Everyone loses when politicians change teams mid-game
Christina Blakeborough

If Stephen Harper was elected prime minister of Canada and a few months later decided to change parties or “cross the floor” to join the Liberals, a lot of Canadians who voted for Harper would feel cheated, and perhaps herald the act as undemocratic. As unlikely as this scenario is, why is it that elected party representatives are able to change parties after election in similar fashion without much controversy? With lax regulation in regards to party membership, the doors are open for the elected to undermine voters and play politics with their positions.
The first Canadian to cross the floor was Richard John Cartwright on Oct. 9, 1869. He was the MP for Lennox and a future senator, but he was hoping for a cabinet position. Cartwright was a Conservative crossing the floor to the Liberals. What was his reason for crossing? Sir John A. Macdonald didn’t name him the new minister of finance. By joining the Liberals, led by Alexander Mackenzie, he was appointed minister of finance.
Throughout Canadian history there have been many more politicians that followed in Cartwright’s footsteps. The most recent case was on Jan. 10, 2012 when Saint Maurice-Champlain MP Lise St. Denis crossed the floor from NDP to Liberal.
The actual decision to cross the floor is allowed; however, it’s only ethical when the term is ending and re-elections are on the horizon. Crossing the floor just a few months into a term is the easy way out for St. Denis. She chose to run for the NDP; she got elected; now, she should focus on her job as an NDP member of parliament. The only way to make this fair to the members and supporters of the party would be to have a by-election, instead of easily changing sides without some effort on her part.
St. Denis volunteered for the NDP party for ten years. After ten years, she should have been familiar with the NDP party policies and direction. St. Denis claims she was “disappointed in the NDP’s decision not to support an extension of a Canadian military mission in Libya, its opposition
to the idea of a public-private partnership to rebuild Montreal’s Champlain Bridge and its long-time insistence that the Senate should be abolished.” These party decisions shouldn't surprise anyone who volunteered for the NDP for ten years.
Out of the 45 known Canadian floor crossers, only 11 of them didn’t run for a re-election once they switched parties. The success rate of these floor crossers during re-election is 65 per cent. Regarding St. Denis, even though the Liberal caucus accepts her decision to switch parties, it doesn’t mean the Liberal supporters will back her up, which is why a re-election would be interesting. But seeing as St. Denis is in her 70s, it seems very unlikely she’ll run for re-election in 2015. For that reason I believe that her decision to cross the floor is more of a publicity stunt to draw attention to her name and the Liberals.
The Liberal Party of Canada may be struggling with supporters now, but this might change soon enough. St. Denis announced last summer that she was battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which affects the lymphatic system. Could the medical condition of St. Denis's drum up sympathy support for her and the Liberal party in wake of Jack Layton battling cancer?
Crossing the floor can be a shrewd and cunning political strategy. As the Liberal party attempts to take back support from the NDP, expect more attempts to portray the NDP as a sinking ship without a captain. When asked how her constituents would feel about her changing parties, St. Denis responded, “They voted for Jack Layton. Jack Layton died.”

//Christina Blakeborough, writer
//Graphics by Tiffany Munoz

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