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Emerson's Jump: 'Immoral' and 'Cynical'

Even old political hands Mair and Schreck are queasy.

By Rafe Mair and David Schreck 7 Feb 2006 |

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[Editor's note: These two commentaries were written separately and grouped here by the Tyee's editor.]

By Rafe Mair

I knew David Emerson back when I was in government and have followed his career with interest. That he is a very capable person is beyond argument. What is arguable is the morality of making this change, especially since he's not able to say that he didn't like the way his party was acting.

It is one thing to act on principle - or least say that's your reason - but quite another to deal yourself into a new party and a cabinet post with no reason but personal greed. Mr. Emerson isn't the first in Canadian politics to do so - in fact, it almost seems to be the fashion these days. Famous men have done this - Gladstone and Churchill to name two. Mr. Emerson has stamped himself as very competent, but politically immoral.

It's been argued that Emerson should resign his seat and run for election as a Conservative. This has not been the practice here, in Britain or the United States. In cases where the floor crosser moves into cabinet, I believe he should resign and seek voter approval for what he's done. That he won't resign and run in a by-election is no doubt due, in part, to his knowledge that he'd get his ass kicked.

So political ethics being what they are in this country, it's not going to happen, so we must console ourselves with these thoughts: he was an excellent public servant, a capable businessman and a competent Liberal cabinet minister - and he is from British Columbia.

What the Emerson crossover did, of course, was to deny Coquitlam's James Moore a cabinet post. He was a logical choice because he was the closest thing to a Vancouver MP as Prime Minister Harper had. Moore will have to wait, but still, it's too bad that a capable young man is deprived of his post because of political treachery. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Harper frames his new ethics legislation in light of this move.

All in all, it's a good political cabinet. Every region has ministers, Peter MacKay has a big job, Stockwell Day is at least in the room, there are cabinet ministers from Quebec, there are ministers from Southern Ontario, there are two visible minority people and there are five women - and there are four from BC.

But, you might well ask, are these the best Mr. Harper has?

Who knows? Unfortunately, under our system, competence is well down the list of requirements for the job.

Former Socred Minister Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. His website is

By David Schreck

David Emerson has taken cynicism about politics to a new level. It is bad enough when someone who is elected jumps parties without resigning and running in a by-election, but Emerson is not only skipping that step (as he skipped a nomination race when he first ran), but he didn't wait so much as a single day to observe how the Harper government would govern.

Emerson maintains that he was approached by John Reynolds immediately after the election, but one has to wonder whether the thought of switching sides crossed his mind during the campaign. On election night, television cameras caught him, in a slip of the tongue, referring to a future majority Conservative government, quickly corrected to Liberal for that night's crowd.

Keith Baldrey speculated on Global's noon news that Emerson may not run again, and that he could be put in charge of the 2010 games. That would be a demotion for Emerson relative to the power he enjoys in his expanded portfolio. He is much more likely to want to continue to play a major role in an eventual majority government.

Running as a Liberal in Vancouver Kingsway, David Emerson won 20,062 out of 46,442 votes that were cast on January 23rd. His closest opponent, the NDP's Ian Waddell, won 15,470, while the Conservative, Kanman Wong, finished third with 8,679. When questioned about Emerson, Prime Minister Harper said that it is important to him to have representation from the city of Vancouver. If he is going to keep that representation, Emerson will have to find another seat for the next election.

There are only five seats in the city. The seat where the Conservatives would probably stand the best chance in a 2007 election is Vancouver South, currently occupied by Ujjal Dosanjh, who won 20,991 votes, while the Conservative, Tarkok Sablok, came second with 11,856. The Liberals won by almost 12,000 votes in Vancouver Quadra, and they were more than 13,000 votes ahead of the Conservatives in Vancouver Centre. It's no wonder that Dosanjh was particularly agitated when interviewed shortly after the announcement about Emerson's change in parties.

Apart from the damage that Emerson's switch might have done to restoring confidence in the political process, in the short term, it may be best for British Columbia. Emerson has the ear of Premier Campbell and he should be able to deliver much needed funding for overruns facing the 2010 games, transportation projects and port improvements. There will no doubt be bitterness in his new BC Conservative caucus from those who were passed over, but few think that the unknowns could deliver what is expected of Emerson.

Former BC NDP Special Advisor to the Premier David Schreck is a political consultant who publishes his analysis on his web site Strategic Thoughts.  [Tyee]

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