Independent MP versus Party members
Posted By KAREN BEST CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER ST. CATHARINES
Posted 1 year ago
An independent member of Canada’s Parliament has the same rights and resources as any other member but may have limited ability to influence decisions.
If elected as MP for the Haldimand-Norfolk riding, independent candidate Gary McHale will have a seat in the House of Commons and has the right to vote.
Because an independent is not aligned with a party, the MP is not as connected to things, said a Brock University political science professor.
Political party members have access to party-financed services including staff and research resources, said David Siegel in an interview with The Chronicle.
An independent will be given an office in the East Block and has the same funding and staff as any other member. He would not be discriminated against, he added.
How a back bencher can affect a vote will depend on the composition of the house, Siegel n the past it has been shown that one vote can be very important, he added referring to independent MP Charles Cadman.
In 2005, his vote in support of the Liberal budget prevented an election. He died of skin cancer a few months later.
According to a Feb. 2008 Toronto Star story, Conservative officials Tom Flanagan and Doug Finley, who is married to Diane Finley, met with Cadman two days before the non-confidence vote. In a joint statement, the two men stated that as campaign officials they could help Cadman with a Conservative nomination and campaign.
Based on a quote in Like A Rock: the Chuck Cadman Story written by Tom Zytaruk, The Star quoted Cadman’s wife as saying her husband threw two Conservative representatives out of his office after they mentioned a $1 million life insurance policy if he became a member of the party before the vote.
So if the new government is a minority, again a sole independent vote will be very important, pointed out Siegel. In the case of a majority, no one on the minority has much influence, he added.
As a member of Parliament, an independent has the ability to make a case for a meeting with cabinet minister and will be looked at differently than a request by an individual, Siegel said. While able to get the ear of a minister, an independent does not necessarily get what they want, he added.
During the daily 45-minute question period in House of Commons sessions, a protocol is followed, he explained. The leader of the opposition is always recognized first and then the speaker goes through the smaller party members. Any member can pose a question if they get the attention of the speaker, said Siegel.
All members of Parliament have a certain station so if McHale is elected he will be able to get more attention than the least member of the New Democratic Party, he noted. Also an independent does not have to follow a party line, he added.
Even so, Siegel was not sure how much of a pressing case an independent may be able to make. A member of the governing party will have more success with Cabinet especially if a riding is at risk, he added.
At a recent all candidate meeting, McHale said politicians are watching how the campaign is unfolding in Haldimand Norfolk and waiting for the decision. Siegel said the import of the riding is best illustrated by a visit from a party leader. They tend to show up in ridings where a sitting member needs a boost to their campaign, he noted.
When he heard that Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty visited Caledonia, he said that was fairly important given his status.
Siegel said Liberal leader Stephane Dion would come to a riding where a party member could be close to a win. Dion was expected to visit Brantford on Oct. 10.
The professor said it is well known that land claims are a significant issue in this riding and was not surprised to hear Dion or Harper had not visited Caledonia. “Party leaders don’t want to step on a mine field,” he noted.
In an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of independents and political parties, Siegel said an independent is one voice out of 308. Parties were formed as a way of organizing debate and when 50 or 155 have a position that carries more weight than one person, he stated.
Overall, the professor could give no examples of historic differences, other than Cadman’s vote, of significant impacts made by an independent.
At the Dunnville candidate meeting on Oct. 2, McHale debunked the impression that an independent could not accomplish much. By asking questions, he said he can draw media attention and bad press is something politicians fear. Once it is out, the government will act to avoid embarrassment, he p>Since he launched the Caledonia Wake Up Call website in the summer of 2006, McHale has done 500 interviews with media from across Canada. He told the audience he will make sure the riding’s issues will be heard across the country too.
In a retorting remark, NDP candidate Ian Nichols said people rarely see an independent asking a question because the cameras are no longer rolling at that point. Liberal candidate Eric Hoskins agreed with McHale’s success in getting media attention on Caledonia but added that it was different getting to the government.
Among the advantages of having a political party and a caucus is that one voice is turned into many and can influence the direction government takes, skins. He suggested that voters make a decision to keep McHale in Caledonia where he has an important impact instead of sending him to Ottawa where his impact will not be so great.
Allowed a rebuttal, McHale asked, “If the parties could have helped for two and a half years, where have they been?”
As for party politicians, Liberals are too worried about votes in another riding and don’t care about this riding, he added.
In his closing comments, McHale pointed out that Premier Dalton McGuinty and OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino mention his name often. “I’m an average person. If I wasn’t effective you wouldn’t have heard about me,” he stated.
Not about to let that go, Hoskins said McHale provided a convincing argument not to vote for him and that the independent candidate had a very good understanding of a specific issue.
In Siegel’s opinion, an MPs first obligation is to the country but with an interest in getting elected they also pay attention to the riding.
In an exploration of bail conditions, he was told by The Chronicle that McHale was charged with mischief that did not occur during a Dec. 2007 smoke shop protest. He was arrested later and released but bail conditions banned him from entering a large section of Haldimand County including Caledonia and York. Those conditions were lifted for the campaign but will be reinstated on Oct. 17.
Declining to comment on legal issues, Siegel spoke in generalities. In some ways, MPs are not like the average person because they can make statements on the floor of the legislature without worrying about libel and slander, he explained.
“It would be an interesting test to see if those kind of bail conditions could be against the MP,” he added.
As far as criminal records, they do not prevent a person from running for office and it is up to the people to decide, Siegel said.