Last week, Yukon politicians debated floor-crossing legislation.
The bill was tabled by New Democrat leader Todd Hardy, whose team was recently knocked to third-party status through the loss of two prominent members to the Liberal ranks.
In March, Hardy sacked both Gary McRobb and Eric Fairclough.
Both men had criticized Hardy’s leadership. They felt he’d taken the NDP too far left.
They wanted a leadership review. Hardy ignored them.
So, eventually, both disgruntled politicians announced they would weigh their options, including possibly crossing to the Liberal ranks.
Once news they’d met with Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell became public, Hardy sacked McRobb.
Initially, Fairclough was spared Hardy’s wrath.
Well, one can only speculate it was because he’s a well-liked, former interim leader of the party and the only caucus member with cabinet experience.
That is, he was indispensable.
McRobb, on the other hand, is a less polished character with a lower profile in the party. He was easier to get rid of.
But, once it became clear the actions of Fairclough mirrored McRobb’s, Hardy was forced to cut him loose as well.
While completing consultations on his future, Fairclough sat as an independent member.
The New Democratic Party held its annual general meeting, and affirmed its support for Hardy’s leadership.
And then, in a let-bygones-be-bygones moment, Hardy invited Fairclough back to the party fold.
Fairclough waited a couple of days, and then said, “Nah.”
He joined the Liberals.
You could almost hear the air hissing out of Hardy’s renewed leadership mandate.
And, two days later, on Wednesday, Hardy brought his floor-crossing legislation before the house.
“We should not be in here to try to enhance our own personal persona,” he said.
But that was precisely what everyone was trying to do.
The bitter and often personal debate raged for about three hours, as politicians walloped each other about their lack of ethics, leadership and principles.
It did little to improve public faith in politicians. In fact, it probably hurt it some.
Premier Dennis Fentie talked about ethics, asking if there was recruitment or enticing offers made.
It was a bit hypocritical, coming from a former New Democrat who dallied with the Liberals before jumping to the Yukon Party.
In fact, the current Yukon legislative assembly resembles the morning after a key party.
But, that said, Hardy’s floor-crossing legislation creates a dangerous dynamic.
For one thing, it weakens the power of voters and puts it in the hands of politicians.
In Canada, the public has the right to choose a party or the person.
Floor-crossing legislation assumes people voted for a party.
People should think, carefully, before endorsing such a change.
What happens if, say, constituents demand an elected member switch parties?
This legislation would strip away that right, which is a powerful check on political power.
And it would consolidate power in leaders, who could threaten to cut loose troublemakers without fear of losing party status and monetary perks.
Vacillating politicians sometimes irk voters.
But, more often, they irk political leaders by identifying irreconcilable problems within a party.
Grassroots democracy is strongest when power is diffused.
Which is why it’s better to let MLAs decide where their party allegiances reside. (RM)