UCP election reform pitch interesting but a bit contradictory, political scientist says

The United Conservative Party is pitching a variety of election reform ideas that have caught the attention of a Calgary political scientist. Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University says they're interesting but in some ways they're contradictory.

Party leader Jason Kenney has promised recall rights and a ban on floor crossing, if elected

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney released election reform goals this week. Political scientist Duane Bratt explains the history of some of his points. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press )

The United Conservative Party is pitching a variety of election reform ideas that have caught the attention of a Calgary political scientist.

Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University says they're interesting but in some ways they're contradictory.

Party leader Jason Kenney said Thursday that if elected, his party would allow Albertans to petition to remove MLAs from office before the next election.

Kenney also said he'd like to ban MLAs from crossing the floor to join another party.

The first idea, recall legislation, suggests the individual's behaviour is the top priority, but the second says the party is higher, according to Bratt. 

Bratt offered his thoughts and details on the history of these ideas in an interview with Calgary Eyeopener guest host Jennifer Keene on Friday.

Q: What do you make, first of all, of this idea to introduce a recall act?

A: Oh, that's a perennial favourite. It has been promised by the old Wildrose Party. It was promised by the old Reform Party. It was promised and, in fact, legislation came in in the mid-1930s under the old Social Credit Party.

Each of those were various populist movements that wanted to give people more power over politicians.

In the case of Wildrose, they never formed government. In the case of the Reform Party, they did form government eventually [after evolving into the Conservative Party of Canada] but they never brought in recall legislation.

In the case of the Social Credit Party, they did but then they abandoned it because the very first person that was being recalled was Premier Bill Aberhart down in Okotoks. So they quickly changed the law.

This exists in other jurisdictions. Probably the most famous recall case was in 2003 when the California governor was recalled. They had a special election and Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes the new governor of California. It exists in B.C.

It's a perennial favourite within populist parties but you really need to look at the details of it to see if it will be effective or not.

Q: This was part of a multi-pronged policy announcement that the UCP came out with yesterday. What else are they proposing, if elected, in terms of electoral reform, in terms of behavior in the legislature?

A: They want greater decorum in the legislature and this, again, is a perennial favourite, that opposition parties periodically put forward.

But in this particular case they have a specific example, and that's desk thumping, which if you've ever watched Question Period in a Westminster system or watched it on TV, it's a common way of celebrating on of your party members.

And he (Jason Kenney) wants to ban that. All sorts of people promise decorum. We'll see if that actually happens.

But probably the most high profile item, beyond the recall, is the banning of floor crossings. This periodically comes up every time that there's a floor crossing and they leave a particular party.

Duane Bratt is a political science professor at Mount Royal University. He says the United Conservative Party's election reform platform is interesting but parts are contradictory. (Bryan Labby/CBC )

Party members of that particular party will say, "No, they should either sit as an independent or there should be a byelection. People don't elect the individual; they elect the party."

Though the party that the person is going to says, "No, they're leaving on a point of principle. This is good." With the Wildrose wing of the UCP, this has particular resonance, given the massive floor crossing led by Danielle Smith and other Wildrose MLAs in December of 2014. So they want to ban it.

I find that very difficult to do. There is just so many loopholes involved. So Kenny said, "All right, you can you can leave the party. You can sit as an independent but you can't join another party."

I'm thinking, "OK. What if you go and sit as an independent?"

Then-premier Jim Prentice and former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith pose for photographers during a joint news conference in Edmonton in 2014. (The Canadian Press)

What about when they formed the UCP? Did all of those members of the PC (Progressive Conservative) party that joined the UCP, were they actually crossing the floor?

And if you say, "Well, no, they were just merging a party so they weren't crossing the floor," what about Richard Starke, who was a PC member who stayed in the PC Party. He didn't cross the floor. So does that make him a floor crosser by not crossing? Or Rick Fraser, who did sit as an independent, and then joined the Alberta Party.

So I understand where the disgust is with floor crossing, but I would hope that the voters in the next election would make that call.

Some floor crossing is done for purely partisan political gain. Others are made based on principle.

And how do you distinguish between the two?

Q: Voters will decide in the next election cycle whether they approve of their representatives crossing the floor or not. I mean, there's often consequences for the people that do it.

A: In the 2014 case with Smith that we talked about, everybody associated with that, from Jim Prentice to Danielle Smith to Rob Anderson, they all lost their job. So yeah, the electorate really took a stance.

But there's also an inconsistency with the proposed legislation and the floor crossing. What they're saying with recall is that, "We vote you in based on your party membership and that what the candidate does is less important than the party label that they hold."

But with recall, they're saying, "No, what matters is the individual and how that person votes or acts, not the party itself."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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