Defection another sign thrill has gone
The script in the House of Commons is usually predictable and repetitive, as if designed for early learners. But Parliament retains the power to excite. Milling around in the foyer of the House Monday, it was suggested to me that I might want to be in the chamber at 1:30 p.m.I entered during the debate on the Trans-Pacific Partnership legislation, to the characteristic sound of the NDP — on any discussion on trade — barking up the wrong tree.There was a smattering of government and opposition MPs, listening under duress to the NDP trade critic’s proposal to take us back to the good old days of bartering and tuberculosis.But as Conservative after Conservative shuffled into their seats, including leader Andrew Scheer, it was apparent something unexpected was about to happen.And it did. Leona Alleslev, the MP for Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill in Ontario, stood on a matter of privilege and made it clear she was not a happy Liberal.A former captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force, she said she swore an oath to serve and defend Canada. Now she said she was deeply concerned about the future of the country, as large amounts of capital investment fled. “This is not a strong economy,” she said.Beyond the country’s borders, “our position remains vastly diminished,” with foreign policy disconnected from trade relationships.“It’s my duty to stand and be counted. Our country is at risk. My attempts to raise my concerns with this government were met with silence.”As a result, she said she was leaving the government benches to take a seat with the Conservatives, at which point she crossed the floor of the House and did just that.Alleslev’s statement was greeted with a roar of approval from the Conservative caucus and she was enveloped by MPs grateful to have found someone to sit in Maxime Bernier’s seat. The few Liberal MPs in the chamber looked as if they’d just discovered why Marlon Brando had nipped out for some butter in Last Tango in Paris.It’s not every day that you see a government MP quit to join the opposition. The cynic in me suggests it might be because she sniffed the electoral wind in her riding and decided it might be easier to get re-elected as a Conservative. She won by just 1,100 votes in 2015 and Ontario Progressive Conservative Michael Parsa recently won a crushing victory. Alleslev may have read the tea leaves.Alternatively, Liberals suggested, it might just be sour grapes. Not only did she miss out on cabinet in the summer re-shuffle, she didn’t feature in the list of parliamentary secretaries unveiled last week — despite serving as one at Public Services and Procurement in 2016.But that may impugn her motives unfairly. There are a few good unhappy Liberal backbenchers out there — a number of whom feel that the relentless attempt to woo left-of-centre voters has left Canadians in the middle of the political spectrum feeling abandoned. Throw in the non-stop identity politics, with its baked-in hostility to anything that smacks of privilege, and there is a feeling that new divisions have been cleaved. “We are more polarizing than the Conservatives were,” said one MP recently.Whatever Alleslev’s motivation, Scheer was delighted to embrace her, in an effort to put the memories of Bernier’s defection behind him.In a parallel of Trudeau’s olive branch to Conservatives — “they’re not your enemies, they’re your neighbours” — Scheer appealed for disaffected Liberals to join him.“If like Leona, you supported Justin Trudeau but are frustrated or angry at his ineffectual leadership, you are welcome and needed in the Conservative Party of Canada,” he said.Ineffectual leadership was the theme of the first question period of the session. Every Conservative who stood lamented the “summer of failure” — except the one MP who roasted the prime minister for his “summer of total failure.”Scheer pointed to the Trans Mountain pipeline debacle, the increase in wait times for new refugees because of the illegal border crossings in Quebec, and the continued delays in striking a new NAFTA deal.It adds up to a daunting list of challenges for a government that now has a track record to defend. On the way into the House, I listened to Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott speak to students from the Kashechewan First Nation, who had come to Ottawa to complain about the need for a new school for their floodprone reserve on James Bay.Philpott talked about creating conditions that would allow a girl from Kashechewan to become the next Supreme Court justice. In times past, there would have been polite applause, but the minister was heckled by students demanding “no more broken promises.”While the thrill may be gone, Trudeau retains a commanding lead in the polls. His default response during question period was that unemployment is at 40-year lows, half-a-million full-time jobs have been created and Canada led the G7 in growth last year. Before the Ontario election in June, the Liberals and Conservatives were running neck and neck, but voters seem to have vented in the provincial election.The Liberals once again have a commanding lead in most polls, thanks to a recovery in Ontario and overwhelming support in Quebec.Alleslev’s defection is a welcome boost, but the arrival of a single swallow does not indicate a migration is imminent.
“I look forward to working with my Conservative colleagues who are unafraid to do the real work,” said former Liberal MP Leona Alleslev on Monday, with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer at her side.
MP Leona Alleslev crossed the floor from the Liberal party to the Conservatives on Monday.
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