This piece appears in the May 22 print edition of the Western Standard.
There are plenty of rules when it comes to donating to Canadian election campaigns. But what about un-elections? The "Campaign to De-Elect David Emerson" -- a supposedly local effort to force the Vancouver-Kingsway MP to run in a byelection after defecting from the Liberals to the Tories -- has been soliciting donations for lawn signs, buttons and who knows what else. Actually, that no one knows how donations are being spent is just one reason voters might be concerned.
Elections Canada's finance rules are supposed to stop special interest groups from using big spending to promote narrow agendas, by limiting donation sizes and making contributions publicly known -- measures that don't apply to "de-elections." No one knows, in this case, which groups are using money to influence the democratic process, or how.
Industry Minister Emerson has called the agitators "partisan zealots" -- as opposed to any real grassroots movement in the riding. He may be right. When one group hired a plane to fly over Parliament Hill on opening day, trailing a banner reading, "Emerson: Call home!," it published the names of the 250 people who subsidized the stunt (though not their donations). Turns out, there were many special interests involved -- from unionists to anti-war activists to anarchists -- loads of whom don't even live in Emerson's riding. Shouldn't Vancouver-Kingsway residents know which groups are trying to influence their riding's politics -- even in a de-election? Until Elections Canada says so, the best we can do is offer a glimpse of some of the folks who paid for the airplane prank, and the opportunity to bring their own politics to bear on the voters of Vancouver-Kingsway.
|Dorothy-Jean O'Donnell||Marxist-Leninist Party candidate from another riding. Purely partisan|
|Douglas Gook||Green Party candidate from another riding. Purely partisan|
|Bill Forst||President of NDP riding association in another riding. Purely partisan|
|Linda Wheeler, Catherine Welsh||Public day-care activists. One less Tory will make it harder for the government to scrap the Liberal program|
|Carl Rosenberg, Sheldon Klein, Denise Haskett||Pro-Palestinian activists. Angry over Tories' cutting funding to Hamas|
|Bryan and Jane Baynham||Executives with B.C.'s Liberal party. Purely partisan|
|Chris Morrisey, Bridget Coll, Jane Bouey||High-profile gay-rights activists opposed to the Tories' possibly revisiting legalized same-sex marriage|
|Kevin Shoesmith, Donna Tanchak, Teresa Gray||Longtime opponents of 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Hoping Emerson, minister responsible for the games, will go away|
|Bev Gilpin, Al Gilpin, Robert Oveson, Les Both||Public critics of the U.S. ballistic missile defence shield. Uneasy about Tory party plans to reconsider joining BMD|
|Zoe Hunter||Enviro-activist, daughter of Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter. Unhappy with Tories' neglect of the Kyoto Accord|
- STEVE JANKE
In the struggle to oust David Emerson for the crime of representing the people who elected him, the tone has often gotten nasty. People have been arrested after pushing and shoving at sit-ins, for example.
As we all know, Emerson was elected by the people of Vancounver-Kingsway while running for the Liberals. He crossed the floor to join the new Harper cabinet, a move that has been endorsed by the premier of British Columbia and the mayor of Vancouver. Nevertheless, there are many people trying to force a new by-election.
One of those people is Manuel Pereda. He is not a political operator like anti-Emerson activist Kevin Chalmers, but works for a Vancouver renovations company.
Perhaps that explains Pereda's effort to meet Emerson half-way:
Emerson spoke briefly about the tone of his recent meeting with protester Manuel Pereda, which recently broke new ground in establishing a line of communication between the two groups.
"Mr. Pereda and I are in many respects not that far apart," Emerson said. "The issues are really more complex than most people really know about with crossing the floor... If you're going to not let people cross the floor then you are putting more power in the hands of the political party and is that truly a democracy?"
A constructive meeting? An effort to find a way to make those constituents of Vancouver-Kingsway who are angry realize they are still represented in Ottawa?
Then why this curious statement?
Both Manuel Pereda and the De-Elect Emerson Campaign have said that Manuel Pereda acted on his own in meeting with Emerson.
Pereda the traitor? The De-Elect Emerson Campaign is the operation run by Kevin Chalmers, a former Emerson campaign worker and a Liberal Party operator.
Apparently the problem was that Emerson had set a condition on the meeting with Pereda. Since Emerson has stated he is unwilling to resign, he felt any meeting on that topic would be a waste of time. But could there still be a useful discussion without getting into resignations?
Pereda thought so. Kevin Chalmers, on his website, makes it clear that any meeting with Emerson must focus on Emerson's resignation:
Recently, after being forced by the presence of national media to accept a constituent's meeting request, Emerson met with one of the many disenfranchised voters of this riding. Emerson only agreed to do so only on the condition that the voter, Manuel Pereda, vowed to not demand for his resignation.
The Campaign to De-Elect David Emerson finds this price of admission far too high.
And that's why Kevin Chalmers doesn't get a meeting, while Manuel Pereda has actually seen some progress, as reported on Pereda's website:
After the meeting, Mr. Pereda stated that he planned to abandon his demands for Mr. Emerson’s resignation, as the minister’s mind is set and Mr. Pereda prefers to use his energy to begin a broader, non-partisan debate on the electoral system. Mr. Pereda’s stance aims at opening the dialogue with all political parties and citizens groups to encourage the start of electoral reform debates. Mr. Pereda made it clear that his stance represents the view of only some of the Message in the Air supporters and that he will continue to applaud the efforts of other groups demanding a new by-election.
Amusingly, Pereda was also forced to highlight the schism in the anti-Emerson crusade (while at the same time trying to downplay it):
Members of the media have been asked to correct reports that were published stating that Mr.Pereda is still a leader of the Campaign to De-elect David Emerson. Mr. Pereda was one of the initiators of the CDDE but he is no longer directly involved in that campaign. Mr. Pereda still has De-elect Emerson signs outside his home because he supports the idea of keeping the issue alive until electoral reform debates get started. Mr. Pereda now chairs the Message in the Air Society.
One wonders if there were any fireworks at the meeting between Chalmers and Pereda. Did Pereda try to convince the true believers at the CDDE that his way was likely to pay dividends? Did Pereda leave, or was he given the bum's rush out the door?
Why is Kevin Chalmers being so dogmatic? Why won't he participate with Pereda in an effort to reform the electoral system in an organized and measured manner instead of relying on sit-ins and airplane stunts?
As Manuel Pereda said, he is interested in the "broader" debate. Chalmers is only interested in Emerson. For Chalmers, this is personal. When something is personal like that, it is either because that specific person has been seriously hurt (so this is about vengeance) or that specific person stands to gain tremendously by winning (so this is about fame and fortune). My gut tells me Chalmers thinks he has something to gain from taking Emerson down -- the fame and fortune motive. That's why he's not interested in the broader implications of electoral reform, and that's why he has no time for people like Pereda who aren't willing to stay focused on Emerson to the exclusion of all else.
The real question is, though, whether there are other people like Pereda in the CDDE who just want to have the same discussion Pereda had, and so can be pealed away from Chalmers.
The ongoing bleating about David Emerson is pretty tiring. Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Burnaby, BC, making a speech about child care. In the CTV piece on the story, there is a picture of a person carrying a pair of signs with the standard accusation of hypocrisy. The caption is as follows:
Alexander Lamb, a constituent of David Emerson's, carries signs as he arrives at the Willingdon Heights Community Centre to greet Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Burnaby B.C. Tuesday, April 18, 2006.
Is he a constituent? The picture was provided by Chuck Stoody of CP. Did Stoody ask Lamb where he was from? Did he do any follow up? Or is Stoody assuming that Lmab is a constituent?
Or did the people at CTV provide the caption themselves? And if so, the question stands: how was it established that Lamb was a constituent?
