By: Graham Lane
Published by the Winnipeg Sun on September 8, 2017
The saga involving MLA Steven Fletcher has its origins in 2006. The then-NDP Doer government drove an anti-democratic bill through, preventing MLAs from changing political party allegiance without resigning their seat and financing and surviving a by-election. Both then-opposition parties — PC and Liberal — went along, seemingly not troubled about reducing freedom of association. While the restriction is most likely unconstitutional, it requires a court case, time, and money to dispose of it. Fletcher has taken the first step, taking his case to court.
Fletcher, freed — but not of his choosing — of party confidentiality restraints, disclosed in his court filings very poor practices and actions of the PC caucus. No doubt, the Premier would prefer that what goes on inside the PC caucus room stays there. If Fletcher, with his lengthy and loyal political experience (significant stints in student, provincial and federal governments), had not been kicked out, and for very questionable reasons, no doubt the embarrassing details of PC caucus going-ons would have remained secret.
By unceremoniously dumping him from the government and caucus, Pallister created the circumstances requiring Fletcher to ‘free his tongue’. Supposedly tossed for criticizing a bill incorporating a new Crown corporation, then-being pushed through the legislature, Fletcher had earlier disquieted the PC caucus by seeking improvements in conflict of interest laws and opposing a carbon tax. And, having had no discussions on the ‘Efficiency’ bill within the PC caucus, he had to ‘go public’ with his opposition of yet another bureaucracy.
Now, kicked out of the PC caucus and party, he is a conservative-minded independent in a difficult position to best serve his constituency and Manitoba. That 2006 suppression of freedom of association bill leaves an independent MLA without adequate research resources and limited speaking opportunities in the legislature. Being a conscientious politician — the author of many draft bills, including one to upgrade the legislature’s dealing with conflicts of interest (left on the order table by a lack of interest by the Premier, or worse) — with the court’s help he could join another party (current or new) to gain the resources he needs to be an effective MLA.
But, for now, the highly-questionable 2006 “no switch” law prevents him from performing effectively in the Legislature. Fletcher was left with only one sensible option: seek a Manitoba Court of Appeal quashing of the anti-democratic law. His court filings necessarily required providing his reasons why MLAs should be allowed to switch parties without resigning their seat.
His Court filing reveals a dysfunctional and self-interested PC caucus. Dysfunctional in that bills proceed through the legislative regimen without even having been properly discussed in the government party’s caucus. It appears laws are proposed and enacted without having been challenged and scrutinized by the ruling government’s own caucus. Incredible!
Self-interested, in that lengthy caucus discussions occurred about how to recoup money MLAs lost by their decision to freeze their own salaries. Days of caucus time resulting in political tax receipts — calling a refund a political donation.
No wonder Fletcher publicly opposes a carbon tax and new Crown bureaucracy. No wonder some PC back benchers are considering joining Fletcher. Expect defections providing real conservative company for Fletcher outside the PC party.
Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).
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