Friday, January 5, 2007

Crossing the Floor: Defections Gone Wrong

Wajid Khan’s impending defection from the Liberals to the Conservatives is getting major play in the blogosphere. Crossing the floor in Canadian politics has become somewhat of a sport over the years. I’m not too surprised by Khan’s decision to cross the floor given his recent association with the Conservative party, but the defection itself reminded me of several instances in recent Canadian political history where crossing the floor went terribly wrong.

Angela Vautour

Rookie politician Angela Vautour won a stunning upset victory for the NDP in the New Brunswick riding of Beausejour-Peticodiac in the 1997 federal election. In 1999, Vautour defected from the NDP to the Progressive Conservative caucus. The NDP was the fourth largest party represented in parliament, while the Progressive Conservatives had the fifth largest parliamentary caucus. In other words, she jumped from a fourth place party to a party that was trailing badly in the polls and was essentially on life support. Her inexplicable defection, confused pundits and angered her constituents who unceremoniously dumped her from office in the 2000 election.

Alex Cullen

Ottawa City Councillor Alex Cullen was elected to the Ontario Legislature in a 1997 by-election in the riding of Ottawa West. The Liberals caucus considered Cullen a loose cannon and Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty helped another candidate defeat Cullen for the party’s riding nomination in the following election. Cullen, who complained that McGuinty had stabbed him in the back, crossed the floor to the NDP – the party with the smallest parliamentary caucus. Cullen really had nothing to lose by defecting, but the NDP was trailing badly in public opinion polls at the time and his riding of Ottawa West had never come close to electing a New Democrat to Queen’s Park. Cullen, as expected, placed a disappointing third place in the 1999 provincial election.

Richard Holden

Richard Holden was one of a handful of Montreal anglophones elected in the 1989 Quebec provincial election as Equality Party candidates. The Equality Party was essentially a English-rights party formed in response to the Quebec Liberal Party’s support for Bill 101, the controversial language Bill. Holden represented the Anglophone-dominated riding of Westmount. His maverick behaviour got him expelled from the tiny Equality Party caucus. After sitting briefly as an Independent, Holden made the shocking decision to defect to the Parti Québécois in 1992. Holden’s politics seemed diametrically opposed to the nationalist politics of the separatist PQ, but Jacques Parizeau welcomed Holden with open arms. Rather than run Holden as part of a Kamikaze campaign in Westmount in 1994, the PQ ran him instead in Verdun. Despite the PQ’s province-wide victory, Holden unsurprisingly went down to defeat.