Why do I ask? Because I checked every "A Lamb" in the phone book (and I managed to get the postal code for the one "A Lamb" of the ten without a postal code listed in the phone book), and not one of these people is a constituent in David Emerson's riding.
There is a business called "Alexander Lamb Antiques" in the riding. It is a commercial building on Main Street, just three buildings south of East 16th Avenue. Alexander Lamb might have a room in the back and live on the premises, but with all the folks from outside of Emerson's riding making trouble, I tend to be suspicious. But then maybe I'm the one guilty of beating a dead horse here, constantly checking on where these protesters are from.
From the Canadian Press:
"Regardless of what Mr. Harper says, regardless of what the ethics commissioner says, this is a moral issue. Politicians should not be allowed to cross the floor the day after they got elected.''
Those are the words of Manuel Pereda, a Vancouver resident, who put out a bunch of his own money to pay for an airplane to fly in view of Parliament Hill today trailing a banner that read "Emerson: Call Home".
This is in reference, of course, to David Emerson's unapologetic move from the Liberals to the Conservatives.
Pereda even has a website, Message in the Air.
Pereda has launched a website called Message in the Air to raise money for the protest and register names of supporters for the stunt.
The names of supporters will be released on the day of the protest.
"Contrary to what Mr. Emerson and Mr. Harper are saying, this campaign is not sponsored by the Liberal party or the NDP. The people behind this are your average, ordinary citizens." [emphasis added]
Are we really talking about "average, ordinary citizens" who have decided to force a member of parliament to resign? Well, maybe not so ordinary, but more on that later.
Consider the big picture carefully.
If a minister does a bad job, I can, as a citizen of the country, ask that he resign. I have a legitimate complaint here, because as a minister, his or her portfolio affects everyone (as a general rule).
But an MP makes what is essentially a local decision that impacts his or her riding constituents. By what right can I demand that he or she resign? I have my own MP, my own voice in parliament. If I don't like what that other MP is doing, then I should count myself lucky that I have a different MP.
For instance, if I lived in Burnaby, I would have Peter Julian, a member of the NDP, as my member of parliament. A constituent of Burnaby, like Mr Harish Mahendru, should probably worry about how well Peter Julian is representing his interests.
Then why would Mr Mahendru donate money to this effort to remove an MP of another riding?
The same goes for Pierre Gaulupeau, who is represented by Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh.
The same goes for Cierra Dahlquist, who is represented by NDP MP Libby Davies.
The same goes for Jason Detlor, who is represented by Liberal MP Hedy Fry.
The fact is, without too much effort, I can find all sorts of folks on this list of people who don't want David Emerson to represent the constituents of his riding, who want to undo the fair vote undertaken by those constituents, but who are not numbered among those same constituents.
Strangely, to me at least, these same people are proud of the out-of-riding meddling. Take Kevin Chalmers, who is leading the "de-election" charge, who himself is not a resident of David Emerson's riding:
Officials with the campaign to De-elect David Emerson say they have received donations totalling $2,000 from as far away as New Brunswick enough to cover the cost of signs and buttons and were seeking additional donations Saturday.
But these are just "ordinary citizens", right? Not all of them. Manuel Pereda is quite insistent that he was never political in the past. What about Malcolm van Delst? She donated money to Pereda's effort to have David Emerson removed. She does not live in the riding (she lives in the riding represented by Hedy Fry), but she ran in the BC Provincial Election in 2005 for the Work Less Party. She garnered 0.33% of the vote in Vancouver-Fariview. The provincial riding of Vancouver-Fairview overlaps the federal riding of Vancouver-Kingsway (everything west of Main Street and south of 16th Avenue).
The Work Less Party platform is to help the environment and reduce unemployment and cure athlete's foot by instituting a mandatory 32-hour work week. Just because it has never worked in Europe anywhere it has been attempted certainly doesn't mean it won't work here, right?
Well, whatever. But what matters is that we might have an example of one political party attempting to influence election results after an election via this "de-election" back door. Yeah, the Work Less Party is essentially irrelevant, and has run only provincially in British Columbia, but it still makes me nervous.
What about Douglas Gook, who is not represented by David Emerson, but rather by Conservative Dick Harris in the riding of Cariboo-Prince George. Douglas Gook was the Green Party candidate for Cariboo-Prince George. He lost. Why should an environmentalist candidate in Cariboo-Prince George be allowed to meddle with the riding representative elsewhere? If the defection was not of a Liberal to a Conservative, but a Conservative to the NDP, do you think Douglas Gook would be meddling then?
What about Bryan Baynham, who also donated to de-elect David Emerson, who is not represented by David Emerson but by Liberal MP Blair Wilson? Mr Baynham is an executive member of the West Vancouver-Garibaldi constituency association (provincial BC Liberals). Wife Jane Baynham, who also donated to de-elect David Emerson, actually wrote a letter to the editor arguing against a recall effort targeting a provincial Liberal MLA Joan McIntyre:
At a time when we are begging for smart, honest, hard-working people with integrity to run for public office, it upsets me that a small group of people with a single issue are impugning the reputation of an excellent MLA.
McIntyre has worked extremely hard over the last few months, travelling up and down the corridor listening to and consulting with individuals, groups and municipal politicians and doing her best to represent the opinions of all her constituents. The highway is only one issue and I think that the Save the Bluffs group should remember that.
Too bad David Emerson doesn't earn the same consideration. But then he's a Conservative now, and the Baynhams are important people in the provincial Liberal Party.
What about Bill Forst? He donated to the "de-elect" fund. Is he just an ordinary grassroots constituent? Not at all. He is the president of the West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast Federal NDP Riding Association.
That's right. The president of some other riding association for a party that is not even directly involved in the Emerson party switch.
But that doesn't stop Forst from meddling in that other riding's business involving those other parties.
I get the distinct feeling that the moral outrage is very limited in scope -- it offends the moral sense of these political left-wingers -- Liberal, NDP, Work Less, Green -- that the Conservatives picked up a seat.
Regardless of the motive, it definitely seems that this grassroots effort involves a lot of political professionals in other ridings who work for other parties. But then it's hard to tell from just a list of names. We don't even know how much was donated, where the money came from, if it included funds from party accounts and not just personal accounts, where the money went, even if it was kept in a separate account, and if there was more than what was required to hire the airplane, where the extra went.
The de-election campaign stinks. It has all the earmarks of an effort that is in the process of being hijacked by professional political movers and shakers, none of whom are constituents, but who are using this to pursue a different agenda.
Which brings me back to Kevin Chalmers. He is not a political neophyte. He knows who these people are that are helping Manuel Pereda, and quite possibly donating to his own effort as well. He knows what these people want. Yet he insists he is leading some kind of local grassroots campaign. Why would he let his campaign be used? The simple answer is that it advances his own agenda. An agenda that goes beyond David Emerson. Something more personal. What is it? I can only guess.
Way back on March 14, I put up two posts concerning Kevin Chalmers, the Liberal organizer with the "grassroots" campaign to de-elect David Emerson, the member of parliament (and Paul Martin cabinet minister) elected as a Liberal, who then crossed the floor to join the Conservatives and sit in cabinet.
Old news, I know.
But the posts were about bigger issues. One was concerning the fact that Chalmers was not even a resident of Emerson's riding. The other was about the raising of money to fund this de-election campaign without any accountability. We have strict rules about how much money a person can donate to elect an MP, and where it may come from. This is to avoid having money corrupt the process (I'm not necessarily agreeing with the rules, but that is their stated purpose). Doesn't it make sense to worry about who might be trying to turf an MP as well, especially if they cast themselves as a "local" group?
