NDP criticizes floor crossing

The NDP wants to end party switching in the territory. The call comes in the wake of Darius Elias's move to the Yukon Party. The MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin had been sitting as an independent, and before that was the interim leader of the Liberal Party.

The NDP wants to end party switching in the territory.

The call comes in the wake of Darius Elias’s move to the Yukon Party.

The MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin had been sitting as an independent, and before that was the interim leader of the Liberal Party.

The NDP will introduce a bill in the fall that, if passed, would require MLAs to step down and run in a byelection if they would like to join a new party.

“It’s a matter of respect for the voters,” said Official Opposition NDP Leader Liz Hanson.

“If a MLA really believes that their constituents would approve of them crossing the floor, they should not be afraid of running in a byelection.”

Hanson and fellow NDP MLA Kevin Barr met with residents of Old Crow Tuesday.

The meeting fell the day after Elias met with constituents for the first time since joining the Yukon Party.

The timing was a coincidence, said Hanson.

She and Barr both attended Elias’s Monday meeting, on invitation from Elias.

Elias was invited to attend the NDP meeting, but had to return to Whitehorse early Tuesday.

Although some of the approximately 30 residents who showed up to Elias’s meeting expressed concern with his move to the Yukon Party, none called for him to step down and run in a byelection, confirmed both Elias and Hanson in interviews following the meeting.

It also was not a topic of conversation at the Tuesday meeting hosted by the NDP, said Hanson.

When asked if Elias should stand in a byelection, given that his constituents do not appear to be demanding one, Hanson did not directly answer the question.

Old Crow is a small community, and they deal with issues in non-confrontational ways, she said.

Still, on principle, the NDP believes that all MLAs wishing to join a new party should stand in an election, added Hanson.

Party switching has a long history in parliamentary politics.

And the NDP, both territorially and federally, has called for an end to it in recent years.

Former Yukon NDP Leader Todd Hardy called for the change in 2006.

Federally, several NDP bills have been brought to the House of Commons on the issue.

But politicians on all sides tend to switch perspectives on the issue as easily they switch parties, depending on their own interests.

In February, MP Claude Patry left the NDP for the Bloc Quebecois. He did not stand for re-election, despite having voted for a bill a little over a year earlier that would have forced him to do so, had it passed.

And in June, after MP Brent Rathgeber quit the Conservative caucus, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications tweeted that Rathgeber should have to stand for byelection. This contradicted Conservative MPs who voted unanimously against a bill that would require exactly that, arguing that floor crossing is a valuable parliamentary tradition.

But the way it is is not the way it has always been.

As David Gussow points out in an article for Canadian Parliamentary Review, from Confederation until 1931, MPs who crossed the floor would have to stand for byelection if they accepted some sort of financial reward for the switch, including a cabinet position.

He argues for a return to the old system, where accepting a paid position in exchange for crossing the floor is considered a conflict of interest.

In his estimation, a person in Darius Elias’s circumstance should not have to stand for byelection unless and until he accepts a cabinet position.

No such offer has been made to date, said Elias.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at