POLITICS

Steven Fletcher, Ousted Manitoba MLA, To Fight Law Banning Floor Crossing

Steven Fletcher says his constitutional rights are being violated.

07/05/2017 11:24 EDT | Updated 07/05/2017 11:24 EDT
Chris Wattie / Reuters
Steven Fletcher takes part in a news conference in Ottawa on March 27, 2014.

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba politician who was kicked out of the governing Progressive Conservative caucus says he's planning a court challenge against a law that forbids him from joining another party's caucus.

Steven Fletcher, who was dumped by the Tories last Friday, said Tuesday a provincial law that forbids him — or any other Manitoba politician — from crossing the legislature floor is unconstitutional.

That goes against almost every tradition that exists for our parliamentary democratic systems.

"That goes against almost every tradition that exists for our parliamentary democratic systems," Fletcher told The Canadian Press.

"I've given instructions to my lawyer to file the necessary paperwork to have the law thrown out on a constitutional basis."

The law was brought in by the former NDP government in 2006 in response to a controversy that erupted when David Emerson left the federal Liberals, weeks after being elected, to join the Conservatives. Then-premier Gary Doer said the aim was to ensure voters' wishes at the ballot box are respected.

The Manitoba law stipulates that any legislature member who ceases to belong to a caucus must sit as an independent until the next election, or resign and run in a byelection under their new party banner.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
David Emerson is sworn-in as international trade minister as former prime minister Stephen Harper and Governor General Michaelle Jean look on at Rideau Hall on Feb. 6, 2006.

Fletcher, who served as a member of Parliament between 2004 and 2015 and was Canada's first quadriplegic MP, said he believes there is no similar law elsewhere in the British Commonwealth.

Fletcher was removed from the provincial Tory caucus after criticizing a proposed law that would create a new Crown agency to promote energy efficiency. He tied up two public hearings on the bill by asking questions late into the night.

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Heather Stefanson would not say if the government will fight Fletcher's planned legal action. There will be no formal response until legal documents are filed, press secretary Kalen Qually wrote in an email.

"This is a law that was introduced by the previous government in 2006," he said in a statement. "These types of laws should not supersede the important issues faced by our province."

Fletcher says he's fighting law on principle

Fletcher's ability to join another caucus would not mean much to the Tories, who still have 39 of the 57 legislature seats. But if he were to join the Liberals, it would give the struggling party a fourth seat — enough for official party status and the funding that comes with it.

Fletcher said he has no intention of joining another party and simply wants to fight the law on principle. However, he said he feels there are disgruntled members of all three parties and a new caucus could emerge if some were to band together.

"They may exercise their ability to do what they're allowed to do constitutionally, and they may do so simply because they want to be a better representative for their constituency."

Fletcher pointed to the rupture in the Canadian Alliance in 2001, when Deborah Grey, Chuck Strahl, Monte Solberg and others left the Stockwell Day-led party and formed the short-lived Democratic Representative Caucus. Most rejoined after Stephen Harper became leader.

"Look at that group — Monte Solberg, Chuck Strahl. Some of the key people who turned out to be awesome public servants."

The Manitoba Liberals said Tuesday they have long considered the floor-crossing ban to be unconstitutional, but had no plans to talk to Fletcher about joining their team.

"At this time, we are not considering him as a potential fourth (legislature member)," Liberal president Paul Brault said.