These are important points, in my opinion. But I haven't seen them discussed by any of the main stream media columnists. I'm bringing it up again now because today on CTV's Question Period, the Liberal strategist made a snarky remark in reference to a discussion about the Federal Accountability Act, refering to the Emerson appointment as if it was unethical -- which of course it wasn't. I've always thought it was entirely ethical, and I certainly didn't need the Ethics Commissioner to tell me so, but for what it's worth, he agreed completely.
So Emerson and the government are in the clear, but no one is asking the hard questions of Chalmers -- Where is the money coming from? How do you justify meddling in the affairs of someone else's riding? Why are you doing this?
Why are you doing this? I'd like to have that one answered. Call me a cynic, but a Liberal fighting so hard for accountability and ethics? I have to believe he's working to achieve a different goal. And not just to embarass David Emerson and Stephen Harper. Something for the Liberals, or something for himself.
Parliament opens this week, and if the media tries to squeeze more mileage out of the Emerson appointment in the days and weeks to come, I'm hoping a member of the media takes the trouble to dig around on the other side. I think there's a story there.
You know Kevin Chalmers, the former campaign coordinator for David Emerson, and now the leader of the effort to "de-elect" Emerson for having the temerity to join cabinet.
Well, on the donation page on the de-election website he writes the following:
Suite 359 - 3495 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC V5Z 4R3
Any questions please contact us by email or phone at:
Notice that no actual phone number is provided.
Well, I checked the registry for emersoncampaign.ca, and Kevin Chalmers used the phone number (604) 924-9212. That turns out to be his home number at 145 Keith Road West in North Vancouver. Interestingly, that is in Don Bell's riding North Vancouver.
Kevin Chalmers does not live David Emerson's riding of Vancouver Kingsway. David Emerson is not Chalmer's member of parliament. Chalmer's is represented by Liberal MP Don Bell. Judging from the lack of a de-election campaign, Chalmers is pleased by his representation by an opposition MP first elected in 2004, and who has never held a cabinet post.
Maybe Kevin Chalmers can explain why he feels the need to de-elect someone else's member of parliament. Apparently just as he is happy with his representation by Don Bell, he knows that the people of Vancouver Kingsway would be happy to have a new member of parliament. But then why isn't there someone in David Emerson's own riding who is leading the charge to de-elect David Emerson?
Can't those Vancouver-Kingsway people organize their own town hall meetings?
As a Vancouver-Kingsway grass roots driven organization we would like to extend a formal invitation to Mr. Emerson to attend and participate in a town hall meeting with his constituents.
I think he meant "a North Vancouver-based Vancouver-Kingsway grass roots driven organization".
A "carpetbagger" is an outsider, especially a politician, who presumptuously seeks a position or success in a new locality. I guess that makes Chalmers some sort of anti-carpetbagger, an outsider who seeks the failure of local politician.
Maybe Chalmers can explain which is more dangerous to the parliamentary system: that an elected member of parliament joined the cabinet at the request of the prime minister, or that people might be able to force by-elections in ridings that aren't their own.
Imagine a riding in BC that is heavily NDP running de-election campaigns targeting a Conservative MP in Alberta. Or vice versa. Then you will understand why we have a riding system in which members are responsible to their own constituents.
Update: Apparently this was revealed by Norman Spector on CKNW radio today. Darn.
Kevin Chalmers, David Emerson's former campaign coordinator, is spearheading the effort to have the floor-crossing cabinet minister "de-elected".
At his website, we learn that this is not motivated by partisan politics:
We are a non-partisan, grassroots campaign. We are not aligned with any political party.
They accept donations:
We welcome donations of all sizes -- every contribution helps.
Please make cheques out to:
Campaign to De-Elect David Emerson
As far as I can tell, this is not a registered political organization, or a charity. It is not a publicly traded company with shareholders. We're not in an election, so I'm not certain whether the so-called "third party" rules apply to restrict the amount of money spent. Kevin Chalmers is not registered as a lobbyist, so we don't know who he is talking to about this issue.
The bottom line is that we have his word for it that this is a non-partisan grassroots campaign. It might have started out that way, or maybe this Liberal Party organizer got the idea from somewhere else. He might be getting his money from somewhere else, too. Heck, the NDP came second in the riding -- who is to say money isn't being moved into this campaign from there.
We don't even know if Chalmers is making any effort to restrict donations so that only David Emerson's constituents are putting up the money, or if he is happy to accept money from any Canadian living anywhere in any amount who wants to meddle in the politics of Vancouver Kingsway.
Actually, if I were Chalmers, I'd probably want to keep that a secret too. Though partisans might be happy to accept help from any source as long as it advances their agenda, people who are not so sure about what to think about Emerson's move into cabinet would probably feel a bit angry if they learned that some outsiders were trying to force the issue and turf their candidate.
I wonder if anyone is looking into this.
I've checked, and I can't find any stories of vandalism aimed at Belinda Stronach's riding office by angry conservatives:
Two men are in custody facing mischief charges after Vancouver police caught protesters dumping manure outside embattled MP David Emerson's constituency office early Monday.
Recall that recently four people were arrested for assault by trespass for staging a sit-in. This included Kevin Chalmers, David Emerson's former campaign coordinator and currently the CEO of White Tiger Consulting. White Tiger had two major contracts with Canfor, the lumber concern for which David Emerson was formerly the CEO. I'm guessing no new contracts will be going to White Tiger anytime soon. I wonder how the other partners at White Tiger feel about that?
Enough about those arrests. Back to the today's batch of arrests.
The names of the manure dumpers weren't reported.
Conservatives aren't devoid of passion. I bet plenty of people who felt betrayed by Belinda's defection to the Liberals in order to sell her vote for a cabinet post had petty revenge fantasies.
But then one of the things that seems to identify a liberal is being "liberated" from the bonds of common decency, or even the requirement to act within the law. Do you feel strongly about an issue, especially if it's just feeling against something without clearly for anything else? Then you aren't confined to letter writing, or peaceful protests, or personal boycotts, or exercising your vote at the next election. You're a liberal! You are allowed to do whatever you please.
As long as it makes you feel good, right?
Don't worry about the police and the law. Just call whatever you did direct action, physical political intervention, or even street theatre. Plenty of ways to spin vandalism and assault in such a way as to suggest that the appropriate response is applause and adulation instead of a hefty fine and possibly a criminal record.
Maybe it's the conservative way of seeing the world -- realisitically -- instead of the liberal way -- idealistically -- that prevents conservatives from engaging in this sort of thing. Call your "direct action" whatever you want -- it's still a petty crime committed by petty criminals for petty motives. Nothing like a healthy dose of realism to reveal stupidity for what it is.
It appears that the NDP has had enough of being told that they have two sets of standards, one for right-wing parties and one for left-wing parties. Or perhaps one for temporary allies and another for everyone else.
In any case, while the NDP was calling for an ethics investigation into former cabinet minister David Emerson crossing the floor to join the Conservatives and so join Stephen Harper's inaugural cabinet, not a word was heard from the NDP about neophyte MP Belinda Stronach crossing the floor to join the Liberals and enter cabinet on the eve of a confidence vote.
The fact is, as I've argued before, neither are really matters of ethics, but of political calculation. Politics can be ugly, but in the end, it is up to the voters to pass judgment.
Still, it appears that the NDP is now trying to be retroactively consistent:
The NDP is asking ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro to expand his investigation into parliamentary floor crossing to include Liberal Belinda Stronach.
Shapiro is already looking into the decision by David Emerson to leave the Liberals for a Conservative cabinet post just after the January election. Stronach crossed the other way last year, abandoning the Tories to sit in Paul Martin's cabinet.
New Democrat MP Pat Martin says the two incidents are so similar, they cry out for a joint investigation.
Joint? Does that mean a joint judgment too?
