Doug Rutherford

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What’s so new about jumping ship?

August 2011
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I find one of the funniest parts of politics to be when a member of a political party, for some reason or another, opts to leave and take up the torch of another. Why funny? Because, the party left and the parties not joined seem to view this as the most horrible form of blasphemy. But, of course, this blaspheming will only be applicable to their opponents and never when they do it themselves.

Changing political allegiances is not new and it’s not that rare. Look at the current leadership of the three main political parties. The recent turmoil concerns the fact that interim NDP Leadeer Nycole Turmel was a card-carrying member of the Bloc and also a member of the Provincial Quebec Solidaire. Her claimed reason for doing so was to support a friend and because she favoured the social democratic principles of the party, while not supporting sovereignty. Bob Rae, the current interim leader of the Liberal Party, was a federal NDP MP before moving to provincial politics in Ontario. He became leader of the party and was elected as NDP premier in 1990. He left the party in 1997 and re-entered politics in 2006  shortly after a poll listed him as second choice for the Liberal Party leadership after Frank McKenna… and after McKenna announced that he was not running for leader of the party. Our last example, of course, is Prime Minister Harper, who has made a career of changing party allegiances. He started out as a Liberal, but quit the party when he disagreed with the National Energy Policy. He moved from the Liberals to the Progressive Conservative Party, but left when he disagreed with the policies of Brian Mulroney. He joined the Reform Party, but left it when he disagreed with the policies of Preston Manning.

Other famous federal politicians who have moved include Newfoundland’s John Crosby, who started out as a provincial Liberal before becoming a member of the provincial Conservative party and later a PC MP, Belinda Stronach, who ran unsuccessfully for the PC party leadership in 2004 and jumped to the Liberal Party in 2005 (while dating the former leader of the PC Party), and David Emerson, who was elected as a Liberal in the 2006 election and accepted a seat in cabinet as a Conservative MP immediately after the election.

And, if you follow Yukon politics, it gets even more interesting. In the upcoming election, we have Dave Sloan, former NDP cabinet minister running for the Liberal Party, Eric Fairclough who was an NDP cabinet minister who jumped to the Liberal banner, Scott Kent, former Liberal cabinet minister running for the Yukon Party, etc.

In short, every party has a history of wavering membership stories. Why, then, do the parties scream when someone demonstrates a history of having held membership in another? Much of the rhetoric makes little sense. For example, Stephen Harper’s comment about Nycole Turmel’s membership in a sovereignist party being “disappointing” wears a bit when it was revealed that Transport Minister Denis Lebel was a long-standing member of the Bloc. Also, the prime minister has appoint Michael Rivard, a Parti Quebecois MNA as a Conservative senator in 2008. So, this is obviously a glass house where stone throwing should be considered risky at best. Despite this, the war of words seems to arise anytime someone reconsiders their priorities, a somewhat human trait.

As a piece of trivia, the first time I was ever in the House of Commons visitors’ gallery, I watched Raymond Rock cross the floor from the governing Liberal Party to sit as a Progressive Conservative. As Pierre Trudeau rose to speak immediately afterwards, someone (I think it was George Hees) yelled out from the opposite side of the House, “Are you coming over, too?”


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