"I'm going to be Stephen Harper's worst enemy. We're going to stir the pot and you better believe we are going to make a heck of a lot of noise."
-- David Emerson, on election night [Jan. 23, 2006], when he was elected as a Liberal.
Here's a pithy quote for you, Emerson: Fuck off.
Why am I so mad about this? After all, my ideal world is an anarchist one, without elected representatives, just direct democracy. But at the same time, I've always, before I ever had any anti-state leanings and since, been a strong advocate of voting. In the absence of a workable anarchy, a constitutional democracy is the next best thing, and within that framework, some governments are clearly better than others. Many, if not quite all politicians are moral, well meaning folks. People should vote, if only to elect the party that won't try to screw them over. If everyone with a progressive agenda withdrew from voting, we'd be abandoning the levers of power to people who believe that gays and adulterers should be stoned to death.
But now, I'm considering not even voting in the next election. Emerson has really brought it home for me just how fucking miserable some politicians can be, how easily they'll betray everything they supposedly stand for. He's the latest in a recent string of defections from every side of the political spectrum.
Ujjal Dosanjh, former NDP premier, runs for the federal Liberals.
Belinda Stronach, former Tory, turns Judas for a Liberal cabinet seat.
Keith Martin, who jumped from Alliance to Liberal.
Scott Brison, Tory to Liberal in one easy step.
Bob Rae, another fromer NDP premier, of Ontario, rumoured to be seeking the Liberal leadership.
Notice something about that string of defections? Every one of them (except Rae) was toward the immediate centre of power, which for 12 long years has been the Liberals. Your basic backbench MP can't just jump from party to party either, they just have to sit tight and do what they're told. They're the toiling class of the politicians, just trying to scrape up enough patronage to get another community centre or highway overpass built in their riding.
Above them are the political elite, the literal ruling class. They are marked out by wealth, influence and charisma, and they feel free to jump from party to party, always seeking power and influence. Stronach, a silver-spoon sucking millionaire who hung out with Bill Clinton, engineered the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Alliance parties into the new Conservatives, and then switched sides when she didn't find herself on the winning team, is the classic example. She's even managed to get re-elected after that stunt. These high-class pols always claim to have the best interests of the country in mind, of course. I'm sure that they think they do. But the effect is that they dilute their own ethics, or show that they had none to begin with.
I'm not writing this rant because I'm a fan of the Liberals, but because I get angry on behalf of the voters in Emerson's riding.
He ran as a Liberal. He ate their salt, and then he stabbed the party in the back. But worse than that, he assumed that he knew better than every single person who marked his name on a ballot. Without asking them, without consulting, without a meeting or a poll, he has invalidated their decision of just two weeks ago.
Some of those people who marked their X next to Emerson, David, voted for him because they liked him. Some were voting strategically, to keep out another party they didn't like. And the majority voted because they supported the platform of the Liberals themselves, because they had weighed the platforms and the records of the various parties, and found the Liberals the least wanting. Now, he'll be supporting the Tory platform, the Tory party line and the Tory cause.
Until they're out of power, presumably. If the Liberals win with a minority in the next election, they'll let him right back in, all forgiven. The need for collective power and the need for individual power feed off one another, perfectly incestuous.
Meanwhile, the voters have no power.
Not all is lost. There are any number of ways we can return more power to the electorate, short of burning the constituency offices of every MP in the land. Retiring NDP MP Ed Broadbent suggested a package of corruption fighting reforms that included a ban on switching parties in mid-stream. Any MP who wanted to change his or her colours would be forced to step down and fight a by-election. It's a good start.
Another good idea would be very tough recall legislation. We need a way to pull these guys out of there when they get out of hand. And the requirements need to be easy enough to make it a meaningful threat. If even a few thousand people think the bum should go, he should go.
I'd also suggest that every time there's a defection like this, of a sitting MP, that the party he or she left should sue the living shit out of the traitor. Sue for every dollar they invested in lawn signs, newspaper ads, hot dogs at the party fundraisers. And every volunteer should join a class action lawsuit, to sue for the time they invested as volunteers. Does $30 an hour for their time sound good to you?
Finally, we badly need to reform the way we elect these people in the first place. Some form of proportional representation (I'm a fan of the Single Transferrable Vote, but I'm open to other options) is badly needed.
None of those reforms would make it a perfect democracy, but we'd be a bit closer. The high and mighty need to feel some anger from the voters, and they need to feel it now.
And to Emerson, once more: Fuck you.