Few months ago, Northern Ontario MP Bruce Hyer made a bold decision not to follow the order of his leader on the gun registry vote in the House of Commons. He called it "wasteful, unnecessary and not worthwhile crime-fighting tool." Last week he made yet another bold decision to quit the NDP caucus. This week, he is reconsidering his decision if new party leader, Thomas Mulcair, will let him have a free vote on occasions without the threat of a party whip.
That is not expected to happen anytime soon. According to the now independent MP, "It comes down to the key issue here is whether you work for the voters, you work for your constituents, or whether you work for the party leader. My view is the party leader should work for the MPs and the MPs should work for their voters and it's quite clear that the three major parties have the opposite view."
While most defeated, and future politicians have advocated the idea of the empowerment of backbench MP's, it seems nothing has changed over the years. From former Prime Minister John Turner to Stephen Harper, the idea has been their pet issues while out of power, however, while in government, the status quo has remained.
Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau used to call backbench parliamentarians "nobodies." Their primary role, and objectives have mostly, unfortunately, been to rubber stamp executive decisions. When Hyer decided to vote against the gun registry, he did it reflecting the wishes of his rural riding, according to him. As punishment for daring not to follow the party whip, his punishment was excessive to say the very least. He was barred from asking questions in the House of Commons and suspended from sitting on any committees.
When Mulcair became party leader, Hyer was finally passed on the new shadow cabinet as another punishment. Thomas Mulcair noted how, "Bruce simply feels that he's allowed to come up with his own decisions." But then again, one has to wonder if that is a good or bad thing, or a sign of how our political system is broken.
Hyer joins a long list of parliamentarians who were kicked out of their caucus or left on their own for being too independent. Bev Desjarlais of Saskatchewan was removed by the late NDP Leader, Jack Layton, after voting against Bill C-38, which legalized same-sex marriage in Canada. Liberal John Nunziata was also removed from his party by Jean Chretien after refusing to break a party promise and voting against the GST. They both ultimately were defeated as independent candidates.
In a letter to his NDP riding association, Bruce Hyer called on his riding association as well as his former leader to allow him to return as an NDP MP. In a passionate letter, he wrote how "all NDP MP's need some flexibility to determine when to vote consistent with our professional discretion, or the clear wishes of our constituents." He continued, "If the riding wanted a candidate and then an MP who would always think, say, and vote as the party dictates, then you did work for and elect the wrong man for your party.
According to the president of the riding association, "Bruce is dyed-in-the-wool NDP," and "he's not changed his philosophy of social democracy in Canada. He is just frustrated immensely by the dysfunctional way that Parliament works." For a party that views disloyalty as treason, the experience of the Thunder Bay MP takes one to the Victorian times."I always voted at my party's call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all!" said Gilbert and Sullivan in the HMS Pinafore. It is funny how nothing has changed.