My reaction upon hearing that David Emerson had crossed over to the Conservative Party

Well, isn’t that interesting?

Okay, not nearly as strong as my reaction on hearing of Belinda’s defection, but David Emerson is small potatoes compared to Belinda Stronach. Conservative spokesman claim that this cost the Liberals a leadership candidate, but if Emerson was a candidate, he wasn’t a very prominent candidate. I think the Liberals will survive. (The news report is here).

But the defection is still interesting, and I can’t help but try to assess the winners and losers in this case.

The Winners

The Conservatives, of course. This defection gives out the signal that the Conservative government is a great party and everybody wants to be there. Also, it gives the Conservatives their first member of parliament in urban Vancouver, which goes some distance towards addressing the complaint that the Conservatives don’t have the MPs to credibly bring forward an agenda that can appeal to urban voters. Anybody want to bet that Michael Ignatieff or some other 416 Liberal MP, not to mention Blocquistes in Montreal were sounded out?

Also, the fact that Emerson defected straight into a cabinet post is a great big In-Your-Face to Belinda Stronach. I’m frankly surprised they didn’t offer him her old job.

The New Democrats win, too, although they’re certain to gnash their teeth over this example of old-style politics. This does run counter to their suggestion that anybody who crosses the floor to sit in cabinet face a full by-election first, but on the other hand, the Conservatives now have the ability to form stable working coalitions with them. This is the other big win for the Conservatives, of course, and I have already talked about the benefits of an informal Conservative-NDP coalition. The problem with the Conservatives gaining support for its policies from the other two parties is that they have baggage. The Liberals are loyal to Canada, but they’re not honest; while the Bloc is honest, but they’re not loyal. If Harper can bring forward an agenda which can be supported by the only two parties in parliament which, in the eyes of Canadians at least, are both honest and loyal, that agenda will go over considerably well with a wide range of Canadians.

The Losers

The Liberals, of course. Rats fleeing a sinking ship, anyone?

The Bloc also lose, because they’re no longer the party with the balance of power, and whatever hold they’d had on the Conservatives has been considerably diminished. Add this on top of their diminished fortunes from the last election, and they’re not having a good three months, are they?

But the Conservatives also lose a little as well. Emerson’s departure reinforces Canadians’ impressions of the Liberal party being home to unprincipled politicians who will say anything to get elected. What does it say that Harper was able to accept this individual into cabinet?

This is old style politics; one of those things which, if you will remember, Canadians turned to the Conservatives to end. And all of those Conservative politicians who hooted and hollared over Belinda’s defection and the ethical implications of crossing the floor are probably being bundled bound and gagged into the nearest closet. The response of “well, the Liberals did this to us, so they deserve the same back at them” doesn’t work outside of schoolyards containing particularly immature tots. James MacDuff has already put together a series of anti-Harper statements that will dog Emerson’s footsteps. A party like the NDP can point to this as another example of Liberal-Tory, same old story.

Not that this will mean much, in the end. This doesn’t affect the candour of the Conservative government other than to make it more stable in the short term. This doesn’t even affect the Liberals much, other than strongly suggest to Paul Martin that he actually leaves sooner rather than later. It certainly doesn’t affect Canadian voters, and it will be largely forgotten by the end of the week.

Except maybe in Emerson’s riding, where his main opponent was a New Democrat, and Emerson was elected by a number of Liberals who are probably feeling very, very betrayed.

Hat tip to Greg at Sinister Thoughts.

(Update: 16:05): It is heartening to see the number of principled Conservatives who are expressing grave concern over this cabinet selection, and others (including the appointment of a Minister to sit in the Senate). Check out Andrew Anderson’s reaction, and Babbling Brooks’ list of angry Blogging Tories.

(Further Update: 16:15): In the days that follow, one thing that will be interesting to find out (for me, anyway), is who called who. Reading through some of the posts of Blogging Tories understandably upset at this development, I find an interesting difference of opinion. The sense reading that side of the blogosphere is that David Emerson called Stephen Harper about jumping ship, but my sense is that Stephen Harper called first.

Look at how much work Stephen Harper put into making this cabinet as representative as possible. Thanks to Emerson, Harper now has Vancouver representation. Thanks to sending a Minister to the Senate (which also has some Blogging Tories incensed), Harper has a Minister from Montreal. And he turns to 905 and 519 area code MPs in order to claim “Toronto-area” representation. How desperate was Harper for urban representation? Who else did he call?

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