Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill MP Leona Alleslev in Liberal red not so long ago in her Toronto-area riding (Photo: Her now-defunct Liberal web page).

One way or another, as of yesterday at least 143 politicians have crossed the floor of the House of Commons or a Canadian legislature since Confederation.

If you can’t name any or many of them offhand, there’s a good reason. A successful floor crossing usually generates a bit of excitement for a day or two but doesn’t have much impact in the long run.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Still, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill MP Leona Alleslev’s defection yesterday from the Liberal to the Conservative benches of the House of Commons after rising on a point of privilege had to be among the most dramatic of the lot.

This shows that while the Conservatives have spent a lot of time vilifying Justin Trudeau for having worked as a drama teacher instead of a weightier profession such as mailroom clerk at dad’s oil company or chief operative of an Astro-Turf political lobby, they have learned something from the prime minister after all.

This wasn’t what many of us had in mind when we called for more support for the arts, but it was entertaining nevertheless. So, bravo, Ms. Alleslev! Enjoy the cheers and the roses from the Conservative benches. You may get re-elected, but history will soon forget you just the same.

Since she moved from left to right both politically and across the floor of the House if you happen to be facing the Speaker, Ms. Alleslev will certainly have to put up with far less abuse than had she gone in the other direction.

A screen shot of Ms. Alleslev announcing her departure for the Conservative benches in the House of Commons yesterday.

Anyone who doubts me about this, just give Sandra Jansen a call and ask to look at her social media screenshot collection. Ms. Jansen is the infrastructure minister in NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s cabinet. She is the former Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate who was driven out of the leadership race and the PC Party in 2016 by Jason Kenney’s thuggish operatives, with or without the approval of their chief who is rarely available to comment on such matters.

As an aside, I’m sorry to report that Mr. Kenney won’t be available to comment on the current situation either. He is on vacation in India.

Let us just say that regardless of how much Ms. Alleslev has offended some of her constituents who voted for her to help boost the Trudeau Tide in 2015, she is unlikely to suffer the degree of abuse Ms. Jansen did because people on the left are generally just that much more polite than their counterparts on the right.

Mr. Trudeau himself graciously acknowledged that floor crossing is part of our Parliamentary system, wished Ms. Alleslev well, and was done with it. Nevertheless, I’m sure there will be a few sharpish comments that will be endlessly repeated by right-wing Twitterists to prove that everybody does it, which everybody doesn’t.

Alberta Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor from the Progressive Conservative Party to the NDP in 2016 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I will also bet you right now that not one single Alberta Conservative who assailed Ms. Jansen for her floor crossing will have anything bad to say about Ms. Alleslev’s defection. That is just not a hymn the Tory choir ever sings.

Regardless, while this never-before-heard-from MP’s dramatic elopement to the Opposition benches was entertaining, it does not seem much like a principled action, notwithstanding her expressions yesterday of dissatisfaction with Mr. Trudeau’s leadership. She was unlikely to be re-elected in her Conservative-leaning riding without a change of allegiance. She won in 2015 thanks to hitching her wagon to Mr. Trudeau’s star … but by less than 3 per cent. Ms. Alleslev’s re-election chances are much improved as a Conservative.

Her chances of being made a minister by Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer in some future Conservative government remain remote, mainly because the possibility of a government led by Mr. Scheer also remains remote. Still, the beneficiaries of a floor crossing seldom trust the floor crosser much more than the victims do. (In that, Ms. Jansen may be a rare exception.)

Even Winston Churchill, who famously crossed the floor of the House of Commons in London twice, had to spend a decade and a half in political purgatory before becoming Britain’s wartime prime minister in 1940.

Winston S. Churchill crossing a street, rather as he did the floor of the House of Commons in London, twice (Photo: The Churchill Project).

He crossed from the Conservatives to the Liberals in 1904 on a genuine point of principle, his traditional Tory opposition to tariffs, on which his party was backsliding at the time. (Hostile to socialism, Mr. Churchill nevertheless also supported rights for trade unions and more open immigration. One wonders what he would have made of President Donald Trump?)

