Friday, February 10, 2006

NDP Ethics in Question

Principles, integrity, accountability -- in politics as in life, they mean doing what is right, not what is expedient. Principles are supposed to remain consistent and not change depending personal or political gain.

How convenient then, that the NDP is calling for the investigation of the Prime Minister for breeching Section 8 of the Code of Ethics, which states:
"When performing parliamentary duties and functions, a Member shall not act
in any way to further his or her private interests or those of a member of the
Member's family, or to improperly further another person's private interests."

People have said that consistency dictates that if you were against floor crossing when Belinda did it, that you should also be against it now that Emerson has done it.

If that's the case, is the reverse not also true?

Go back a year. (If you can't be bothered with the history, skip to the last two paragraphs).

In late March, early April 2005, Gomery was still big and the Conservatives were ahead in the polls. The Liberals feared the Conservatives believed they had a chance to win an election, so they might take this window of opportunity to bring down the government. They decided to yank 'Opposition Days' removing any threat that the opposition could bring any business to the House -- so there couldn't be a non-confidence motion.

The three opposition parties were justifiably outraged that their parliamentary right to Opposition Days had been arbitrarily revoked. Harper, as the leader of the Official Opposition decided to call Martin's bluff. The government wasn't going to allow them to bring business to the House so the Conservatives would now vote against the budget rather than abstaining. Bloc and the NDP were already against the budget, if the Conservatives joined them, this would bring the government down.

The government then refused to bring their own budget for a vote Martin had his caucus filibuster their own budget to prevent it coming to a vote.

Knowing the filibuster couldn't last forever, Martin took to the airwaves and whinged, giving rise to the infamous statements: 'Let Gomery do his work!' and 'Canadians don't want an election!' The media came away parroting those lines. Instead of focussing on the government actions that had thwarted democracy and created the acrimony in the House, the media reported that Harper was 'angry'. A public who hadn't been paying close attention didn't understand why. The media never really answered except to point to the Gomery inquiry, which really wasn't the catalist to these events.

Jack Layton got up that same night and pulled a rabbit out of his hat. He started the ritualistically recited mantra that he was committed to 'making this parliament work' . Martin took the bait and the two of them along with Buzz Hargrove cooked up a deal in a hotel room. The deal would provide vague outlines of where the NDP wanted money directed, but had none of the specifics of a 'real' budget. Layton called for $4.6 billion in new spending after the removal of corporate tax cuts from the original budget. The NDP could lay claim to influence. The Liberals were saved by a hair.

Business received a nudge and wink that their tax cuts would stay, and the socialists convinced their constituency that money would begin to flow immediately. For the price of a lie, the Liberals bought 19 votes.

At the first opportunity (May 10) the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois indicated their lack of confidence in the government by passing a motion in the House, adding an amendment to a bill which called on a parliamentary committee to request the government's resignation. The motion passed, 153-150. Despite the fact that this motion clearly indicated the government did not have the confidence of the majority of MPs in the House, the government ignored the vote declaring that the motion was a procedural one (without benefit of Opposition Days -- no business could be brought forward by the opposition in the usual manner, the government refused to bring the budget to a vote -- so this route was taken as the only route available).

The Conservatives and Bloc pointed out that according to parliamentary conventions, the government is obligated to quickly introduce a formal confidence vote which, if passed, would necessitate the dissolution of Parliament. The government came out the next day with the following statement:
On May 17, voters in British Columbia will be going to the polls in a provincial election. Next Tuesday and Wednesday, I (Paul Martin) will be in Regina to welcome the Queen to Canada. On Thursday, May 19, I will be in Ottawa. And I am proposing that there be, on that day, a vote on the budget bill. This vote will be a matter of confidence. . . By scheduling this vote, I am respecting my obligations to our Parliamentary tradition. I call on Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe to respect their obligations – to demonstrate respect for Parliament and for Canadians by ensuring this House is able to function between now and the day of the vote, and by committing to Canadians that they will honour and recognize the outcome of the confidence vote.
Remember -- the government had already LOST a procedural vote 153-150 and refused to recognise it as a confidence vote -- but look at the last sentence of that press release -- it exhorts the opposition to 'honour and recognize the outcome of the confidence vote.' scheduled over a week away.
The Liberals used Paul Martin's itinerary and unrelated events in the country, to grant themselves a full week in which to shore up their shaky grasp on power.

