By Victoria Veldhoen, November 6 2017 —
Last Monday, Karen McPherson — the member of the legislative assembly who quit the New Democratic Party’s caucus to become an independent at the beginning of October — became the latest MLA to cross the floor, joining the centrist Alberta Party. Changing parties like this is surprisingly common in Albertan politics. Other recent examples include Sandra Jansen, who left the Progressive Conservatives to join the NDP in 2016, or the nine Wildrose MLAs who left the party to join the then-governing PC’s in 2014.
Why do MLAs choose to leave their parties when they presumably agreed with their values when they ran in the first place? In McPherson’s case, she said she believes she’ll have the ability to speak with more force as part of the Alberta Party than she would have under the NDP. In Jansen’s case, she has always considered herself a centrist but believed that she’d be more welcome to express her viewpoints within the NDP caucus than she was with PCs.
While I’m sympathetic to the idea that an MLA’s viewpoints can shift before they’re due to run again, they shouldn’t change parties as easily as they do in the current system.
People who defend floor-crossing argue that it’s just a normal part of our political system, as it’s prioritizes the individual MLA over the party they’re attached to. However, unless an MLA is one of those rare candidates who is elected based solely on their platform and not their party, their constituents probably voted for them based on their political affiliation. If an elected MLA wants to change parties while still in power, they should be forced to run in a by-election to make sure they still have the support of their constituents.
An MLA’s failure to re-obtain the support of the constituents they’re supposed to be representing after a major change in political identity appears dishonest, even if their intentions are pure. Dishonesty within public communications is not a recipe for electoral success, nor will it improve the quality of Alberta’s political discussion. It can lead only to the kind of apathy with the political system and democracy in Alberta that we have seen in decades past.