He crossed the floor again, back to the Conservatives although not from the Liberals (it’s complicated) in 1925. As he commented sardonically at the time – something for Ms. Alleslev to contemplate now that she has made her Parliamentary bed and must lie in it – “anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.”

It has been suggested Mr. Churchill might have become prime minister sooner – and perhaps even nipped that Hitler problem in the bud – had it not been for the distrust created by his twin floor crossings.

Well, whatever. I don’t think we’ll ever have to worry about a Prime Minister Alleslev. More likely her career trajectory will be like most of those of other Canadian floor crossers.

Hazen Argue? Jack Horner? Belinda Stronach? Guy Boutelier? Danielle Smith? Joe Peschisolido? Who even remembers those people? And they’re the prominent ones!

Crossing the floor is not a good strategy for achieving acclaim. Unlike murdering someone – which, as far as I know only one Canadian legislative floor crosser has ever been found guilty of doing – it is not much good for gaining notoriety either. That’s mainly because it’s likely to have so little impact on the trajectory of history.

NOTE: My colleague Dave Cournoyer, author of the excellent blog, has informed me there are several Alberta floor crossers whose names are not incuded in the Wikipedia list. It is possible there are some from other provinces as well. Accordingly, I have amended the opening paragraph of this post to read “at least” 143. DJC

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  1. For the curious, the floor crosser who was guilty of murder was Colin Thatcher, son of former premier of Saskatchewan Ross Thatcher. Convicted in 1984 for the bludgeon killing of his ex-wife, Colin was sentenced to life and paroled in 2006. Wikipedia does not offer an opinion as to whether he felt remorse either for his former wife’s horrible death or for having crossed the floor.

    1. Colin Thatcher’s father, Ross Thatcher was a CCF Member of Parliament for Moose Jaw. His personal convictions prompted him to leave the party for the Liberals. He later became leader of the Saskatchewan Liberal party and served as premier of Saskatchewan. His government was in power from 1964 to 1971.

      Ross Thatcher is also known as the man who won the the “Mossbank Debate” against then Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas, which was broadcast province wide on radio.

  2. So, where is the loud clamour from the OTRM (“Online Tory Rage Machine”, a phrase our gracious host has coined) for her to resign her seat and face the electorate as a Conservative in the resulting byelection? Anyone? Anyone? [crickets … ].

    There have been floor crossers who had a significant role in their new governments, like David Emerson, erstwhile Liberal who crossed the floor to the HarperCons after they were first elected, to become Minister of International Trade, and later Minister of Foreign Affairs. But most fade into obscurity, especially those who fail to be re-elected under their new party banners.

  3. It is a reminder though, with this crossing, that traditionally, the Liberals are good at social democrat talk/promises during election campaigns, and often what is said then, and what they say and do once elected, can be very different, and often very similar to the Conservatives. One example is John Ivison on “How Justin Trudeau is Governing Like Harper. Trudeau’s control of security committee membership belies Liberal promises about respect for parliament.”
    This is why the Tommy Douglas “Mouseland” story describing “a false dichotomy” re: “the choice of two parties, neither of which represents voter’s interests,” i.e. the Liberals and the Conservatives, the white cats and the black cats, all cats, just a different colour, still applies for many of us. That is, there is not much difference between the two, for me. particularly, the inaction by the two on Canada’s increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the propagation of wealth for the 1% at the top re: reasons such as unequal wealth distribution, unfair taxation, offshore tax evasion, etc.
    There is also the political science research, according to my political science contact, which has indicated that, largely, a Liberal voter’s second choice is Conservative and a Conservative voter’s second choice is Liberal.
    Neither gets my vote.

  4. Flags that try to anticipate which way the wind will blow, especially in these politcally stormy times, usually get wrapped around the pole. Then, when the time to unfurl the banner of partisan solicitation inevitably comes, the parade can’t help but notice the tatters. Any newer-looking drape, psycho-vexologically speaking, though less revealing, often looks better.

    Pundits were quick to speculate that Ms Alleslev is attempting to hook her wagon to the buck-a-blue tide she perceives of the D’ohFo’s provincial victory: at the rate he’s going, this early in his pseudo-conservative mandate, the flag of patriotism will be so storm-worn as to diaphanously reveal the scoundrel within, come next year’s federal election.