May 17 Conservative MP Belinda Stronach crossed the floor and joined the government. Her 'principled' stand included accepting a plum Cabinet role. Stronach used this opportunity to slag Stephen Harper, saying: "I do not believe the party leader is truly sensitive to the needs of each part of the country and just how big and complex Canada really is." She suggested she was uncomfortable with the Conservatives 'working with the Bloc' to bring down the government because it threatened national unity. This ignores the fact that without opposition parties co-operating on issues of confidence the government could never be toppled.

Had Stronach made this move over 'principle' it would have been made immediately after a caucus meeting the previous week where the Conservatives unanimously agreed to attempt to bring down the government -- instead, she stood beside her caucus-mates and was one of the 153 who voted against the government. She told no one she was leaving the Conservatives -- not her constituency office, not her staff, not her boyfriend (sound familiar?)

The subsequent remarks of some provincial Conservative MLAs about 'whores' and 'dipsticks' were the major concern of the NDP that week. They were in a tizzy about how 'sexist' those statements are. The media focussed on the broken heart of her ex-boyfriend Peter MacKay. The one week delay in the confidence vote benefitted the governing party (hence the reason behind the unheeded calls for a quick confidence vote) but they weren't the only ones to benefit.

There was no country-wide outrage. There were no protests. With the exception of some angry Conservatives, there was no call for Belinda to resign and stand in a byelection. Stephen Harper never suggested that she should -- and neither did Jack Layton. No one wrote to Bernard Shapiro.

Some would say that because she is a billionairess, principles, not perques, had to have been the motivating factor in Belinda's defection, but there are considerations beyond 'cash', which are more valuable and more coveted by someone of Stronach's wealth. Her role on the opposition benches provided her with no status and no prestige. Besides, doesn't it seem reasonable that all MPs should be held to the same standards regardless of personal fortunes?

Remarkably, the NDP, who would be the benficiary of the so-called 'NDP budget' and have the thrill of holding the balance of power for a few more months, decided neither Stronach's nor the Liberal's actions were unethical -- at least not unethical enough to suggest a byelection or to contact the Ethics Commissioner.

At least Harper has been consistent on his floor-crossing stance.



Jim said...

I'd be curious to hear reaction (if any) to the Fifth Estate show, which claimed that Brian Mulroney took 300,000 dollars in cash from karlheinz scheiber. The implication of course was that the 300 k's were dollars from Airbus.

Steve V. said...

Earlier this year, Ed Broadbent was calling for the Ethics Commissioner to resign and I believe that he actually tabled a motion of non-confidence in committee.

How interesting that this same ethics commissioner is now qualified, in the eyes of the NDP, to judge Stephen Harper. I am no fan of Emerson's switch, but evidently the NDP is no longer concerned with consistency either.

Platty said...

That , my friend, is one fantastic post. I have not read anything this week that has put it so precisely. Over on another post I questioned the author of a petition he had started, asking for David Emerson step down. I asked him if he put the same effort into having Belinda Stronach removed when she crossed the floor, did he start a petition then? I could be wrong, but I'm guessing no. The issue here is crossing the floor, there is no, "well his was worse" or "the timing makes a difference". That is why I especially like your post, you point that out very nicely. My point here is, if you put the same amount of effort into vilifying the Liberals in May, then have at the Conservatives now. If you were constantly on every blog you could find, calling Belinda and Paul Martin every name in the book, then have at David and Stephen Harper now. I hear a lot of people using the word Hypocrite, I think maybe they should think about who they are directing that towards the next time they use it. I think it is time for the true Conservative supporters to band together and show that support for the Party and the Prime Minister. I have a petition going to Not Recall David Emerson Here

a conservative said...

