POLITICS
09/17/2018 13:53 EDT | Updated 09/19/2018 10:45 EDT

MP Leona Alleslev Leaves Liberal Caucus, Crosses Floor To Conservatives

She was elected in Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill in 2015.

Ontario MP Leona Alleslev has left the Liberal caucus to sit with the federal Conservatives.

Alleslev made the dramatic announcement in the House of Commons on Monday, the first sitting of Parliament since June. The Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill MP, first elected in 2015, was then embraced by applauding Tory MPs.

A retired captain with the Royal Canadian Air Force and former senior manager in the Department of National Defence, Alleslev will serve as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's critic for global security.

Canada faces 'perfect storm'

At a press conference in the House of Commons foyer with Scheer, the MP said Canada faces a "perfect storm" of challenges at home and abroad.

"This is not a strong economy and our country needs strong leadership," she said.

Alleslev told reporters that the government needs to recognize that foreign policy, trade, defence and the economy "all depend on each other." She said she raised with her former Liberal colleagues about those files were "met with silence," but she did not specify which issues she flagged or with whom she spoke

'We as Canadians cannot accept the status quo'

Alleslev said the government must be "challenged openly" — something that she could not do as a sitting Liberal MP.

"We as Canadians cannot accept the status quo," she said. "Our country is at stake."

Alleslev was appointed parliamentary secretary to the minister of public services and procurement on Dec. 2, 2015. She was shuffled out of that role on Jan. 27, 2017.

Scheer said his newest MP brings years of experience to the Tory caucus. Past Liberal voters who feel disappointed with the direction under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should follow her lead, Scheer said.

"You are both welcome and needed in the Conservative Party of Canada," Scheer said, in both English and French, to disaffected Grit supporters.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer walks with Leona Alleslev, who crossed the floor from the Liberals to Tories on Parliament Hill on Sept. 17, 2018.

Alleslev said no one issue spurred her decision, but she suggested Tories will offer a more "comprehensive" foreign policy and tax reform.

She also denied that the spring provincial election, in which Ontario's Progressive Conservatives captured the riding in a rout, played any part. In 2015, Alleslev won her seat by roughly 1,100 votes.

"It's truly not about that. It's about being able to look my constituents [in the eye] and look [at] myself in the mirror and know that I did everything while I was an elected member of Parliament to serve my constituents and this country."

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The MP said she had been considering crossing the floor for a while. In the spring, Alleslev rose in the House to defend the Liberal government's carbon pricing plan and treatment of asylum seekers.

In July, she tweeted a photo welcoming Trudeau to an event in Aurora to celebrate "all that we have accomplished since forming government" in 2015.

"I'm proud to be part of this team as we head into 2019!" she wrote at the time.

Twitter
A screengrab of Leona Alleslev's tweet on July 20, 2018.

It was a different picture in question period Monday, when Alleslev rose for the first time as a Tory MP to say that, under Trudeau, Canada's "position in the world has been diminished."

She blasted the government's plans to buy "used" fighter jets from Australia, something that she said would be "humiliating." She urged the prime minister to cancel the "flawed purchase."

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan fired back that Liberals are doing better by both Canada's soldiers and veterans than the "Harper Conservatives."

In her affluent 905 riding, the Liberal riding president Clayton Haluza told HuffPost Canada he was shocked and disappointed by the MP's decision.

"I knew nothing. I found out when basically the rest of the world found out," he said Monday evening. "It came out of the blue ... and it kind of hurts. You know, not just for myself but for all our volunteers who have given hundreds and hundreds of hours, and thousands and thousands of dollars. It hurts."

Haluza said he never had any indication that Alleslev disagreed with the government. There was a strong backlash last year against the Liberals' proposed changes to the tax structure and a very heated town hall meeting, he said, but after the Liberals amended their proposal, things calmed down.

It came out of the blue ... and it kind of hurts.Clayton Haluza, Liberal riding president

Haluza, who has been the riding president for more than five years, said all of the data he's seen suggest the riding's constituents are pretty happy with the government, and he is unaware of any particular issue that would have made her jump.

"I'm not sure what threw her over the edge," he said.

In a conversation with Maclean's journalist Paul Wells, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that he wished Alleslev the best in her new choices.

"[Floor crossing is] something that happens from time to time in politics. It's not great but it's also not the be all and end all," he said.

"It can be an indicator of larger things. It can be just what it is," he said, adding that he certainly didn't think anyone else would be joining her.

With files from Althia Raj