Monday, December 16, 2013

Savage Reaction to Hyer's Greening Shows NDP Can't Be Trusted with Democratic Reform

What a whirlwind the last couple of days have been for the Green Party of Canada. Not only did the Green Party double its caucus on Friday, with the addition of Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer, but the Green Party became the focus of attack by the NDP this past weekend over Hyer’s move. Throw in Green Party Elizabeth May being named one of Canada’s Top 3 Most Valuable MP’s by the Hill Times today, and it’s clearly been an exciting time.

What was certainly one of the worst-kept secrets in Ottawa became public knowledge this past Friday the 13th, when TBSN MP Bruce Hyer, accompanied by Elizabeth May, met with the press in Thunder Bay. Hyer, who had been serving his constituents as an Independent since leaving the NDP caucus in April, 2012, over vote-whipping, signed a Green Party membership form and announced that he would now be sitting as a Green. Hyer’s announcement was the cue for the NDP to start up their cynical attack machine in a weak effort to downplay the significance of the day’s announcement.

NDP Engages in Scathing Personal Attacks

Interestingly, the majority of the NDP’s attack appeared to centre on New Democratic party members lack of understanding of how Canada’s parliamentary system actually works. Charlie Angus (MP – Timmins-James Bay), led the way by demanding – in the interests of democracy - that Hyer step down and face a by-election. Angus apparently didn’t see the irony in his call for a by-election - the irony being, of course, that the NDP’s own anti-democratic vote-whipping was the primary reason that Hyer left the NDP in the first place. Had the NDP allowed its members to vote in the interests of the very same constituents which Angus was crying fraud on behalf of, it’s doubtful that Hyer would have ever found himself on his year-and-a-half long trek to the Green Party.

Later that day, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair got in on the act in a big way. On Don Martin’s “Power Play”, Mulcair made a number of disgustingly scathing personal comments about Bruce Hyer, calling him “unreliable” and questioning whether Hyer was a “man of his word”. In what must be one of the most over-the-top remarks of the year, Mulcair even stated that Bruce Hyer had “any values whatsoever, he’d resign”. Clearly, from the NDP’s perspective, a man like Hyer who stands up to his Party on behalf of his constituents must be without any and all values.

To engage in their attack, both Angus and Mulcair broke the NDP’s unwritten rule of giving the Green Party credence by mentioning its name. And what a mistake that proved for the NDP, as the point they tried to make – that all but 3% of voters in Thunder Bay-Superior North voted AGAINST the Green Party in the 2011 federal election – made them look foolish. As if anybody really believes that voters in that riding set out to cast their ballots for “anybody but the Greens”. I can promise you that keeping the Green Party down was not on the minds of voters at the ballot box in TBSN in 2011.

Civics Lesson Needed for Mindless NDP Partisans

The mindless and uninformed partisan attacks continued throughout the weekend on media commenting sites, Twitter and Facebook. All appeared to be informed by the NDP’s comprehensive misunderstanding of our parliamentary system – and about what democracy means in Canada. I can understand that the NDP might be upset that Hyer left their Party to eventually join the Greens – and that, despite the intervening time spent as an Independent, Hyer’s move might still be considered a “floor crossing” (even though he’s physically going to stay put in the same seat that he’s occupied for the past year and a half, right next to Elizabeth May). What I just don’t get is why the NDP wants to misrepresent our democratic system to Canadians for their own cynical, partisan gain.

The NDP and its supporters have often been amongst the first to correct the record when right-wing voices bellow about “unelected” governments, such as that of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (although the most famous one being one which didn’t happen – when the Liberals and NDP got together back at the end of 2008 to enter into a coalition government – which was eventually thwarted by Stephen Harper proroguing parliament). In these circumstances, the NDP has often leapt to the defence of our Westminster Parliamentary system – or at the very least, have had the good sense to refrain for calls for costly and unnecessary elections. Simply put, the NDP knows that we don’t elect Premiers and Prime Ministers in this country – we elect parliaments.

While radical right-wing voices would have Canadians believe that, for example, Premier Wynne lacks a public mandate to govern because her party never faced an election with her as leader, the fact is that our system doesn’t work that way – and despite having enjoyed significant opportunities to change that system when in power, Conservatives going back to Confederation have opted not to mess around with that aspect of our parliamentary system. For them, calls for resignation have simply become a useful tool to fool Canadians into thinking that we have a Presidential system of governance, similar to that of our southern neighbour. These calls are disingenuous at best – and a blight on our democracy at worst.