Since I did more than my share of blogging about Stronach crossing the floor, then as said, I am allowed to vent my anger at Harper. That Harper is even to be compared with Martin in the first week of Parliament is tragedy enough.

That we conservatives have to grovel and piece together some semblance of reason behind this move and in the end simply defer to Harpers 'wisdom' or else deflect the arguments onto others inconsistencies is doubly tragic.

That practically every cabinet member needs to be defended makes the tragedy undefinable. Harper does not need to explain himself to liberals, media, NDP or anyone else, he needs to explain it to US. And forget that nonsense that those of us in the party are stooping to 'superficial criticisms'. If that's what he thinks of members of his own party then we are in for shaky times ahead!

Anonymous said...

a conservative,

Let me get this straight.

Stronach crossed and Harper said nothing. Then when asked on "It's Your Turn" he explained why crossing should not be penalized.

You went out and blogged your personal views and now YOU want the PM to change his views to match yours.

Don't like your chances mate.

ndp nadine said...

canadianna, what a joke! Harper consistent? He has broken key principles underpinning his party and its forerunner the Reform party. All the condemnation of the Liberals, how is he any different now? Harper and his crew would be having a spaz if the Liberals did the same thing. At least the Liberals waited til Parliament was actually sitting before they prove how arrogant and unethical they were. Harper wasted no time catching up to them.
What about giving backbenchers a greater say, then disciplining Garth Turner? Is Myron Thompson next? What about his 40 odd MPs who voted in favour of the anti-floorcrossing bill including its co-sponsor Helena Guergis who is now Emerson's parliamentar secretary, are they being consistent? Seems to me, Liberal, Tory, same old story.

And your suggestion that they Conservatives and Bloc wanted to bring down the government last spring because of the budget and opposition days is wrong. Both of them smelled blood following the Jean Brault testimony so their attempt to bring down the Liberals was purely for electoral reasons, not budget reasons. Meanwhile, the NDP avoided the games even though they too could have very well benefited from an early elections. Being the only principled party in the House, they rewrote the budget to fund things Canadians needed and wanted instead of forcing them to the polls. This principled, responsible representation of Canadians is why the NDP was rewarded with more seats this time around. Following this past week events, I'm convinced the 2007 election will thankfull yield an NDP minority government because the country needs it.

Canadi-anna said...

Nadine -- Jack Layton supported a corrupt government for six months because he believed he could extort more promises from them -- not to benefit the people -- to enhance his status as 'conciliator' and 'facilitator'.
Don't talk to me about 'ethics'. If Paul Martin was too corrupt to support in November, he was no more or less corrupt the previous May --- but in November, he wasn't offering Jack Layton anything.

Whether you like it or not, crossing the floor is not immoral, illegal, unethical -- 'principle' is not just your actions, but the motivation for your actions. Our system of government elects an MP, not a party. MPs are people with free will. For a person who says she wants more free votes etc. how do you reconcile that with putting party loyalty ahead of individual freedom. Because the people of Vancouver-Kingsway were cheated? So were the people of Aurora Newmarket -- where was the letter to the Ethics Commissioner.

Harper has consistently stated that he doesn't support legislation preventing MPs from crossing the floor - and he never has. Jack supports it, but when Belinda crossed the floor, his 'principles' didn't motivate him to say 'hey, no, we can't prop up a government when they have just induced a member of the opposition to join them and to take a seat with them in Cabinet. The NDP would love to have this budget passed, but you know what -- our principles stand in the way -- we don't want the vote manipulated like that - the people of Aurora-Newmarket voted for a Conservative, and a Conservative they should have!'
Now, if Jack had spoken those words back in May I might have voted for him.
By the way -- NDP -- free votes? How many of your MPs voted against the SSM bill -- that's right. One -- and that one was disciplined. How many of your MPs voted against the floor-crossing bill? None you say? Well, 40 Conservatives voted for it, even though the leader was against it.
Nadine, the NDP is no bastion of integrity.
Either the Liberals were corrupt or they weren't.
Jack decided they were only a little bit corrupt and he could live with that so long as he got something out of it.
Just call him Mr. Righteous.
Get real.

