Stephen Harper on floor-crossing, circa 2006

‘Members of Parliament should have that freedom’

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Feb.6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld</p>

Adrian Wyld/CP

On Twitter last night and today in Question Period, the Harper government made clear that it believes Brent Rathgeber should run in a by-election now that he has resigned from the Conservative caucus.

Stephen Harper’s first cabinet included David Emerson, who moved to the Conservative caucus just two weeks after being elected as a Liberal in 2006. When the House of Commons convened in April, Mr. Harper was asked, in his first Question Period as Prime Minister, whether he would put an end to the practice of floor-crossing. Here is that exchange with NDP MP Pat Martin.

Pat Martin: Mr. Speaker, Canadians have a democratic right to be represented by the political party that they elect to represent them. The Prime Minister offended all Canadians when he seduced the member for Vancouver Kingsway over into his camp and talked him into crossing the floor. Floor crossing undermines the democratic process and fuels cynicism. Will the Prime Minister use his new accountability act to put an end to floor crossing and these musical chairs once and for all?

Stephen Harper: Mr. Speaker, I do not think I have ever been accused of seducing anyone, even my wife … Mr. Speaker, the hon. member will know that what he is asking for is not the position of this party. I explained that in televised debates during the election campaign. There are members of the House who favour that position, and if a private member wants to bring that forward, it of course will become votable in this Parliament.

Pat Martin: Mr. Speaker, I do not think the government believes in true transparency and accountability any more than the last gang did. The Prime Minister will not even talk to the media. He holds his secret cabinet meetings at midnight in the Diefenbunker and he is stripping out the ATI provisions from the accountability act. There is plenty of room in the accountability act to answer this serious concern that Canadians have. They care about this. They want the practice stopped. Will he commit today to ending the practice of floor crossing once and for all?

Stephen Harper: Mr. Speaker, as I have said before, I believe members of Parliament should have that freedom and be accountable to their constituents for their decisions at the next election. However, in my observation, the only parties that really have this as an obsession are the parties that no one ever crosses to.

Mr. Rathgeber, of course, is not crossing the floor to sit with another party, he has merely resigned from the Conservative caucus to sit as an independent.