I'd say there is a 50-50 chance that Shapiro will refuse to investigate the Stronach situation. He'll come up with some excuse, like that it happened too long ago, or that the election cleans the slate, or that since she is no longer in government and no longer in cabinet, the issue was rendered irrelevant.
Part of me hopes he does come up with an excuse. Just one more reason not to trust him. On the other hand, things could get interesting if he does investigate Stronach.
Consider this. Stephen Harper is refusing to cooperate because, frankly, choosing ministers is the prime minister's prerogative. It is a matter of his judgment, not of his ethics. If Shapiro agrees to investigate the Stronach case, will Paul Martin agree to cooperate? Will Belinda Stronach? Which is more important -- keeping the Stronach situation under wraps and in the past, or putting Harper on the hot seat?
Since Belinda Stronach is vying for the leadership of the Liberal Party, you know that she would rather give Emerson and Harper a pass than submit to an investigation. Of course, a few Liberal contenders for the leadership might see this as a way of taking out the potential front-runner, and might join the call for the investigation to include Stronach. It'll be interesting to watch what happens.
Update: Looks like the NDP had enough of people pointing out the double-standard.
Are any of you constituents in Burnaby-Douglas? Is your member of parliament Bill Siksay?
Then go read this. When you are done, write to Mr Siksay, and tell him this:
Dear Mr Siksay,
As one of your 100,000 constituents, I appreciate the effort you make to represent me. One of those efforts should be to maintain and even improve the quality of government. Mr Dave Platten has written to you asking you to explain how David Emerson's move to the Conservatives is worthy of an ethics investigation while Belinda Stronach's was not. Your response was that if he wasn't a constituent, he was not owed an answer.
He is a Canadian, sir, and I believe any Canadian is owed an answer to such a question. But consider this to be a request from one of your constituents for an answer to exactly the question he posed. Here is his original email to you:
I have written to several NDP members and the NDP web site but have yet to get a response to the following question, the NDP are asking the Ethics Commissioner to look into the floor crossing of David Emerson, are the NDP asking the same for Belinda Stronach? If not, why not?
It would be nice if someone in the NDP Party could stand up for their actions and give me an answer, or is there not one to be found? Was there nothing for the NDP to gain by acting in the Stronach crossing?
The email was dated March 5.
It would be nice if you responded to Mr Platten directly, but if you consider typing his email address to be too much time spent away from focusing on the needs of your constituents, send the response to me, and be assured I will forward a copy to Mr Platten.
Mr Platten asked a very relevant question, and your response suggested that you would rather not answer it, perhaps because you don't have an answer. I hope this is not true, and I look forward to your explanation of the subtleties of what the NDP caucus considers to be ethical behaviour.
Please be sure to include an explanation of the NDP response to both the Emerson and Stronach situation and how they are somehow different, and so requiring a different response. Also let me know if your response is merely your opinion, or the working principles of the NDP for situations such as this one.
Make sure you include a full address so that Siksay knows you are one of his constituents and thus a worthy recipient of his vast wisdom.
The rest of us, apparently, are not counted worthy, so we're depending on you. Don't let us down. Let me know how it goes, and post comments to this entry with any responses you get.
The Prime Minister has the duty to form a cabinet. Tradition dictates that cabinet ministers are selected from among the members elected to parliament. Politics makes it clear that the cabinet members be selected from among members of the Prime Minister's party.
Every MP looks to belong to cabinet. Of course, they do. They believe they have something to offer. They wouldn't run for elected office otherwise. But what of the pay and the perks that come with the job?
Is it a crime to look forward to those as well?
David Emerson was elected to Parliament. He was selected to be a member of Stephen Harper's cabinet. No one doubts his skill -- he was an effective cabinet minister in the last government.
But the NDP has called in the Ethics Commissioner because they allege that Emerson was enticed by the benefits of being a cabinet minister to take the job.
Well, d'uh. Being a cabinet minister is a lot harder than being an opposition MP. Of course, few NDP members will ever experience the difference. In a capitalist system, we routinely compensate for the extra work with extra pay, based on the perceived value of the work. A cabinet minister is seen as contributing significantly more than an opposition MP, so he gets paid more.
Enticement or compensation?
And even if Emerson took the offer so that he could get a limo, how are you going to know? Will Bernard Shapiro, the Ethics Commissioner, look into Emerson's soul, to make sure he was sufficiently motivated by selflessness?
This is why the Conservatives under Stephen Harper did not demand an ethics investigation into Belinda Stronach's defection. In that case, the MP involved was not suited to the portfolio, had no experience as a cabinet minister, and clearly was being offered a position in order to save the government from a non-confidence vote.
Well, when I say clearly, I mean it seemed obvious. But then, a cabinet post is not a new car. It's not like she was offered money to cross the floor. Belinda was assigned a job that had lots of headaches, and that would make her a major target during Question Period. The compensation -- the pay, the perks -- are hardly all that important to a multi-millionare like her.
In the end, the only perk that Paul Martin could offer to put her a step closer to the centre of power, and to put her in a position from which she could one day make a play for that power. Is that ethical? No. But then how do you prove motivations?
You can't, and so there was no ethics investigation demanded. Paul Martin had the right to make the offer, and Belinda Stronach has the right to accept it. It is simply beyond the power of any human to evaluate what motivates a person. The scope of the ethics commissioner is to evaluate whether an MP is using his position and his powers to earn some sort of personal profit.
Bernard Shapiro refused to investigate the way Tony Valeri personally profited from a land-flip deal with a businessman that made no economic sense, but that put thousands of dollars into Valeri's pocket, money from the bank account of a person who profited from government contracts. But he wants to investigate whether David Emerson's motivations were sufficiently pure when he took on a job the Prime Minister had every right to offer him, a job that will be difficult and is compensated appropriately.
No wonder Stephen Harper has no time for Bernard Shapiro.
Fatah leads the Palestinians for years. Now Hamas takes over. Will any Fatah politicians consider crossing the floor?
During the voting, a dozen Fatah gunmen walked near the parliament building in Gaza City, firing into the air. The gunmen eventually headed to a nearby meeting of Fatah leaders, demanding that their party not join a Hamas government, with one masked gunman saying any Fatah politician who did would be killed.
I suppose David Emerson should be grateful. On the other hand, expect the Liberals to take credit for our more peaceful way of politics, citing decades of strict gun control.
The suit sought to somehow invalidate the election results on the basis that this guy didn't like what Emerson did:
"Based on my understanding of Section 3 of the charter, and the publicly available evidence respecting the context and timing of the 'crossing,'" he says, "it is my opinion that the post-election actions of David Emerson, and perhaps the prime minister, as well, nullified the rights of the citizens of Vancouver Kingsway to play a meaningful role in the election of their elected representative and it further denied them the right to "effective representation" by the party of their choice (Liberal) and their party-affiliated representative."
I pointed out that this is fundamentally an unacceptable tactic. Fundamental because it is irrelevant what Emerson did or does when it comes to whether to votes of the constituents were counted. The election happened, the rights of the citizens to cast a vote was upheld, there was no evidence of fraud or a miscount, and David Emerson won. That win cannot be erased by a court order.
Nothing can "nullify" that vote -- nothing Emerson does, nor any order from the court.
My argument was that a fair election result can never be ignored or erased. It is beyond the reach of the courts to pass judgment. At best, going forward, people who don't like what Emerson did can argue that he is somehow not fit for office, forcing another election, but that does not change the fact that the previous election happened.
The difficulty is that Emerson can easily argue that he is still a fit representative for his riding in the House of Commons. The decision of the people for him to be the representative has not been ignored. Any argument based on party platforms and voter intent is going to be very hard to prove, not to mention that the parliamentary system does not recognize these concepts, but only that a specific individual receiving a plurality of the votes becomes MP. I would think no judge would want to touch it.