Similarly, the NDP’s call for Hyer to face a by-election is based on a complete misunderstanding of our parliamentary system – one which is obviously deliberate on the part of the New Democratic Party, designed to fool the public into thinking a certain way which aligns with their own anti-democratic principles. By calling for a by-election when an elected Member of Parliament moves from one Party to another (or, in Hyer’s case, simply joins a new Party), the NDP has clearly shown its contempt for the voting public.

Elections: People, Not Parties

Simply put, the NDP wants Canadians to think that we elect political parties rather than individuals. The political hue of a candidate, for the NDP, must take precedence over all else – to the point that when that colour changes, the NDP believes that the parliamentarian must resign.

Well, I’ve got news for the NDP – in Canada, we don’t elect colours. We elect people. And more importantly, those elected members of parliament are sent to Ottawa to serve the interests of their constituents as representatives of the geographic areas from which voters elected them. They are intended to serve the interests of the public ahead of all else. Yet the NDP wants Canadians to believe that the interests of political parties must be the first and foremost priority of elected officials – likely because this regressive and shameful way of thinking serves the NDP’s own partisan interest in ironclad party discipline and message control.

Deliberately Misleading

Shame on the NDP for trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Canadians with their deceptive and incorrect interpretation of our Westminster parliamentary system. This past weekend, I saw numerous NDP supporters opine that floor crossers should be forced to face a by-election when announcing for a new party. Be that as it may, NDP governments have held power provincially in B.C., Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia at times in the past – and at no time was legislation about floor crossing ever debated by provincial parliaments. Which is why, I believe, that we can take the NDP’s “position” on this matter with equal weight to that of the radical right-wingers who believe a change in party leadership should trigger an election.

If you think that I’m wrong about this, consider this little thought experiment. If Charlie Angus chose to resign his seat from parliament tomorrow, would the NDP demand that he be replaced by another New Democrat? Clearly not – in the interests of democracy, a by-election would be held.

But how would Angus’ resignation be any different, from the NDP’s perspective, than Hyer leaving the NDP and joining the Greens? If the NDP asserts that Hyer, a sitting member of parliament, should resign because voters in TBSN voted 97% against the Green Party, wouldn’t the reverse then be true for Timmins-James Bay, where a real majority of voters chose the NDP to represent them? If the actual person doesn’t matter to the NDP (Hyer continues to sit in parliament), why the need for a costly by-election for resigning members?

It’s not a stretch to realize the real similarities between the two scenarios – only in the NDP’s world, people as representatives of the voters appear to be important only in one scenario, while the colour of the political party is paramount in the other.

For NDP, Political Colours Matter. People Don't

I had the pleasure of mixing it up on social media with a number of NDP partisans over the weekend, who attempted to defend the NDP’s indefensible anti-democratic tradition. By and large, it appears that the NDP is confusing voter motivation with the electoral process. While there is certainly merit in suggesting that voters are motivated to vote for an MP based on party affiliation, the actual process of voting itself requires the election of a real person, and not just a party colour stand-in. No matter the party affiliation of an elected representative, that individual will need to explain any and all actions at the time of the next election, should they decide to run again. If voters are motivated to cast their ballots for a different individual based on the past actions of an incumbent, so be it – the fact is, there are a lot of reasons why voters cast their ballots in the ways that they do. Ultimately, it’s a personal process which all voters go through to arrive at the decision for whom to cast their ballot.

NDP partisans, however, appear to be relying on the notion that Members of Parliament run for office on a clearly outlined policy platform, which they promise to never deviate from at every opportunity. By making this declaration, NDP MP’s subject themselves to the will of the Party as manifested by the Party Whip – voting en masse for or against a motion without the need to think further.

This past weekend, Elizabeth May referred to this as “checking your brain at the door” – a practice that I’m pretty sure most Canadians don’t really want to see our MP’s engage in – despite their voting patterns.

For NDP partisans, though, party discipline means everything – and Hyer, who placed the interests of his constituents before those of his party, defying the whip on a long gun registry vote, had already made himself an enemy of the Party. He was duly punished for the better part of a year, forced to sit silently in the back rows of the NDP caucus, not allowed to so much as speak about local events happening the riding, or honour its residents. In short, for breaking party discipline, the NDP forced him to abandon doing his job of looking out for his constituents.