    DJC’s probably correct: her floor-crossing flash in the pan will likely far outshine her calculus that either (let alone both—and let way alone the possible endorsement by one of these Tory imposters of one of their own rogues) of the Ontario or federal pseudoCons will have enough pull to tow her along in next year’s contest.

    Despite the rays of holy light discretely searching over dark swells of voter discontent, the choruses of angels signing of free votes, the armourclad saints guarding against (they claim) whipped votes, and other popular politcal McGuffins, voters generally disapprove of floor-crossers— but not entirely for partisan reasons. Voters like to pretend they know nothing of the standard deal between candidates and the parties under which flags they campaign: the candidate agrees to vote with the party that bankrolled his or her successful election; yet voters feign outrage when the perhaps-unfortunately named party “whips” exact the terms of the standard deal by reminding the financed MPs should make good their end of the bargain. The bargain ultimately rests on honour since any MP may renege without losing his or her seat (only voters decide that). The jilted party naturally may retaliate against caucus members who break their deal, but it’s the wrath of the electorate the floor-crosser needs to look out for: voters tend to disapprove of deal-breaking more than they say they disapprove of the standard deal in the first place. Nevertheless, history shows it’s safer for the rebel MP to cross to another party—no matter how ideologically obtuse or rhetorically hypocritical—because many voters do vote for the party or the party leader rather than the candidate him~ or herself, and they just want whomever the agreed party-affiliate is to toe the party line (or tow the party bargeline); in this sense dishonouring the standard deal can be negated by partisan rivalry: if the party with which the MP dishonoured the loyalty deal is branded as dishonourable from a rival point-of-view, then breaking the bargain is chauvinistically qualified as acceptable in the circumstance. Not so for the rogue party MP who removes to sit as an Independent: the taint of dishonour can only be rationalized by qualities or issues that are exceptionally honourable, that is, to the extent that it overrides pure partisanship. It is a thin ray of light that gives us hope and was last shone for a fleeting and tragic moment when Chuck Cadman, in a turn of tables, had the standard deal with his party dishonoured by his own leader, Stephen Harper, who’d refused to sign the incumbent Cadman’s nomination papers, and against which he ran and won as an Independent, ostensibly of the same political persuasion. It seemed Cadman was blessed by ironic justice when he also won the balance of power during Paul Martin’s Liberal minority which he importantly supported in a confidence vote while the guy who dishonoured their original deal heaped more dishonour on himself by trying to bribe Cadman to topple the Liberal government (and classically unclassily so by trying, not long afterwards, to bribe Cadman’s widow to stop her talking about Harper’s dishonourable acts by dishonourably fitting her into the Rumpolesque Tims family of parliament, so dishonourable that some were convicted—even jailed—for electoral cheating). Thus, from ordinary to exceptional measures of honour and dishonour we discern a glimmer of hope that blind partisanship doesn’t always drown out notions of honour, no matter how inside out, hypocritical or illogically based.

    Ms Alleslev does not appear much more exceptional than her flash in the pan floor-crossing. The only smoke that will linger will be her new leader’s Howdy Doody appeal for other disaffected Liberal voters to come on over to the party that accumulated so much dishonour it got turfed after a single majority but apparently still has the welcome mat out for more of the same.

  5. I suppose the floor crossing gives the Conservatives something to be cheerful about. at least temporarily – the news has been a bit bleak for them lately, with all the Bernier stuff.

    It seems to me that the most principled floor crossers often leave on some major point of principle and sit as independents for a while. The quick jump to the right here seems a bit opportunistic to me, basically a MP in a Conservative leaning riding who was nervous about her chances of re-election. The timing by the Conservatives also suspicious. I suspect the Conservatives were planning this one for a while and just were looking for the best time for them for this to happen.

    I am not sure it changes much, if anything, but it gives the Conservatives some hope at a time when things were looking gloomy. Perhaps Scheer sensed the knives were coming out for him and he needed to do something, anything to put that off.

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