My point is that any argument that says the election of Emerson should be somehow nullified is a non-starter. No fair election result should ever be subject to judgment by the courts.
Having recapped this, there appears to be another attempt to dump Emerson, this time using the Ethics Commissioner. In response to this news, Warren Kinsella has some thoughts, and they seem to align reasonably well with mine:
Oh, for the two correspondents who have asked, yes: I condemn what David Emerson did - just like I condemn what Belinda Stronach, Keith Martin and Scott Brison did - but this Bernard Shapiro investigation thing isn't just crazy, it's on crack. The ultimate ethical oversight is a general election, or it should be.
Note that we don't agree on the need to condemn Emerson in the same way that Stronach should have been condemned. I see them as very different situations, but Kinsella seems to see all floor crossings in the same way. I can respect that -- it has the strength of being consistent.
But we seem to be on the same wavelength on believing an ethics investigation is wholly inappropriate. Again, Emerson was elected, and he then acted within the boundaries of parliamentary tradition (as did Stronach and Brison and so on). That act should be judged by the voters, and in our system, that opportunity will come in four years or so, or sooner if the government falls. Is that fair to wait so long? Some would say it isn't, but then the strength of our system is that having relatively long times between elections means that a riding election is fought on the quality of the representation provided over several years, aggregating the high and lows of that term to come to what is hoped to be a balanced decision on the quality of that MP.
The voters selected David Emerson. They will have a chance to reconsider that selection in due course. Any attempt by any one individual to alter that in some way is where the intention of the voters is in danger of being nullified, not by anything David Emerson has done or can do.
Stephen Harper has told the Ethics Commissioner that his interest in the case of David Emerson crossing the floor is misplaced, and frankly inappropriate:
There's a possibility Stephen Harper's first act as prime minister may have breached the parliamentary ethical code for MPs, the federal ethics commissioner indicated Friday.
But Bernard Shapiro's decision to launch a "preliminary inquiry" into Harper's controversial appointment of former Liberal David Emerson to the Conservative cabinet met with a furious rebuttal from the Prime Minister's Office.
"The prime minister is loath to co-operate with an individual whose decision-making ability has been questioned and who has been found in contempt of the House," Harper's communications director, Sandra Buckler, said late Friday.
In a release, the PMO added, "this Liberal appointee's actions have strengthened the prime minister's resolve to create a truly non-partisan ethics commissioner, who is accountable to Parliament."
The Ethics Commissioner, Bernard Shapiro, has repeatedly been ridiculed for his work.
In this case, the Ethics Commissioner is investigating the fact that David Emerson crossed the floor, which is a long-standing parliamentary tradition, but refused to investigate the case of Liberal MP Tony Valeri's extremely profitable land-swap deal, citing the fact that Parliament was not sitting at the time.
Of course, Parliament is not sitting now, but apparently that rule is flexible.
The fact is, Bernard Shapiro is essentially useless. The rules under which he works were written up by Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. The Liberals are hardly the poster boys for ethical behaviour. But more than that, I've been shocked at his sloppy work.
With his "investigation" into the Abotech affair, Shapiro only questioned the two people in the story, David Smith and Frank Brazeau, who had reasons to lie in order to save each other. He did not ask questions of David Smith's wife, for example. He allowed the two men to define the nature of their relationship, and they conveniently ignored to mention that they were first cousins. Did Bernard Shapiro challenge them on this? Of course not. Did he know about the familial relationship? Well, I told him via email at least twice.
But Shapiro wanted the Smith investigation to go away, and it did.
On the other hand, sticking it to Stephen Harper seems to be in his game plan, and suddenly the comments of ordinary citizens matter:
But the ethics czar said "numerous requests from the public" helped convince him to investigate Emerson's behaviour as well.
I'm willing to bet, though, that Shapiro will clear Emerson. The fact is, Shapiro seems to have real problems finding unethical behaviour anywhere he looks. In the Abotech case, Smith continued to sign contracts even after leaving Abotech, a clear ethical violation. But Smith told Shapiro that the signatures were "inadvertant", and so he got a pass. As noted, Shapiro never asked Smith's wife, who was supposed to be running the company, why she did not react to signatures appearing inadvertantly on contracts that would have had her name on them.
If Shapiro couldn't spot unethical behaviour that appeared written on a piece of paper, what chance is he going to have of finding something unethical where, frankly, nothing unethical happened?
But then again, who knows what's going on inside his head?
Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
Short and sweet.
Now how do go from that to this?
A constituent in the Vancouver Kingsway federal riding is organizing a class action lawsuit against incumbent federal MP David Emerson.
[Peter Dimitrov, a human rights and trial lawyer], who ran for the leadership of the BC NDP in 2003, says while the mass rallies and recall petitions are laudable, he worries that they will not be effective in removing Emerson, since there is no federal recall legislation. BC is currently the only electoral jurisdiction that has such legislation, which was introduced by the previous NDP government in 1995.
He says this is why legal action is necessary, since a charter interpretation will likely settle the matter.
"Based on my understanding of Section 3 of the charter, and the publicly available evidence respecting the context and timing of the 'crossing,'" he says, "it is my opinion that the post-election actions of David Emerson, and perhaps the prime minister, as well, nullified the rights of the citizens of Vancouver Kingsway to play a meaningful role in the election of their elected representative and it further denied them the right to "effective representation" by the party of their choice (Liberal) and their party-affiliated representative."
Nope, sorry, don't see it. The Charter does not recognize political parties or recalls -- just elections. We have the right to vote. Period.
I'm not sure why "effective representation" is in quotes. The phrase does not appear in the Charter in any context, either as a right or otherwise.
But besides being a bit of a stretch, this lawsuit is dangerous, and should not even be allowed to proceed. Once the count has been certified, and the people have spoken, there should be no intervention by the courts to overturn the result where there is no evidence or even allegation of a flaw in the voting process.
To even acknowledge that the courts have such a power to overturn a valid and well-executed election is to complete our transition from a democracy to a judicial oligarchy. Any judge presented with this lawsuit should toss it out with a stern warning that this is entirely outside of the powers of the judiciary to adjudicate.
You don't like Emerson? Fine. Help to pass legislation that forces him to stand for re-election. Good luck making it retroactive, by the way. And good luck also at crafting it in such a way that it could survive a constitutional challenge.
But don't think a simple lawsuit is the way to go. The election was fair. People voted as is their right under the Charter. No laws were broken. The ballots were counted and David Emerson received the most votes.
The result of a well-executed election is sacrosanct. It must be for our democracy to have any legitimacy. If you are successful at getting legislation forcing a recall or a by-election, all you've done is increase the number of elections. I think you are being silly, but at least you aren't dismissing the legitimacy of the previous election as such. You aren't arguing the David Emerson is not the legitimate MP. You are requiring him to submit to a separate election outside of the normal requirement of an election within five years based on a specific decision (an idea which I think suffers from a serious constitutional problem) but at least you are using an election as the mechanism for your solution. Moreover, you are implementing that solution via the legislature, the body that represents the combined voting wisdom of all Canadians.
What you are not doing is subordinating the choice of thousands of citizens expressed at the ballot box to the whim of a single judge. However, this is exactly what Dimitrov wants to do.
The judiciary should fulfill its role in determining if such a law meets the standards of constitutionality. In others words, the judiciary can be asked to make a decision on whether it is a good law. The judiciary should never be asked whether an MP is a good MP. That is for the electorate to decide and no one else. Ever.
Even if you don't like what Emerson did, don't cut off your nose to spite your face. Whatever short term heartburn you are suffering because of Emerson crossing the floor pales in comparison to making free and fair elections subject to successful lawsuits by those who don't like the result.