Yet, in the mind of NDP partisans, this is somehow what “democracy” is supposed to be about.

To Defend Democracy, You Should Understand It

I’m sorry, NDP, but your narrow and regressive version of democracy – if it’s what you really believe in - isn’t one that I share. I suspect you’ll find that most Canadians, and even members of your own party, believe that the people we send to Ottawa to represent our interests are more important that the colours that they represent. The very idea that our elected officials should put the interests of their party ahead of their constituents is abhorrent – and says a considerable deal about why our democracy is in shambles today.

But rather than side with the Green Party in a meaningful attempt to reform our democratic practices, the NDP instead has decided to play nonsensical partisan political games over Bruce Hyer’s move to the Green Party. They’ve personally attacked Bruce Hyer, by questioning his integrity and values (suggesting that he doesn’t have any of either). They’re trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Canadians by pretending our system functions in a way that it doesn’t. The personal attacks and public deceptions on the part of the NDP are assuredly part of the reason why Canadians are turned off of politics in the first place.

Personal Frustrations with the NDP

I regret having to write this kind of blogpost, because it appears that I’ve done nothing here but attack the NDP – albeit for the NDP’s deception and dishonesty. I don’t like to engage in these kinds of counter attacks, but the display put on by the NDP this past weekend over Hyer becoming a Green was truly reprehensible. I live in a riding where the NDP has elected MP’s and MPP’s without much of a contest over the past number of elections. I think that if NDP supporters truly knew how this party operated, they would demand change from within. I know that some are doing that, but they continue to face the wall of party discipline and game-playing which the backroom leadership of the NDP believes is the route to electoral success.

NDP members and supporters should expect – and demand – more from their Party. I was proud of those NDP supporters from across Canada who called on former leader Jack Layton to change his anti-democratic decision to go along with the Broadcast Consortium’s move to bar Elizabeth May from participating in the 2008 televised leader’s debates. This upwelling of democratic support from NDP members showed me that, despite their Party’s track record, there are New Democrats throughout Canada who really are committed to bettering our democracy.

Yet, as the years have gone by, I’ve seen little evidence emerge from the NDP that their so-called democratic reform initiatives are worth the paper that they’re printed on. Since 2008, NDP governments in Nova Scotia and Manitoba have done nothing to enrich democratic processes in those provinces. And now, federal NDP supporters want Canadians to believe that Tom Mulcair’s NDP is going to carry the democratic reform banner in the 2015 national election. It’s just too much to believe.

If I am hard on the NDP, it is because I have always expected better from this Party than from the Liberals or Conservatives. Don’t take my direct criticism of the NDP to mean that I somehow support what the Liberals and Conservatives are doing to advance the interests of Canadians democracy. Indeed, it’s the exact opposite – the actions of those two parties are the ones which have created the gulf of Canada’s democratic deficit in the first place – and which has allowed the NDP to play fast and loose with our democratic principles.
As much as this will sound like my own partisanship, it’s increasingly become clear to me that only the Green Party can be trusted with acting on restoring democracy to Canada and our provinces. I’ve been following the discussions about the need for political parties to co-operate with one another for some time now – as part of an effort to oust the Conservatives from power. There may have been a time which I would have subscribed to such an effort as being a worthy initiative – but clearly, with the behaviour of the Liberals and especially that of the NDP, it’s become clear to me now that neither of these parties is at all interested in advancing the cause of democracy in Canada.

And this really does upset me – because at the end of the day, I am personally far more interested in having this issue advanced by whomever than I am by having partisan gain accrue to my Party because we are its only champion. I would rather see real democratic reform occur under an NDP majority government in a House with zero MP’s elected from the Green Party.

But if the NDP doesn’t even understand how our parliamentary system works – or worse, is being deliberately misleading about it to Canadians (which is what the NDP is doing), how can it be trusted to look after reform?

It can’t.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)


For a less partisan, and more concise take on the NDP’s “stunning degree of civic ignorance” over Hyer’s joining the Green Party, here’s a great post from Dale Smith’s “Routine Proceedings” blog, “Charlie Angus’ Wrongheaded Understanding of Our Democracy”.

No comments: