“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”
Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 11 November 1947
Source: Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations
So Eve Adams crossed the floor. Now for many of us who are obsessed with Canadian Politics, I don’t have to say more. Yet for all the normal Canadians who have a life, I will provide a bit of background. Ms. Adams was elected in 2011 as a Conservative and quickly became the Parliament Secretary for Veterans Affairs. After that, she was promoted to the Parliament Secretary for Health. As a prominent lifetime Tory – who comes from a Tory family – she was seen as one of the most partisan Conservatives in the Harper Government.
Now if you listened to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and various Liberals, they will say that Eve Adams is a gutsy woman who made a gutsy move; however, she still has to prove herself. If you listen to the Conservatives or Prime Minister Stephen Harper, you will hear that Eve Adams is essentially self-serving and trying to continue on in being an MP after the Conservative Party of Canada said she could not run in any riding in the next election. Oh and that this was a bad move by Justin Trudeau. (Eve Adams to get warm welcome, Liberal MPs predict, By Laura Payton for CBC News Posted: Feb 16, 2015 12:03 PM ET Last Updated: Feb 16, 2015 8:41 PM ET; Adams played loyal Conservative during hushed talks with Liberals by Glen McGregor, Ottawa Citizen (with video: Stephen Maher), Last Updated: February 9, 2015 11:10 PM EST; The strange case of Eve Adams, By Adrienne Batra For the Toronto Sun, Updated: Saturday, February 14, 2015 07:48 PM EST)
Given that there is some truth in both arguments, I will not try to parse them. My simple complaint is with those people – including the NDP – who will complain about the act of floor crossing. It is at that point that I am reminded that many Canadians don’t know their own history. For the act of floor crossing is how this nation came to be. In 1864, George Brown crossed the floor and became a part of the Great Coalition. Brown, a Liberal, joined John Macdonald and Étienne Taché’s Liberal-Conservative Government to form the Great Coalition Government. In exchange for this act, Brown got MacDonald’s promise to seek a great union among the British North American Colonies. The crossing of the floor of George Brown, of a Liberal, ensured that this nation would come to be. So it just goes to show, floor crossing is a necessary part of a Westminster Constitutional model.
It has traditionally been the only check that Parliament has on a government. It is essential to Responsible Government because if the Prime Minister does not hold the “confidence” of the majority of the House, he loses his role as Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher, PM of the UK, lost her premiership in that way. In the last five years, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, both from Australia, lost their tenure in the same manner. Our system necessitates floor crossing.
It happened at the beginning of this century, as the parties were sorting themselves out. André Harvey went from being a Progressive Conservative to Independent to a Liberal. David Price and Diane St-Jacques went from being Progressive Conservative to being Liberals. While Jean-Guy Carignan went from being a Liberal MP to Independent-Liberal to a Liberal to an Independent.
But it gets even more interesting. In 2001, Art Hanger, Chuck Strahl, Gary Lunn, Jim Pankiw, Val Meredith, Grant McNally, Jay Hill, Jim Gouk, Monte Solberg, Andy Burton, Brian Fitzpatrick, Deborah Grey, and Inky Mark left the Canadian Alliance party because they criticized their Party leader Stockwell Day. He had lost their confidence and the MPs, as is their right, left the banner/party that they had run under and formed a new association called the Democratic Representative Caucus.
But that is not the only time it happened. Quebec MPs after the failure of the Charlottetown Accord lost faith in their parties but not the legitimacy of Parliament. Consequently, under the leadership of Lucien Bouchard, MPs did not try to declare independence from Canada by force, they merely left their party to form a new one: the Bloc Quebecois. While inconvenient, our system of government allowed Quebec MPs to form a strong opposition from the mid-90s to 2011. After that point, the Quebecois became tired with the Bloc Quebecois and left them with less than 10 MPs. Easy come, easy go. With that being said, the flexibility in the system rewarded the Country.