I hate to pile it on, but I think Pierre Bourque has finally jumped the shark.
The headline reads "Harper coveted Emerson".
I clicked, hoping to read an investigative piece in which a confidante of Stephen Harper's revealed that the plan to get Liberal MP David Emerson to cross the floor was long in planning.
Not that I hoped that this was the case, but if it was true, best that we know.
Instead, I get a letter to the editor, for the The Record, the community newspaper for the city of Kitchener.
The letter was from Sue King, as far as I can tell, a regular citizen like you or me, and though I can't speak for you, I know that I have no special insight into Stephen Harper's mind. I doubt Ms King has any such insight either:
So Stephen Harper took the oath on his own personal Bible at the swearing- in ceremony earlier this month. His Bible must be different from mine, because in mine God set the laws in the Old Testament and one of the commandments says: "Thou shalt not covet."
Harper coveted David Emerson and he got him into his Conservative caucus by overruling the oath he took on his very own Bible. Jesus set standards in the Beatitudes in the New Testament that Harper misinterpreted with his arrogance. The gospel according to Stephen Harper shows his rule will be like that of a dictator, not a believer in humility.
OK, she's upset. We get it. But did Stephen Harper covet David Emerson? Maybe. Maybe for months and months. But then maybe not. Nothing in Ms King's letter acts as evidence to support that assertion. It is pure opinion, and frankly an untenable one at that.
As far as I can tell from the letter, Ms King's opinion is based entirely on what she's read in the news and seen on TV. I don't think Ms King has ever met Stephen Harper, or David Emerson for that matter. I am certain she never had a long conversation with Stephen Harper, or anyone close to him, such that she could make any judgment on what he does and does not covet.
Heck, I've had long conversations, each on the order of 30 minutes and more, with three individuals each of whom work with Stephen Harper on a daily basis, one of whom is likely to have as good an insight into the true Stephen Harper as anyone can short of Harper's wife and his parents.
For all that, I don't pretend to have the any better understanding into Stephen Harper's deep motivations than any of you.
A bitter letter (one in which Belinda Stronach is compared favourably with Joan of Arc -- just so you get the sense of where this person is coming from) is hardly newsworthy. And one which makes accusations without any supporting evidence is less so.
Pierre, take a break from this. Your judgment as a legitimate "Newswatch" is in question, and unless you remember what constitutes "news", you will find your audience quickly heading elsewhere. My issue is not that you are targeting the Conservatives over the Emerson controversy. You are entitled to your opinion. But it is just that -- an opinion. If you can't find the hard news to back it up, don't lower your standards.
You can report the news.
You can even spin the news.
But sometimes we get caught trying a bit too hard.
If you read blogs and other online news sources, you'd think that the Tories were crumbling over the cabinet controversy.
However, it would appear that most people aren't reading blogs. Maybe it's a good thing. Take this poll from Ipsos:
Majority Approval For Harper Government
Harper Conservative Government Approval (54%) Well Above Party's Support in Recent Election (36%)
Canadians Split on Recent Cabinet Appointments
February 13, 2006
Toronto, ON - As Stephen Harper and the Conservatives move through their first week in office, a new Ipsos Reid/CanWest Global poll shows a majority of Canadians approve of the new government’s performance so far. Canadians are somewhat less supportive of the new government’s cabinet appointments.
Interesting. Not the government has actually done much yet, but it does suggest that people either aren't paying much attention to the cabinet controversy, or that they've dismissed the criticism as over the top.
I'm not a subsriber, so I couldn't get the poll details. But since the poll was done for CanWest Global, I figured I could find the news story that went with it.
Except there doesn't seem to be one.
Interesting. The Tories are enjoying over 50% support, in spite of the cabinet appointments, or maybe because of them, and it isn't newsworthy.
He doesn't steal any money. He doesn't offer cabinet posts as candy to entice weak-willed MPs to his side for the sake of a vote. He doesn't ignore non-confidence votes for a week while looking for that extra vote. He runs on ideas and on policy instead of lies and fears and smears. He reaches out and gains support from every region of the country.
He pulls together a cabinet out of the best offered to him by all the voters in this country and not just those who voted for him. This includes someone from another party, universally seen as qualified for the post, even perhaps the best man for the post.
He has broken no rules. Indeed, he has used all the rules to explore all the possibilities, instead of being constrained by narrow thinking and the regularly beaten path.
He has made brave decisions and creative ones, instead of safe and conventional ones.
For that his supporters, especially those online, have excoriated him, called for the resignation of his cabinet minister, called his ethics into question, called his ability to lead into doubt.
And why? Because he has led where few have gone, those who had preceded him content to be conventional and parochial, beholden to traditions that had led us to the state of affairs that dominated the last dozen years and more.
So now we face this:
Liberals are dreaming about a speedy return to power after watching the disastrous opening week of Stephen Harper's new Conservative administration.
[Interim Liberal leader Bill Graham] said the opening week has stiffened Liberals' resolve to oppose the Conservative agenda, even if it means toppling the government.
"We're going to oppose those measures that we find are not in the interests of Canada and Canadians and we'll oppose them all the way," Graham said.
"And if that leads to the government falling, it's going to lead to the government falling. And the way they're making their decisions it's clear that could happen earlier rather than later just given the nature of what they're doing."
All last week, disappointed Tory MPs voiced muted disapproval while disgusted Conservative bloggers across the country railed against the cabinet choices, particularly the perceived hypocrisy and opportunism of Emerson's defection only days after winning re-election as a Liberal.
Hey, I think the Liberals are overestimating the Emerson effect. But if the Liberals are being a bit over the top, it's in large part because they've been cheered on by largely conservative bloggers and columnists who, in my opinion, have the political sophistication of barnyard chickens. They have an understanding of the rules of Parliament and the roles of the people who make up that body that makes me wonder how they they justify calling themselves observers of the political process.
The problem with being over the top is that it can be self-fulfilling. An unjustified confidence leads to gutsy moves that in the random and chaotic world of politics might actually pay off. The tenuous grip on power currently enjoyed by the Conservatives might slip in the face of an overly aggressive Liberal Party. If it gives way, we can thank the cheap shots taken by the friends and supporters of the Conservatives, shocked that politics is not as pure as the driven snow, that it is made up of compromises and of hard choices, and that people who play it well play for the long haul focused on the results that will be enjoyed months from the present, if not years.
Instead people are still in election-mode, looking ahead weeks, days, maybe only hours. The election campaign finished on January 23. Since November, we've been looking ahead weeks, then days, then hours. Starting on January 24, we should have reset our focus on the years ahead. But most of us haven't, it seems.
And for that mistake, we might be handing the Liberals, the masters of short-term poll-driven politicking, the opportunity to deny the Conservatives the one thing they need to succeed, and that is time. Stephen Harper will be the sort of prime minister that shows his strength over time, in the same way his leadership of the Tories was seen as a mistake early on by many, and now recognized to have been the best thing to have happened to the party by most.
Imagine what this country could be like if Stephen Harper is given years to fulfill his program. Then wonder about the opportunity squandered because you panicked at the first sign of risk-taking leadership.
Too scary for you? Then go home to the Liberals. They'll make you feel safe, for a price of course. That's what they do best. Keep up with the sheepish bleating, and you might very well get the chance to do exactly that.
Conservative MP Garth Turner is contemplating leaving his caucus over the backlash from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's officials, angry at his public criticism of Liberal turncoat David Emerson's appointment to cabinet.
In his online blog, Turner says he had a series of "unhappy meetings" with caucus officials Thursday over his comments, including one with Harper, who demanded he publicly support the appointment.
The Halton MP said party officials have made him feel unwelcome, and have caused him to reconsider sitting in the Commons under the Tory banner.
