Roundup: Challenging an unconstitutional law

The saga of Steven Fletcher in Manitoba continues to fascinate and enrage me. The now-former member of the province’s PC caucus, and one-time federal Conservative cabinet minister, has not only run up against a very problematic expulsion from caucus because he dared to have differing opinions (which I wrote about in my column), but now it appears that Fletcher is planning to challenge the province’s law that bans floor-crossing. Not that he wants to cross the floor, but the fact that the law is on the books.

In case it’s not clear, the very notion of a legislated ban on floor-crossing should be unconstitutional. Apparently, Manitoba’s not the only province to have this either – New Brunswick has a law on the books that requires floor-crossers to reimburse their former party for election expenses, which is also legally dubious. The history of these laws is also circumspect at best – in Manitoba, it was allegedly cashing in on the anger around David Emerson crossing the floor to become a federal Conservative cabinet minister in 2006, while in New Brunswick, it was the angry response to a husband-and-wife MLA couple crossed from the provincial Conservatives to the Liberals. The Manitoba case has the added factor that it was an NDP government at the time, and the NDP are particularly hostile to floor-crossers, which one suspects has to do with the fact that they are a party that is big on solidarity and being in constant lock-step, and they aren’t very tolerant of their members stepping out of line. They’re also much more wrapped up in their party identity, which is part of why these laws are such a problem.

The thing with our electoral system is that it gives individual agency to MPs. They are elected as individuals, to fill a single seat in the House of Commons in a separate election. That’s why a general election is 338 separate elections federally, or however many seats are in that province’s legislature during their elections. MPs are not elected a party vote which then gets allocated to that seat, and this is important. Because we elect MPs as individuals, regardless of whatever party colours they may be wearing, it empowers them to make their own decisions in Parliament (or their provincial legislature), and that includes the ability to cross the floor when their conscience is so moved. It’s not a bug in our system – it’s a feature because it means that the individual is more powerful than the party. The NDP doesn’t like this line of thinking at either level of government, and apparently the provincial Liberals in Manitoba are also under the misguided notion that it’s “unconstitutional” (which it most certainly is not). I’m glad that Fletcher is planning to challenge the law, because it is an affront to Westminster democracy. And when it does get struck down, I hope it serves as a warning to other provinces, or the federal NDP in their perpetual quest to enact such laws.

Good reads:

  • Justin Trudeau received an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh, then had a private audience with the Queen.
  • In response to that “Proud Boys” incident in Halifax, the head of the Indigenous Veterans Association hopes they don’t lose their jobs (and blames the activists).
  • It looks like a growing number of immigration applications are being refused for incomplete information, particularly around medical issues, which is a problem.
  • Focus groups show that government websites aren’t connecting with youth (not that this should be a surprise to anyone).
  • The Quebec bar wants to remind the government that it’s their “turn” to when it comes to the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • The government is talking about making program reviews permanent on a rotating basis, and the NDP are already crying about excuses to cut services.
  • The head of the RCAF insists that he’s taking a “prudent amount of time” to launch the procurement process for new fighter jets.
  • Former leadership also-ran Rick Peterson is apparently mulling a run for Rona Ambrose’s vacated seat, but so is Ambrose’s old chief of staff.
  • Colby Cosh shreds the arguments people continue to use about Omar Khadr’s culpability and the legal questions they refuse to contemplate.
  • Jonathan Kay remarks about the moral culpability of child soldiers, and the moral panic and hysteria that remains around Khadr.

Odds and ends:

Here’s a look at how the federal equalization programme works, for the benefit of my perpetually aggrieved fellow Albertans.

2 thoughts on “Roundup: Challenging an unconstitutional law

  1. The article on excessive demand on Provincial Health system and rejection of immigration application fails again to explain basics, the media seems to take pleasure in confusing the public. It starts with telling us that this applicant wants to come to Canada for its Human rights record, that is a grenade thrown into the debate. The reality is that excessive demand is created by the Provinces who control health care. Provinces do not want immigrants in poor health who will create an excessive demand on a system already stretched beyond its intended limits. If it was not for Provincial objections, this question could be treated differently. An Immigration Officer in the current context does not have the liberty to ignore provincial objections. Why can’t that be the focus of the article?

  2. Thoughtful article.

    I’d add the caveat, though, that while we do elect MPs to Parliament as individuals, in my experience the vast majority of voters cast their ballots based on support for the party and/or the leader, not the local candidate. That’s why people were so angry over Emerson’s crossing-they voted for him as a Liberal, and did not want to be represented by a Conservative.

    Hence why floor-crossing gets such an ugly reaction from the public. Voters see themselves as having been betrayed by their MP, who they voted for to express support for the party and the leader, not the individual MP him- or herself.

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