Elizabeth May doubles her party’s caucus

Bruce Hyer joins the Green party

Bruce Hyer, formally of the NDP and an independent MP for the last year and a half, has decided to join the Green party, bringing to two the total number of Green MPs in the House. Here is the prepared text of his remarks in Thunder Bay this morning.

Good Morning. Thank you for joining us here at the newly renovated Finlandia Club here in Thunder Bay, in the brand new Embassy Bistro.

As you can see, we have been joined here today by a notable and esteemed guest. Welcome to Thunder Bay-Superior North, Elizabeth May! Yes… I am joining the Green Party. Our three largest parties are trapped in old style, 20th century politics, with little compromise or cooperation. The Greens are the party of the 21st century. They are the party of the future. They are putting principle ahead of political partisanship.  They have the best platform and they have the best leader.

So… I have just paid my membership fees to join the Green Party.

What led to this decision?  Let me recall a bit of personal and political history.

In 2003, Jack Layton asked me to run as the NDP candidate, which I did in May of 2004.  I lost.

In 2006, I was asked again to run by Jack and the riding association. I was often half-frozen knocking on doors in the January and February campaign, and I lost again…. but by a mere 399 votes!

In October of 2008, I was asked to run a third time by Jack and the Riding Association, and we won this seat in the House of Commons. I was reelected in 2011 with almost 50% of the vote, which was very gratifying.

Jack was very persuasive, but he never whipped my voting. He was unusual in his ability to balance the desires of the party, and the needs of his MP’s.

Soon after Jack passed away, an interim NDP leader was chosen. It became very clear that whipped votes would be customary, and they have been ever since. On the other hand, I wanted to best represent, and work for, the constituents of northwestern Ontario. I waited for many months to see who the permanent leader would be.

During Earth Week, 2012, I left the caucus  (but not yet the party) to become the only voluntarily independent member of the House. (Recently, as you know, Conservative Brent Rathgeber has become the second MP to voluntarily become Independent, for exactly the same reasons, namely way too much control by Party Whips, Party Leaders, and party staffers.)

Please let me read to you the statement that I prepared to present in the House in April of 2012.

“Mr. Speaker: I was honoured when the voters of Thunder Bay-Superior North chose me to be their voice in the House of Commons.

I committed to them:
•  to be honest, open, and accessible…
• and to keep my campaign promises!

Despite wide life experience with dozens of organizations… None of that quite prepared me for the problems in Parliament. I have much respect for most Members in this House. But our three main parties require lockstep discipline, with little room for meaningful public debate… or for putting constituents ahead of party politics! Fueled by a flawed and antiquated electoral system where 39 % of the vote can gain 100% of the power, the main parties are mired in a win-lose battlefield mentality.

Instead of Cooperation and compromise… Our voters observe mindless solidarity, where WE are always right. And THEY are always wrong! Therefore Mr. Speaker, to best represent my constituents, as of today I will be sitting as an Independent.”

But then I had to use digital social media to announce it, as the party successfully asked the Speaker to not allow my planned Statement to the House. Ironic!… and it underscores just what the problem is.  It has not gotten any better, and as you know it is getting steadily worse. You may recall at that time I said I would not consider joining another party for at least a year.

I have sat as an Independent for a year and three quarters. You have likely heard me say that I believe that I have been even more effective at representing my riding than as a member of the NDP caucus. For example, as an Independent, I now receive more questions and statements in the House, and can better work cooperatively with MP’s from all parties.

So, why am I today joining (and doubling!) Elizabeth May’s Green Party caucus?

Now, unlike Most MP’s, I will be able to work for all of my constituents, rather than for only one controlling party… and, with the resources of the only truly democratic party, I believe that now I can even better represent Thunder Bay-Superior North. I think as my new status as “Independent… PLUS”.

The decision was not easy and I did consider whether to perhaps join the Liberals or rejoin the NDP.

There are many fine MP’s in all of the parties, and many are good friends. The problem is that they are forced to work more for their parties than for their constituents. The old parties are just too hyper-partisan and controlling.

It has been this way, and getting worse and worse, since 1970, when Pierre Trudeau changed the Elections Act to increase the leaders’ control over his caucus members.

What was obvious in his legislation was that the party names were added to the ballots for the first time since Confederation. Far more serious though was in the fine print, which required the national party leaders to sign the nomination papers of party candidates… or they are not allowed to run, even if selected by their riding associations. (Mr. Chong’s excellent Reform Act could reverse that).

Soon, Prime Minister Trudeau was calling his own backbenchers “mere trained seals”. Previously, from 1867 until 1970, MP’s had worked for their ridings, and the leaders had to use skill and persuasion to keep their caucus happy and supportive.