I suppose he's being true to his principles...sort of:
Turner said he would continue to sit as an MP and represent Halton if he does decide to bolt to the Tory caucus.
Now how many people in Halton voted Conservative because they wanted a Conservative MP to represent them? How many voted for Turner only because they figured the Conservatives were going to win nationally, and wanted to be certain that whatever MP they had in the riding, he was on the government benches and in the governing party caucus?
We don't know, do we? Maybe we should find out. Now how do we find out. I've got it! We'll have a by-election!
By Turner's reasoning, his change in status should trigger a by-election, with Turner running as an independent, to gauge whether the constituents in Halton really want an independent MP representing them.
Funny that he doesn't mention that.
On election night in Halton, less than 15% of the vote went to neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives. So it seems that the people in Halton aren't enamoured by third parties, or logically, by independents. Moreover, it was a tight race, with less than 3% of the popular vote separating Turner from Liberal Gary Carr. So it doesn't look like a big love-in for Garth Turner either.
I can see why Garth Turner would not be eager to have a potential decision to change his status as a parliamentarian put to the test in a by-election. And yet he wants to force all other parliamentarians to undergo exactly the same test in this situation.
You would think that if Garth Turner were so much more honourable than David Emerson, he would willingly submit himself to the judgment of his constituents, to set an example. Indeed, he should run his by-election campaign on this very issue. It's only fair, since he clearly believes it's in the interests of his constituents to remove himself from caucus. He could use this as an opportunity to show all of Canada that at least in his riding, people are consumed by the Emerson affair, and are demanding an MP willing to make the changes Turner is proposing.
I eagerly wait for the announcement of Turner's voluntary resignation from caucus, his resignation as an MP, his announcement to run as an independent, his landslide win on the issue of by-elections, and his triumphant return to the House of Commons.
But I'm not holding my breath.
I give money to a merchant to deliver a product. The product does not perform as I expected. Do I yell at the product or the merchant who sold it to me?
When you cast your vote in a Canadian election, are you voting for your member of parliament or for the party he or she is running for?
Here's the answer -- you are voting for the member of parliament. Of course, you cast your vote with the party platform in mind (I certainly do), but the fact remains you are voting for your riding representative. If we truly had a system where we voted for parties, we would have party lists, with members selected based on the proportion of the popular vote. Israel has such a system.
We do not. We vote for the member of parliament. Some MPs win despite what party they run for, such a Scott Brison and Belinda Stronach.
So how does factor into the David Emerson mess?
From the Toronto Star:
Conservative Trade Minister David Emerson says he will not bow to demands that he resign the Vancouver seat he won two weeks ago as a Liberal -- nor will he pay back the money his former Liberal riding association says it is now owed.
Let's say you contributed money.
If you contributed to David Emerson, then congratulations, he won!
If you contributed to the Liberal Party, then like the person who paid for a product that did not work as expected, take it up with the Liberal Party. The party fielded Emerson. But at the end of the day, the problem is that you don't get it -- you can donate to the Liberal Party in your riding, but at the end of the day you are voting for a person, not a party.
When all is said and done, David Emerson received the plurality of votes in the riding to act as their representative. He was their representative two weeks ago. He is still their representative today. The system works.
The issue of David Emerson's appointment to Stephen Harper's cabinet has most conservative bloggers furious. A doughty band of brother and sister bloggers have staked out the hill opposite, and on it they've hosted the flag that reads: "Hey, this makes sense!"
A small band, to be sure, but stout of heart. And not a single one a stooge of the Conservative Party, but each of us, based on the facts of the case, convinced that this was a good move, and possibly a brilliant move.
I'll add to this list if you are a blogger who has posted a defense of Stephen Harper's cabinet decision on David Emerson.
One thing to note, though, is the civility of the disagreement. The debate has been overwhelmingly polite. Focus on the argument, not on the person. Thankfully, I don't see any reason to remind people of that.
Glad I'm not alone on this:
For now, let's hope Harper employs every legal loophole, every opportunity, every bit of leverage at his disposal to keep the Liberals as disorganized, dazed and confused as possible.
Anything less would be political malpractice.
Though from what I've seen, it seems like small dead animals and Angry in the Great White North are virtually alone. Just about everyone on the right is dumping on David Emerson's appointment to Stephen Harper's cabinet, one even suggesting this is Canada's equivalent to the Harrier Miers nomination to the Supreme Court in the United States. [Correction: Apparently the comparison Wonder Woman was making was meant to only to cover the the power of blogging on a poorly considered nomination, not on any similarities between the nominations. Having said that, Paul Wells is making a more explicit comparison, so I will leave the rest of the text alone.]
This is silly. Harriet Miers was unqualified, and clearly a patronage apppointment by President George W Bush. David Emerson is very qualified, and Stephen Harper owes him nothing.
I saw this phrase on David Warren's blog: "The best is often the enemy of the good." Would it be best for Stephen Harper to find an expert on the softwood lumber issue from his own ranks, ranks sorely lacking urban representation by the way? Of course.
And if we hold out for the best, we'll end up with nothing.
Is David Emerson the best choice in an ideal world? No. But is he a good choice? Yes, and as long as Conservatives make good choices for good reasons in the pursuit of good goals, we'll be fine.
Remember, Stephen Harper is on record as being against rules that take away the ability of members of parliament to cross the floor. This was after the Belinda Stronach defection. He felt that such rules essentially transfer power to the party leaders, making it impossible for MPs to vote with their feet.
Sounds like a guy who supports democracy. And I can see his point. If MPs are hostages, then they'll be powerless.
Clearly though, I'm in a minority. Still, I'm used to being outnumbered.
I've created a category for this topic, by the way, since it seems like we might be talking about it for while longer.
But not too long, I hope.
It's time to start governing.
For those Conservatives struggling to understand that all MPs are candidates for cabinet, and who can't see the difference between selling a cabinet post to an MP of dubious qualifications in order to stave off a looming non-confidence vote versus putting an experienced MP in charge of a ministry in order, among other things, to provide continuity in ongoing delicate international negotiations, I'll offer another reason to cheer Stephen Harper's appointment of David Emerson to cabinet.
It makes Buzz Hargrove look like a putz.
From a Google cache of a deleted Liberal Party election page:
I especially want to repeat what I said this morning to the Prime Minister. When you look at the record of the minority government for the next 17 months that it would have served the interest of Canadians to continue for another 17 months. That's not in the cards. But if you look at the record, then every Canadian should agree. This minority government deserves to go back to Ottawa, with even bigger numbers. And look at the health care - over $30 billion put back into health care. Cities agenda - the gas tax that will help all the major cities and the municipalities across Canada. A national child care program. Social housing, including housing for Aboriginals. Same-sex legislation, only the third country in the world that had the courage to bring equality before the parliament of Canada. And Stephen Harper wants to change that and doesn't deserve the opportunity to change that. Support for our industries - for the auto industry. Over $900 million in support for this important industry under attack from offshore imports. Support for the aerospace industry. And I want to mention David Emerson, who is not here but boy, did he play a key role in some of these agreements. Recent training agreement, additional $600 million a year for workplace training. All in addition to the bankruptcy act. This has been one of the most productive parliaments in the history of our Canada.
Note how Hargrove goes out of his way to praise Emerson, even though Emerson is not in the room, and even though the meeting was held in Toronto, not even remotely close to Emerson's Vancouver riding.
So let's recap.
Hargrove dumps the NDP in favour of the Liberals. The Liberals lose their hold on power while the NDP gains seats.
Hargrove calls Stephen Harper a separatist. Support for separatism recedes while Stephen Harper builds the Conservatives into a real force for Canadian unity.