Furthermore, MPs need to be able to cross the floor because MPs have very few ways to defend themselves against Parliamentary Caucuses, Party Leaders or Prime Ministers. Remember Helena Guergis. After a series of incidents which did not reflect well on Ms. Guergis, Stephen Harper or the Conservative Party of Canada (Cabinet minister throws airport tantrum, Les Whittington and Richard J. Brennan Ottawa Bureau, Toronto Star, Published on Fri Feb 26 2010), the Conservative Caucus – either led by or supported by the Prime Minister – decided that they would eject Ms. Guergis. Now it didn’t hurt that “Harper, Giorno and his former principal secretary, Raymond Novak passed” allegations to the RCMP and conflict commissioner indicating that Ms. Guergis had participated in criminal behaviour. (Helena Guergis loses bid to sue Harper, Tories, by The Canadian Press, Posted on CBC.ca, Jun 28, 2013 3:38 PM ET Last Updated: Jun 28, 2013 8:24 PM ET). What is interesting, is that unlike Conservative MP Peter Goldring, when the RCMP didn’t charge Ms. Guergis with any crime, she was not returned to the party. In fact, the Conservatives’ went out of their way to diminish Ms. Guergis as a political threat.
Ms. Guergis could not rehabilitate her image because she couldn’t correct the record since nobody would listen to her. Her own party wouldn’t listen and various tribunals indicated that they either had no jurisdiction or that “Harper and the party had every legal right to kick her out of cabinet and the party.”(Helena Guergis loses bid to sue Harper, Tories, by Canadian Press, Posted by CBC, Last Updated: Jun 28, 2013 8:24 PM ET; Ex-MP Helena Guergis suing top Tories for $4M because she blames them for ending her political career, by Stephen Maher, Postmedia News | June 26, 2014 | Last Updated: Jan 24 11:03 PM ET) In this cyclic farce, no one had Ms. Guergis’ back. Consequently, one could say that a Parliament Secretary wishing to preserve her reputation – let alone her political career – might have learned from the fate of Ms. Guergis.
There is a quote from Emerson that It goes like this: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
In many ways, asking Ms. Adams to simply be a Conservative and not cross the floor is that “foolish consistency” at work. If we wish MPs to be able to hold their parties to account, at times, they will need to leave their parties or join another. If MPs are allowed to do that then MPs will have the strength of character to stand up to Ministers and Prime Ministers of all parties and stripes. For MPs will be held accountable for their decisions to stay in a party that is unresponsive to the needs of a population. Many Parties claim to be Grassroots parties and claim to want strong MPs. However, these same parties will not let their MPs vary in thought and/or deed. In many ways, crossing the floor is an antidote to the partisan elbows or poorer, less inclusive tendencies of our Liberal Democracy. By allowing people to cross the floor, MPs show their imperfect nature and their humanity to us all and in seeing that, we can all be a little less puritanical.
For the same Pierre Trudeau who fought for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was also the man who took so much freedom away from us all in using the War Measures Act to counter the FLQ and their terrorist plans. It was a Liberal, George Brown, who crossed the floor to force Sir John A. MacDonald – a Liberal-Conservative in 1864 and 1867 and Conservative thereafter – into the Great Coalition Government that would give us Canada. Often times in science, counterintuitive notions led us to the Truth. Today, accepting a strong partisan like Ms. Adams into our large Liberal tent reaffirms many of our strongest democratic tendencies.
Think about it, if we want to have a democracy that abides by pragmatism and science, we also have to allow people to change their mind. If we want a democracy that is robust and polite, we need to allow people to switch sides and honestly evaluate how and what they think about. We cannot paint people into a corner – called the past; we need to allow them to adjust their thoughts in coming to a new conclusion in the present and therefore flourish in the future. Churchill, one of the most famous floor crossers in English History, and the UK were definitely winners by the end of World War II because of Churchill’s inability to say with one party.
Furthermore, if President Obama and much of the United States could evolve on the issue of gay marriage, surely a pragmatic party which wishes to find the best policy solutions to benefit the most amount of people, can do the same. If our goal is to defend minorities, in doing so, allowing a former Conservative to become a Liberal is assuredly the right and noble thing to do. So let us treat Ms. Adams with the same open arms as we treated Mr. Brison, a former Progressive Conservative Leadership Candidate. Consequently, while Mr. Trudeau did upset me with his decision to limit the rights of MPs ability to speak on the issue of abortion, I am more than delighted to see his bravery in addressing the Senate and allowing for Floor Crossers to be welcome in this Party. It is a sign that the Strength and Courage that Liberals have shown since 1864 has come to the fore again.