Today, most MP’s are primarily Customer Sales Representatives for their parties in their ridings, and carefully controlled and scripted by their parties. That is a shame, because most MP’s… from ALL parties… are caring and committed people who went to Parliament intending to help build a better Canada.

Let me tell you in simple straightforward terms why I am joining the Green Party here today:

  • I can and will only join a party where it is well understood and agreed that that my first loyalty is to the best interests of constituents… and to Canada… where parties and their seeking of governing power are a means, not an end in itself.
  • It is the only party, and Elizabeth is the only leader, that seeks cooperation and compromise with other parties, and respect for all MP’s… while the three main parties require lockstep discipline by their MPs, with little room for meaningful public debate… or for putting constituents ahead of party politics.
  • Many Canadian voters share my disillusionment with the current situation in Parliament. Four out of ten eligible voters declined to even cast a ballot in the 2011 federal election. It has become very clear that our current flawed political and electoral system often brings out the worst in politicians and parties. Parliament is one of the most flawed and dysfunctional organizations I have ever encountered.
  • I will never represent any party that “whips” (mandates) voting by their MPs, especially on issues not clearly laid out in agreed-upon written policies or platforms. Which means that none of the three main political parties is an option for me.
  • There is only one party that commits to whipping few if any votes, as long as their 6 basic principles are followed. I believe in those 6 basic principles, and I am not concerned that Elizabeth and I will disagree on some votes. We already have!
  • The Greens have the best platform… the Green Vision. It is very comprehensive and very balanced with not only environmental priorities but sophisticated social and economic strategies as well. It is on line, and will be updated soon, so feel free to send your ideas on improvements to me at bruce@brucehyer.ca.
  • The Greens have the best Leader! Elizabeth May is setting a new and high standard in the House of Commons. She is Smart. Caring. Loving. And the hardest working MP in the House… by actual vote by her peers in the annual Maclean’s poll recently. Last year she was voted as “Parliamentarian of the Year”. She is obviously widely respected by her peers.
  • There are two kinds of politicians: those who want to serve… and those who want to be served. Elizabeth May is the only Leader who is putting democracy, our Planet, and our country ahead of old style Party Politics… and ahead of herself.
  • If we had real democracy, with the kind of proportional representation that the vast majority of Parliaments around the world have, Stephen Harper, with only 39% of the vote, would not have 167 seats and 100% of the power.

He would have 122 seats and be in Opposition in a Lib-Green-NDP government. If we had a real democracy, the Liberals should have 58 seats instead of 34, and as a somewhat regional party, the NDP would have six fewer seats. Today, the Greens should have had at least 12 seats, and official party status.

Parliament is a mess. Can we fix it? Yes. I believe we can. It starts by passing Michael Chong’s brilliant, simple and straightforward Reform Act to restore democracy to the House of Commons.

I have great respect for the competency and commitment of Progressive Conservative Chong.  His Reform Act is perhaps the most important bill in 43 years. Canadians and I will be watching closely to see which MP’s bravely choose to vote to empower themselves and their constituents.

I believe that the function of governments is to foster fairness and equality in all of our society. Canadians want to live in a Canada that is clean, sustainable, safe, and prosperous.

I want to serve in a government that does the following: encourages the creative and industrious and generous, protects the weak, and controls those who are dangerous or pathologically greedy.

So: By joining Elizabeth May and the Green Party of Canada, I will still have all the benefits I had as an Independent and being able to put my constituents first…

PLUS: I will have access to the resources of a well-organized and established party with high quality researchers, a network of experts in many fields, and the best leader in Parliament.

I look forward to working across party lines, as Ms. May does tirelessly, to build a more cooperative Parliament, a better Canada, and to be an even stronger voice for all the constituents of Thunder Bay-Superior North… no matter whom they voted for.

Mr. Hyer thus becomes the third ever Green MP in Canadian history, following Ms. May and Blair Wilson, who was a Green MP for about five weeks in 2008.

The New Democrats are unimpressed and suggest Mr. Hyer should resign and run as a Green in a by-election. In that regard, Mr. Hyer can at least say that he didn’t vote in favour of an NDP MP’s bill that would have compelled floor-crossers to resign before switching party allegiance (in fact, he didn’t vote at all). A ban on floor-crossing was party of the NDP platform in 2008, when Mr. Hyer ran and lost won as a New Democrat. Elizabeth May voted against that legislation, so she’s seemingly safe from any charge of hypocrisy.

This same basic issue previously came up in the cases of Lise St-Denis and Claude Patry, but there are good arguments against it.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.