Ken Breadner said...

CA, another fantastic post.
NDP Nadine, as a Canadian who makes more than, um, nothing, I hereby pledge that should the New Democrats ever form a government, I will leave the country. The NDP's stance on health care alone--basically, do everything we're doing wrong now, only more so--will bankrupt Canada.

TrustOnlyMulder said...

Great post and defence to NDP Nadine. You paraphrased Piaget very well. He said don't judge a man's morals by his actions but by the thoughts and ideals that created those actions.

I find it ironic that there are three realistic scenarios to their ethics petition.

1) Ethics Commissioner rules in favour of Tories and situation is the same.

2) EC rules in favour of NDP and a bi election is called which the Liberals win and put status back to the way it was the day after the election, or

3) EC rules in favour of NDP and bi election is called which the NDP win giving them an extra seat.

In any scenario, they can't lose and in one they gain a seat. How nicely opportunistic of Jack and his team

Candace said...

Excellent post - I was wondering about the Request to Review from Jack et al.

ndp nadine said...

Canadianna--Firstly, the NDP always said the Liberals were corrupt. Secondly, Jack Layton indeed is a facilitator and consilatator. What was the sense of bringing down a government that was elected not even a year earlier that hadn't really done anything yet? Jack took the opportunity to make Parliament work and he did, unlike Harper. As I stated, the NDP too could have capitalized off of the scandals but instead, they thought of Canadians rather than their own electoral prospects, contrary to the other 2 parties. The NDP agreed to bring down the gov in November after the Liberals refused to protect Medicare. Big surprise, Stephen wasn't interested in protecting medicare either.

And floorcrossing is unethical! That's why half the former Conservative caucus and now Garth Turner, Myron Thompson and other suddenly camera shy backbenchers support Peter Stoffer's bill. How dumb they must feel now. Like Lois Brown, after beginning every speech of her campaign reminding voters of Belinda, she must be in hiding now. Apparently Helena Guergis no longer has a spine or integrity, as she is now Emerson's parliamentary secretary! When Belinda did cross the floor, the NDP was indeed vocally critical of her but by then, the budget was on its way to being passed, and admittedly it's not such a critical issue that it should bring down a government. Also, at that time, everyone knew the Liberals were trash, the floorcrossing just reinforced that fact. Turns out the Conservatives are just bad! ha!

And your allusion to Bev Desjarlais, well, I wasn't too thrilled with what happened to her. But SSM is about human rights which is fundamental to the NDP platform. I wonder where Garth Turner will be sitting now.

Canadi-anna said...

Nadine -- you just don't get it. Look at these two sentences side by side:
the NDP always said the Liberals were corrupt. and What was the sense of bringing down a government that was elected not even a year earlier that hadn't really done anything yet?
You seriously don't understand the ethical problem with supporting a corrupt government? Simply because you believe you can benefit from it?
Here University students -- here's help for you -- we had to make a deal with a corrupt government to give it, but it's okay to make a deal with corruption if there's something to gain!!!(?)

You can't say 'This guy is corrupt, but I'll do business with him because it will benefit the people.'
If someone is corrupt, a principled person REFUSES to do business with them REGARDLESS OF THE PERSONAL OR POLITICAL GAIN.
When Jack decided to prop up a government that he believed was corrupt, Jack showed a distinct lack of principle.
You can't say it was the ethical thing to do because he got something done for the people -- that's not the way ethics work. Making a deal with an unethical party in order to achieve a political goal is unethical.