Hargrove singles out David Emerson for praise as a particularly effective Liberal MP for his key role in getting the business of government done. Two weeks after the election, Emerson dumps the Liberals and a potential leadership bid that might have enjoyed Buzz Hargrove's support.
Now only if Buzz Hargrove had said I was the worst blogger in the world. I'd probably be the new Instapundit today.
From reader dmorris on the issue of David Emerson crossing the floor to join Stephen Harper's Conservatives and to enter cabinet as Minister of International Trade:
I've always wondered; when a pol crosses the floor, what happens to all the folks in the background who worked for the candidate before his/her election, ie the campaign manager? What about the riding office staff? Are they all miraculously converted to their boss' new faith, or fired and replaced by members of his new party?
Under the Parliamentary system, the fiction we maintain is that we vote for a particular person to be our member of parliament. Parties are created once the people show up in parliament and see who shares their concerns. As such, the staff could certainly stay with the MP. In practise, of course, most of us are philosophically aligned with a party. If the MP switches sides, there will be plenty of people who would resign.
However, this case might be different.
Given Emerson's business background in the lumber industry and his focus (and continued focus in the new cabinet) on one issue, the softwood lumber dispute, I think a fair number of people would stay, more than usual is this sort of situation. They are committed to solving this problem for BC's lumber producers, and staying with Emerson means they can continue their work. From their point of view, they aren't working for Stephen Harper, as such, but for the people of British Columbia, especially those whose livelihood is tied to softwood lumber. If Stephen Harper is willing to give David Emerson the ability to continue his work on this file, why leave?
Indeed, if the relationship with the United States thaws as a result of Stephen Harper becoming prime minister, the chances that this dispute might finally be resolved might have improved significantly. For people committed to solving this problem, Emerson's crossing the floor is a shock, but a happy one.
How many of Emerson's people cringed when Paul Martin played the anti-American card during the election? Each one thinking that none of this helps Emerson reach some sort of modus vivendi with the US. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Emerson crossed the floor. Maybe he realized that his efforts were being undercut by his own party.
I can think of worse reasons to cross the floor than to complete the work you have started, and to reach a goal you firmly believe is attainable and that would benefit the people you represent.
How do we, supporters of the Conservatives and of Stephen Harper, respond to this?
Former Liberal industry minister David Emerson has crossed the floor to sit in Stephen Harper's Conservative cabinet.
The Vancouver MP and former head of lumber giant Canfor stunned onlookers when he arrived at Rideau Hall shortly before the Tory cabinet was to be announced.
A short while later he was sworn in as the new Conservative Minister of International Trade and the Minister responsible for the Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010.
Damn. I wrote sometime back about the possibility of poaching some Liberals to the Conservative side, and I was generally against the idea, but I was specific:
Given that potential problems, maybe a minority that verges on a majority should be left well enough alone.
The situation I was describing was a near-majority. The Conservatives sitting at 152 seats or so. One or three converts, and a majority is formed.
My problem is when a conversion happens that dramatically alters the landscape of Parliament.
That happened when Belinda Stronach came over to the Liberals. That one-seat difference changed a non-confidence vote from a Liberal loss to a Liberal victory.
The problem is that when a conversion happens under those circumstances, the member of parliament crossing the floor wields all too much power. As a result, he or she can demand an absurd reward for the switch. Absurd because under normal circumstances, that person would not be worthy of that reward.
Consider Belinda. She dropped out of York University not having completed even one year. She then became the CEO of a multi-billion company owned by her father. By all accounts, her tenure was unremarkable, to put it generously.
A mediocre business figure who passed on a paid-for university education in favour of being catapulted to the top of a business empire on the strength of her relationship to the owner is not, at a glance, the right person to put in charge of a ministry preaching to people about the importance of jobs skills, and hounding students for their tuitions loan payments.
The final irony: she was also minister of democratic renewal. Many argued, with reason, that her defection and the reward she earned was epitome of undemocratic behaviour.
And yet, it all happened because she picked the right time to switch teams. Paul Martin had no choice. Governance by blackmail.
If Stephen Harper was within striking distance of a majority, I would also have serious problems with a member crossing the floor and being put in cabinet. I said as much.
But to be fair, the situation is simply not the same. Adding Emerson to the Tory tally in this House of Commons changes nothing (not entirely true, see update below). The Tories go from 124 to 125 seats. The Liberals from 103 to 102. Combined, the Liberals and the NDP still outvote the Conservatives. The Bloc Quebecois can still stop the Liberal-NDP combo by voting with the Conservatives.
So if grabbing Emerson has no consequence in terms of voting or the balance of power, why do it? Unlike Belinda, who became a cabinet minister in a portfolio for which she was not suited having spent her few months in Parliament in opposition, David Emerson spent the time since being elected in 2004 in cabinet as Minister of Industry. He holds a doctorate in economics, compared to Belinda's, well, nothing. He will be one of the only people on Stephen Harper's team with any experience in cabinet. So while putting Belinda in cabinet probably lowered the average quality of Paul Martin's cabinet, David Emerson potentially improves it.
In other words, all Emerson can offer to Stephen Harper is experience and representation in one of Canada's major cities, both things in short supply in Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Increasing both makes for a better government.
What Emerson doesn't offer is power. And I think that makes a difference.
Stephen Harper knew the flak he would take for this, both from his opponents and his partisan supporters. He knows people will glibly compare the two situations (Stronach and Emerson) and conclude that it proves all politicians are the same. He knows his popular support is tenuous, as much right now about rejecting the Liberals as it is about supporting the Conservatives, and any act that potentially makes the Conservatives look like the Liberals is particularly dangerous. Yet he did it anyway, even though it could be argued that, from a purely political point of view, he had every reason not to do it. That's got to tell you something.
Update: There is a vote scenario in which this could be significant. Before Emerson switched, the Tories and the NDP combined for 152 votes (removing the Speaker's vote, of course). The Liberals and the Bloc combined for 154. Now the Conservatives and the NDP combine for 153 votes, equal to the the Liberals and the Bloc. Add the Speaker's vote to break a tie, and a Conservative loss becomes a Conservative win, in a situation in which they have NDP support, in the face of Liberal and Bloc opposition.
But this scenario has to have the Liberals and the Bloc making common cause. How likely is that? The scenario also has the NDP and the Tories making a deal, and we all know how expensive a deal with the NDP can be. How likely is it that the Tories will make a deal with the NDP? The things that the CPC and the NDP can be counted to agree on are things like the Accountablity Act, and the Bloc is likely to vote for it as well. Childcare cheques? The NDP won't go for it, but the Bloc will. GST reduction? Count on the Bloc to support that, and maybe even the Liberals. Fact is, I don't see the CPC+NDP combination playing a role anytime soon, which means the Emerson defection is not likely to make a difference.
Still, I missed that combination the first time around.
Update of an update: There is also the independent. That means that a tie does not actually exist. Either the CPC+NDP or the Liberal+Bloc would have to entice Andre Arthur to their side. So we're right back to a minority situation of deals and compromises. Bottom line, however you cut it, Stephen Harper has not taken control of this parliament by getting Emerson on his side. No majority has been formed, except by the combining this bit with that without consideration of the politics involved. Nor is he avoiding an imminent non-confidence vote by selling off a cabinet post to a power hungry MP. He is building a cabinet and using all sitting members of the House, as is his perogative as prime minister. It'll be interesting to hear from Emerson though.
This is a strategic move, not a tactical one. It's refreshing to see a government actually planning instead of reacting.
This email from CKNW News:
Vancouver Kingsway Liberal MP David Emerson has apparently defected to the Conservatives to take a Cabinet post in the new Stephen Harper Government.
I guess we can take Emerson off the list of potential Liberal leadership candidates.