On the other side of the floor

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It’s a two-way street. Not to turn legislature floor crossings into a traffic jam, but it’s an issue that can’t be easily addressed with a one-size-fits-all answer.

Nova Scotians who find themselves sensitive to this occasional political change of allegiance will look with interest upon a private member’s bill on the subject introduced in New Brunswick. Progressive Conservative member Wayne Steeves put forth a bill that would require a politician who leaves his or her caucus to sit as an Independent or quit to run in a byelection if they want to be a member of another party.

The Conservative government in that province has said it will support the measure. Manitoba has had a similar law in place since 2006.

We’ve had some instances of floor crossing in this province, and on the federal level, and they certainly can draw some fire. On the other hand, in some cases voters will argue the member made a reasonable choice.

In particular, those people in a riding who remain loyal to one party will understandably be vexed seeing a person voted in under the banner make the decision to switch.

The move, obviously, can also affect the balance of seats, especially when there’s a delicate hold on power, and in that way set blood boiling across the entire province.

But at the same time, it can be a specific issue taken up by a party that prompts the departure, or a course that runs at cross-purposes to what a party has expressed in its platform. At times, when an MLA is forced to pick up the gauntlet on an issue that his constituents have told them they oppose, those voters are going to say: “This is not what we elected you to do.”

Certainly, when the switch obviously means personal reward, such as a cabinet post with the governing party, it’s reprehensible.

Before a government in this province considers a similar law, they would do well to survey the electorate and talk to riding associations to assess their thoughts and observations. 

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Manitoba

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