On Monday, Stephen Harper was sworn in as the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada. His cabinet was also sworn in that day and it has two people that have caused nothing but headaches for Harper and the Conservative party.
David Emerson, the former Industry Minister, ran and won as a Liberal in the riding of Vancouver-Kingsway. Two weeks after the election, he quit the Liberal party, and joined the Conservative party and was named to Cabinet. He crossed the floor. Huge shock. The other controversial cabinet member is Montrealer Michael Fortier, who was appointed to the Senate in order to be in the cabinet. Harper justifies these cabinet appointments on the basis of good government and to have government representation in Vancouver and Montreal.
For starters, I do have an issue with politicians changing parties. At the very least, they should declare themselves as an independent. My biggest issue in the Emerson case, is that his party switching happened two weeks after a general election. He campaigned as a Liberal, raised funds as a Liberal and won as Liberal. The Conservative candidate, Kanman Wong, was a distant third with 18% of the vote. The Liberal party dumped a bunch of resources into Emerson's riding to help him defeat a strong contender in Ian Waddell, the NDP candidate (who finished with over one-third of the vote). How is Emerson crossing the floor fair to the Mr. Wong, to volunteers in the Liberal riding association, or the the voters who elected him on the basis that he was a Liberal? When Emerson was Industry Minister, the Conservatives hounded him over multi-billion dollar programs. Now, Emerson is an intelligent man and a great asset to the government. Huh?
Harper supports an elected Senate. So it was surprising when he appointed Michael Fortier, a key campaign organizer, to the Senate so that the government could have representation in Montreal. Mr. Fortier did not want to run in the election because "it wasn't the right situation" for him. But, apparently becoming a Senator is the right situation. Now he is saying that at the next election, he will resign and run as an MP. Perhaps he should resign now?
Harper calls the criticism superficial. The fact that a few Conservative MPs are starting to publicly show their displeasure with these cabinet appointments, the fact that it is a hot media item (both old and new media), and the fact that a growing portion of Conservative supporters are questioning Harpers ethics, hardly makes this a superficial issue. No one is arguing that Emerson or Fortier do not have the qualifications to be in cabinet. What people have a problem is with Harper campaining on accountability, democracy and ethics and then, in their (and my) view, sidestepping accountability, democracy and ethics to achieve representation in two of three major Canadian cities. Strike one, Mr. Harper.
If Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto are truly important to Canada, then the Prime Minister of Canada should be dealing directly with the Mayor of each city. These cities should not be raising their issues through a representative in cabinet. Harper should have Toronto Mayor David Miller, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan and Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay on speed dial. I'm grateful that Harper did not appoint anyone to represent Toronto in cabinet. This way Miller will just call the PM directly, and let Harper what issues Toronto has.