What to expect from Chuck Porter as an independent MLA

Chuck Porter has been kicked out of the PC caucus. What does that mean for his constituents?

CBC's political analyst assesses the split between Porter and the PCs

Chuck Porter can expect to sit in the 'ejection seat,' by one of the rear doors. (CBC)

Chuck Porter, MLA for Hants West, has been expelled from the Progressive Conservative caucus by leader Jamie Baillie.

First elected in 2006, Chuck is one of the more senior members of the PC caucus, next only to former health minister Chris d’Entremont and former speaker Alfie MacLeod.

He’s not the one I would pick out as a caucus troublemaker. We always got along well. He is measured and thoughtful.  He was never overly partisan, which is to say something in a profession that can be poisonous.

Chuck was disappointed he was never included in Rodney MacDonald’s cabinet. There were people of lesser ability in that cabinet, and Chuck knew it. Towards the end, when the MacDonald cabinet ballooned to 19 members, he was one of only a handful still on the outside.

Ironically, all the backbenchers survived the Conservative debacle in the 2009 election, when ministers were falling like bowling pins. Chuck had attended to his constituency work, and built a loyal following.

Of course, Hants West has elected Conservatives (mostly the estimable Ron Russell) without interruption since 1978.  In the current legislature, no other seat has been held by the same party for so long. But to give Chuck his due, he comfortably survived the NDP wave in 2009 and the Liberal wave in 2013.

MLAs and constituency work

Now that Chuck is sitting as an independent, nobody in his constituency is likely to notice much difference. The reality of today’s MLAs (other than cabinet ministers) is that they’re spending 90 per cent of their time on constituency casework.

Party affiliation makes no difference, whatsoever, to this kind of work. There are good constituency MLAs, and bad ones, in every party. An independent can do it as well as anybody.

Of course Chuck will see a difference in the House of Assembly, but the House hardly sits these days. By the time the House reconvenes, probably in late October, it will have sat for a grand total of seven weeks out of 52.

Besides, as Manning MacDonald pointed out to justify a vacation during a House sitting, an opposition MLA has absolutely no impact on what happens in a majority legislature. For Chuck, nothing changes.

'Ejection seat' for Porter

Whenever the House does reconvene, Chuck will sit in the "ejection seat" by one of the rear doors. Independents sit on whichever side of the chamber has the most room, and the Liberal side is full. That means he’ll be on the opposition side, just behind his former colleagues.

On the bright side, he’ll receive new funding for research and clerical support. The PC caucus will lose a corresponding amount of funding, but probably not until the next fiscal year.

It’s not so very odd to have independents in the House. Looking only at my own time in the House, since 2001, there has been:

  • Trevor Zinck (who left the NDP to sit as an Independent),
  • Ernie Fage (PC),
  • Brian (Crusher) Boudreau (Liberal),
  • Russell MacKinnon (Liberal).

There were many others before that.

For now, Chuck has plenty of time to settle into his new status. The next election is three or four years away. He can serve his constituents as well as he did before. He can mull whether to join another caucus, or resign, or serve out his term as an independent.

Interest from other parties?

I expect the other parties will be in touch with Chuck to see if he’s interested in joining them. Only the Liberals have anything concrete to offer him, like a cabinet post or constituency favours.

There is one more thing the Liberals can offer Chuck, and that is any hope of re-election.

It is formidably difficult to run a winning independent campaign. The last time anyone was elected as an Independent was more than 25 years ago — Billy Joe MacLean in 1987 and Paul MacEwan in 1988 — and they were no ordinary politicians. 

All other independent MLAs since then were elected under a party banner, and later left their party caucus. All either retired or were defeated in the next election. MacEwan, again, was the exception. After winning as an independent in 1988, he joined the Liberals and was elected under their banner three more times, in 1993, 1998, and 1999.

Chuck Porter will be able to serve his constituents very well as an independent MLA.

But come election time, if he wants to be re-elected, he’d better be a Liberal.

About the Author

Graham Steele

Political analyst

Graham Steele is a former MLA who was elected four times as a New Democrat for the constituency of Halifax Fairview. He also served as finance minister. Steele is now a political analyst for CBC News.