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.