Crossing the floor is nothing new. It goes on all the time.
Nor have the past couple of weeks been among the most dramatic in local politics.
In fact, the most dramatic floor crossing occurred in 1971, when Bill Smallwood — Joey’s son — stormed across the legislature and punched PC Leader Bill Marshall in the mouth.
(Smallwood didn’t switch parties. In fact, he held onto his seat for an astonishing 15 years. A thug, perhaps, but a true Liberal.)
Nonetheless, party allegiance has never been so malleable as it has in the past year or so. In that time, the Liberal party has taken in four lost lambs from two other parties and almost doubled its count in the legislature — from six to 11 (including Carbonear byelection winner Sam Slade).
Party hopping highlights an interesting dichotomy in the way we look at politics. Invariably, the spectre of opportunism arises.
Mount Pearl South MHA Paul Lane suffered considerable derision for his surprise defection to the Liberals. Lane had been one of the most stalwart defenders of the governing PCs and former premier. The hypocrisy was a little on the nose.
Former NDP members Chris Mitchelmore and Dale Kirby didn’t get near the ribbing, perhaps because they and the Liberals both serve outside the castle walls.
But voters, too, can be hypocritical. We vote for the party, demand allegiance to the party, then complain when things get partisan.
The old guard always think they know what a party stands for, but in this corner of the world, the differences are negligible.
To get an idea of how ludicrous distinct party “values” have become, one need only look at the record of premiers past. Liberal premier Clyde Wells was a privatizer, trying to unload Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro from the Crown. Tory premier Danny Williams was a nationalizer, demanding government stakes in energy projects and throwing everything under one Crown umbrella corporation.
Conservative MHAs chide the NDP for their spendthrift views, while public spending skyrockets under their watch.
What are Liberal values? Here’s what Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said Tuesday in welcoming his new converts:
“Both Christopher and Dale have respect for the values of the Liberal party: treating our communities and our residents fairly; caring about health, education and protection of all the people in all parts of our province; being an accountable party that will act in the best interests of our people.”
The absurd inference is that the PCs are out for themselves and don’t care about health, education or communities. Yes, they may have fallen down on the job, but their blue book touts the same lofty goals.
It will all blow over, of course. Few people remember that Tories like John Crosbie and Tom Rideout were once Liberals.
But it demonstrates how hollow party labels have become.
Ball says the Liberals are not a “zebra” party, incorporating different political stripes. But that’s just talk.
At this rate, they may as well replace their logo with the South African flag.