As I have commented in the past, many of the major issues on Parliament Hill are often very different from the concerns heard back at home. MPs who are suspended from their caucus, satellite office expenses and costs of inappropriate partisan mailings, and most recently an MP floor crossing are issues that receive a considerable amount of media attention in Ottawa but are less frequently raised by citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla.
All of these issues are quite rare but floor crossings are unique as they tend to involve an MLA or an MP leaving one party they were presumably elected as a member of to join another party they were not first elected as a member of. As some may know the NDP have a long standing position that any floor crossing should automatically trigger a by-election, a position that we were reminded of last week continues to be subject to this debate.
In this conversation it is important to recognize that citizens can be elected without a party affiliation, often we refer to these citizens, once elected, as Independents. Likewise there may also be an MP or MLA who was elected as a member of a political party that decides to leave that party or join another. These can be very difficult decisions for all involved however they are legitimately recognized positions in public office. In fact the House of Commons Procedure and Practice manual confirms that “members are not obliged to retain that party label during the whole of their mandate.” and further states “A Member who changes party allegiance is under no obligation to resign his or her seat and stand for re‑election”.
My thoughts on this? I disagree with the NDP position that a member crossing the floor should trigger a by-election. Ultimately a party cannot exist if it does not elect Members to a Parliament or Legislature in electoral ridings. For individually elected members to retain the right to leave a party, sit as an independent, or join another party are all means that a member can use to help ensure a party is held accountable. I mention this as also coming back before the House this week for debate is Conservative MP Michael Chong’s private member`s bill “The Reform Act of 2014”, that seeks to rebalance Parliament by increasing the powers available to party caucuses, individual MPs and electoral riding associations. This has been a widely debated bill but one that most citizens I have heard from are supportive on and one that I have also supported within the House of Commons.
Over the past months as the federal election approaches we have witnessed how some willing candidates have been summarily dismissed and blocked from running for a particular party. In some cases cause is given but in many cases no cause is provided and in extreme circumstances litigation has occurred. From my standpoint I have observed how some who are supportive of the democratic reform act have turned a blind eye to arbitrary candidate blocking. Ultimately this serves as a reminder to why the Democratic Reform Bill is one that should be taken seriously not just by elected officials, but also by those who are actively involved in various political parties and organizations that democracy should be an open process. Nomination battles, as they are sometimes called, can be challenging but they are an important part of our democratic process. For further comments and concerns I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.