Where's your line?
This morning, Stephen Taylor has provided a measured, reasonable post on the controversial cabinet appointments that admits the difficulties Harper's decisions created while also pointing towards the bright spots - both real and anticipated.
Although it is worth reading in its entirety, I will excerpt a few portions that illustrate where I find myself in disagreement with Mr. Taylor:
The only thing that Tories find insulting about the Emerson affair was that it went against some of the core principles of the legacy Reform/Alliance parties which drafted policy concerning MP recalls and mused quite openly about the very topic of floor crossing. However in the real-world of Parliamentary practice, the actions of floor crossers such as Emerson and Stronach are perfectly within the bounds of legality.
He's right, of course: the defections are perfectly legal, and - timing aside - even fall within parliamentary precedent. My issue is that simple legality is not a sufficient standard for me.
Yes, in our system, we elect individuals to represent our ridings in the House of Commons. We do not elect parties.
Again, Stephen is technically correct. But if party allegiance is only incidental to our parliamentary electoral system, why does a Carolyn Bennett triumph over a Peter Kent or a Paul Sommerville? Why does a Pierre Polliviere win out over a David Pratt? The most qualified candidate does not always win. In fact, why have only four independent candidates been sent to the House of Commons in the past five elections? That's about one quarter of one percent of the total elected members over that period of time. Surely if we were electing only individuals, there would be more unaffiliated individuals elected.
The reality is that party affiliation matters, and it matters a great deal. How to reconcile the legality and tradition with the reality is a tricky problem, and tangential to this discussion in any case. But relying on legal definitions that ignore the facts on the ground will not change those facts one little bit.
But as many have done, politics has been measured against principle and as conservatives, many of us immediately recognized the discrepancy between what we believe and what Harper did to advance the 'big-C' Conservative brand in Canada. Can purists only exist in opposition? Does pragmatism separate successful Prime Ministers from failures? We certainly find our roots in conservative philosophy, however the game of politics cannot be won on ideological purity.
That's the argument in a nutshell, isn't it? "The game of politics cannot be won on ideological purity." Pragmatism and compromise are undoubtedly essential to political success. And letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is most often counterproductive.
But Flea raised an interesting question in comments to one of my previous posts: "To those who cannot understand why Damian, Andrew Coyne and others are so frustrated I would like to ask which promises, if any, the new government would have to break before you choose to break ranks?"
Most reasonable people will agree that there must be a point where party loyalty matters less than personal conviction. We simply disagree is on precisely where that point lies.
For me, while David Emerson did not break any laws, he willfully disregarded the clear voting intent of his constituency, technicalities be damned. And my party's leader, the man I voted for in a leadership race, the man I supported with my time, my effort, and my personal credibility - whatever little I have - for years now induced Emerson to perpetrate that betrayal.
That crossed a line for me. It was a line I didn't know I had, because with Stephen Harper, it never occurred to me that I'd need one.
Unless something dramatic changes in this story, this will be my last post on l'affaire Emerson. I've said all I want to say. I won't change the minds of those supporting Harper's decision, and I can add nothing more to the convictions of those opposing it. I sincerely hope our Conservative government, the one we've all been working so long and hard to bring about, does something newsworthy soon, because I want desperately to have something productive and good to counterbalance this most disappointing start.
Update: Wonder Woman makes many of the same points I do, but in her own inimitable style. Well said.
Update II: James Bow, one of the Canadian blogosphere's most reasonable writers, has put up a strong piece that shows how principled leadership and service can win both goodwill and votes come election time.
But when Conservatives like Brooks, Andrew Anderson, and Andrew Coyne break from the party line and speak out on poor Conservative policy, then I know that these Conservatives are not talking through a partisan shroud; that they are actually talking from their hearts and their heads. Their conservatism is based on deep-seated personal beliefs that they will fight hard to defend. Oh, they’ll argue with you. They’ll disagree with you on any number of things, but they’ll listen to you. And when you agree on something, especially if their agreement departs from party policy, you’ll know that they’ve agreed with you because they’re searching for the truth, just as you are. And there is an increased chance — slight but still there — that you are that much closer to finding it.
And when these Conservatives turn to me in a year’s time and say to me that, on the whole, Harper has given this country good government, and that it may be time for me to consider voting Conservative, I’ll listen to them. I may not agree with them, but I’ll give their arguments a fair shake, because I know it’s their principles, their personal integrity that’s talking, and not a blind allegiance to the colour blue.