Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Floor-Crossing and New Hampshire

I woke up this morning to discover my Twitter feed going crazy. For the record you can follow me at @Orange_Tory. After skimming a dozen tweets from pundits and journalists it became clear that rumours were flying that a NDP MP was going to cross the floor to the Liberal Party. Later in the morning Denis Coderre (LPC – Bourassa, QC) held a press conference with Lise St-Denis (LPC – St-Maurice-Champlain, QC) announcing that she left the NDP.

Unsurprisingly, a number of people immediately spoke out against St-Denis’ “traitorous” move. The NDP’s spokesperson, MP Guy Caron (NDP - Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC), expressed disappointment in St-Denis’ defection, and immediately called for a by-election. The NDP has a long-held policy that floor-crossers should hold by-elections under their new party affiliations. There is almost no chance of that happening.

The long-term impact of this shift is almost nothing. The NDP remains the Official Opposition, the Liberals remain the third party, and more importantly the Conservatives remain the government. There is a symbolic value in this change. The slipping NDP numbers in Quebec, and the (limited) resurgence of the Liberals will be reinforced by this minor shift in power.

In a way, complaining about floor-crossers is to misunderstand parliamentary democracy. I personally do not like floor-crossers, but it ignores how our democracy functions. In Canada we elect Members of Parliament that are members of political parties, we do not elect political parties. In theory and by tradition the people of St-Maurice-Champlain selected the candidate they found most qualified and best represented their values. However, it is more likely that Lise St-Denis would not have had a chance without Jack Layton’s popularity in the province of Quebec. Political parties started as temporary alliances of like-minded people, notions that they are permanent and people’s political positions immutable are silly.

Ms. St-Denis will be held accountable by voters in 2015 if she runs for re-election, or her Liberal successor. Be frustrated, and be angry, but really it’s St-Denis’ constituents are the only ones who have a right to complain.

Moving on!

Tonight is the New Hampshire Republican Primary. Most pundits and analysts are claiming that there is no surprise who will win the primary. Governor Mitt Romney is a heavy favourite, polling over 30% consistently. However, I would remind readers that Barack Obama was expected to win in New Hampshire, but was crushed by Hillary Clinton when the votes were counted.

Given that most people accept Mitt Romney will come in first the tension has transformed into who will come in second, and how narrow will Romney’s victory be. If Romney’s win is in single digits, it will be viewed as a considerable show of weakness. Likewise, he could win in a massive 20+ point landslide and start steamrolling the rest of the nomination.

Strongest contenders for second place are Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Jon Hunstman. Huntsman is depending on a strong showing here to continue. I believe he needs to win over 15% of the vote to stay alive and over 20% will show a decisive win. Congressman Paul will likely do very well, but fail to garner the media attention such a victory deserves.

The real battle is South Carolina, which is voting on January 21. This is the last shot for a number of strong conservatives left in the field. On a poor performance Governor Rick Perry is almost assuredly to drop out. However, just like with Iowa, with so many conservatives splitting the vote, Romney might win again.

So, in the results look for how well Mitt Romney does, who comes in second, and who well Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul do. New Hampshire loves surprises, and their open primary (anyone can vote in the Republican Primary – Republicans, Independents and Democrats) process really allows for it. Be sure to have your popcorn.

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