Neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor International Trade Minister David Emerson broke any rules when Harper persuaded Emerson to cross the floor just after the recent federal election, the country's ethics commissioner says.
"I am satisfied that no special inducement was offered by Mr. Harper to convince Mr. Emerson to join his cabinet and his party," Bernard Shapiro says in a written ruling released Monday.
"In addition, there is no reason, and certainly no evidence, to contradict Mr. Emerson's own claim that accepting Mr. Harper's offer seemed, at least to him, a way to better serve his city, province and country."
Emerson was elected as a Liberal in the B.C. riding of Vancouver-Kingsway on Jan. 23 but was sworn in as a member of Harper's Conservative cabinet two weeks later, to the anger of many Liberals who had worked for his re-election.
His defection gave the Conservative minority government one more vote in the 308-seat House of Commons.
- FROM FEB. 6, 2006: Cabinet includes defector and senator-to-be
'This was never an ethics issue': Harper
Three opposition MPs had complained to Shapiro that Harper broke the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons by offering an "inducement" to Emerson in the form of a cabinet position, which carries a higher salary and extra benefits not available to a backbench MP.
"This was never an ethics issue...," the prime minister said in a statement a short time after the ethics commissioner's ruling was released.
"The attacks on David Emerson have, since his appointment, been nothing more than a partisan effort to demean his fine record of public service."
Shapiro calls on MPs to debate floor crossingAs Shapiro released his report on the matter, however, he called on Parliament to hold a debate on the practice of switching parties.
"I believe that the discontent expressed by Canadians on this matter cannot be attributed merely to the machinations of partisan politics," he wrote in the report.
"Fairly or unfairly, this particular instance has given many citizens a sense that their vote â the cornerstone of our democratic system â was somehow devalued, if not betrayed."
- FROM FEB. 11, 2006: 'I won't quit' embattled Emerson tells CBC
When Shapiro announced the ethics probe three weeks ago, Harper's office attacked the watchdog's credibility and suggested Harper would not co-operate with the investigation.
"This Liberal appointee's actions have strengthened the prime minister's resolve to create a truly non-partisan ethics commissioner, who is accountable to Parliament," said Sandra Buckler, the prime minister's director of communications.
- FROM MARCH 3, 2006: Harper 'loath' to co-operate with ethics commissioner
In the end, though, Harper gave Shapiro both an interview and a written response, the report said.
NDP to push law banning floor crossing
The New Democratic Party reacted to Monday's news by promising to introduce legislation to make it illegal for sitting members of Parliament to cross the floor as Emerson did.
"Looking across the country, it's clear that people believe they've been robbed," MP Pat Martin told a news conference in Ottawa. "People are motivated by anger in a non-partisan way."
- INDEPTH: Crossing the floor
The Conservatives' proposed seven-point Accountability Act "is absolutely silent on this issue," Martin pointed out.
"You don't find anybody picketing about the Lobbyists Registration Act or the Privacy Act or even the Access to Information Act, but we do see people dumping garbage on the lawns of cabinet ministers over the floor-crossing issue."
Martin pointed out that Harper was among the Conservatives questioning the ethics of MP Belinda Stronach when she crossed the floor from the Conservatives to the Liberals in May 2005. Former Conservative Scott Brison made the same journey in Dec. 2003.
"Having been stung twice by high-profile floor crossings and being vehemently opposed to that while in opposition, it would be hypocritical for the prime minister to not address it today now that he's the net beneficiary of a similar floor crossing."