like this, but there's also a lot of downsides when you think it through. As I say, in a practical matter, I could see how party leaders could really abuse that particular provision to make it even more difficult for members who may disagree legitimately with their party to operate within the party.

Stephen Harper was already, what, 3 weeks ahead of the debate that everyone is having now.

Despite their opinions, voters have to remember that we elect individuals to the House of Commons, not parties. Parties are a mechanism by which a common platform can be presented. A government is formed not by which party has the most seats, but which person in the House has the confidence of the largest and most stable caucus. Semantics, I know, but very important.

Right now, if the Conservatives and NDP wanted to join up and form a majority coalition government, they could (125 + 29 = 154 and the speaker didn't come from this coalition). The Prime Minister can appoint anyone to cabinet, although tradition says it's an MP.

Generally though, the NDP can't seem to understand how our parliamentary system works. Their calls for distributed proportional representation are solely based on party vote percentage, where in our system, we elect individuals. While I could agree with a single-transferrable-ballot system, I really think it would be too confusing and there would be a lot of rejected ballots. I've been a scruitineer a couple times--believe me, there would be a lot of confused voters out there.

But again ... and again ... if we had an elected and equal senate it would balance this all out.

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