As to floor crossing: I never have thought floor crossing was the sin that so many people think.
Since when is party allegance the be-all and end-all in politics? I didn't call for a byelection when Belinda crossed, and I was actually happy to see the back of her because I thought she was a trouble-maker and she didn't seem very conservative to me. Her timing sucked, but I think she made the right move for herself and for the Conservative Party.
Loyalty to one's constituents comes by serving them well, not by voting along party lines for every vote.
ChuckerCanuck had an interesting observation on his blog. He lives in Montreal. Those who voted Liberal in his riding, primarily did so because they are for SSM and the Liberal Party is for SSM. Their Liberal MP is against SSM and if there is a vote on it, will vote against. They could have voted NDP, but they didn't want a socialist and they could have voted Bloc, but they didn't want a separatist -- but the MP of the party of their choice is against the very thing they wanted when they voted.
So, if he votes against SSM, should he be recalled?
We don't get literal representation in Canada. An person is elected, not a party. That's our history and it is based on the notion that MPs are people, not automatons. They run in the party that seems to best suit their ideas and ideals and if that party no longer seems a good fit, they should and do have the right to move on because -- wait for it -- this is a free country and they are free citizens not bound by oath or contract to serve a particular political party, but to serve their constituents.

Like I said, Emerson will serve his constituents to the best of his ability regardless of what side of the House he sits on.

You really need a lesson on principles and ethics if you are holding up Jack Layton and the NDP as shining examples of either. The NDP had a proud history of integrity -- not so now.

PR said...

Good post. The NDP ethics complaint is too stupid for words.

Platty said...

Nadine says:

"And floorcrossing is unethical!"
"admittedly it's not such a critical issue that it should bring down a government."

So, how unethical does it have to be before the NDP will stand by it's convictions, have you got a meter for that, a scale perhaps?
Just wonderin'...

Anonymous said...

ndp I was reading canadianna's very accurate history essay I was wondering if she was going to get to the part about the dealing that Layton did with Martin, just for the vote, (that 're-writing the budget' that you mentioned...canadianna called extortion) only to have it fall thru the cracks somewhere. (no $ for health care as 'promised') I don't have the details ...something about Section 66...?..(sorry I don't have the details..anyone?...)Layton must be embarrassed and bitter.
And if 'a conservative' expressed disgrace with Belinda when she crossed over, why at Harper now?If you would have said you were upset with Emerson now that would be the equivalent. I'm not groveling to make sense of this. We elected a very bold and decisive Prime Minister. We didn't elect another Dithers who stole our money.
canadianna...a masterpiece of historical political analyses.Right on! Write on!!VF

Kim McKenzie said...

Canadianna, excellent post and excellent arguments in the comments. I must say, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog.

Steve said...

We need more posts like this - a well-written and convincing post. It really gives the lie to the myth of the NDP being principled.

davey said...

Great analysis as usual. A lot of partisan objections are the norm. Surveys today indicate the majority of Canadians don't care.

Crossing-the-floor” rules sorta like the Designated Hitter in basesball. Most people have a strong opinion and will never change. Nevertheless, they all enjoy the game. And, once someone becomes a manager, they make the most of the rules to win the game.
Let’s face it, no one loses money, no one is physiclaly injured and the people get a chance to speak at most 4 years later. A few constituents get their noses out-of-joint for awhile.
Most floor crossers get re-elected and legislation to prevent it can’t get traction.
Turner thinks it's bad. Harper accepts it, understanding the flaws in the alternatives.
Time to move on.
I'm not a fan of floor crossing. I'd rather see it balanced by recall legislation than outlawing it. MPs need to be able to make decisions and the onus should be on the electorate to reject the decisions.
Recall legislation would allow comments from constituents on any percieved error in judgement or promise not kept (Remember the wage & price controls of Trudeau and the GST elimination promise in '93)

DJeffery said...

Great recap. You might have mentioned the same excuses, i.e., reasons BS gave for her switch were caught on tape via the very doubtable Tim Murphy and Ujjal Dosanjh.

potato said...

I don't get it. In 1993 the Liberals campaigned on bringing ethics back to government. Twelve years later Canadians finally cottoned on to the fact that they failed miserably. No fuss, no muss, just business as usual for twelve stinking years.

Harper makes two contraversial decisions in his first week in office and we have a national feeding frenzy.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think it's the Conservatives that need to do any explaining here.

In any case, Canadiana has made the case beautifully.

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