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In Depth

The 39th Parliament

Garth Turner, the 'web-based' MP

Last Updated October 18, 2006

MP Garth Turner, who was suspended from the Conservative caucus, makes his way to a news conference in Ottawa, Oct. 18, 2006.(Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

He's been called a maverick and a dissident, but most will agree that Garth Turner is a new type of politician — one for the digital age.

When the Ontario politician joined the federal Conservative backbench in January 2006, he made it clear he would not be silenced. On the contrary, he's become a lone and loud dissenting voice.

The former Conservative MP was turfed from the caucus in October 2006 to sit as an independent for openly criticizing his colleagues and the prime minister on his weblog, www.garth.ca/weblog.

Turner's election in the Halton riding, in January 2006 marked a return to politics after a 13-year absence. The former candidate for the 1993 leadership contest first entered federal politics in 1988 and served as minister of national revenue in former Tory prime minister Kim Campbell's short-lived government. He's well-known to Canadians as a journalist and financial guru, dispensing advice on real estate and personal money matters.

By the time he retuned to the backbench in 2006, he had already launched a popular political blog that offered a look into an MP's life and gave him a way to tap into his constituency. "After being elected again in January, I made the decision to be a web-based MP, and to use this digital medium to try and change politics a little," he wrote in his blog. He said his site is now getting up to 1.5 million hits a month.

"The response this website has received proves voters want far more than to be spoon-fed press releases by their federal politicians," he wrote.

His blog postings, often daily, also contain polls, video called MPtv, snippets of daily life and thinly veiled criticisms at his own government. He bills himself as an MP who serves "Canada's middle-class voter agenda."

Turner first landed on the front pages after he led the charge against his party when he contested the floor-crossing of David Emerson, who left the Liberals to sit in Harper's cabinet. "I cannot stand and support something in Ottawa that I would not in a town-hall meeting in north Oakville," he wrote. "Not even when it is the PM asking — or demanding." After a meeting with the prime minister, he wrote about it in a blog entry that was widely quoted:

"I'm expecting the whip will be assigning me a renovated washroom somewhere in a forgotten corner of a vermin-infested dank basement in Ottawa. That should go well with my seat in the House of Commons that will be visible only during lunar eclipses."

He ended up getting a renovated office with a view.

"The Prime Minister has nothing I covet," he said later.

Since then, his blogging has continued and no issue was left untouched — from same-sex marriage to fiscal matters. For example, he offered up his views on this year's budget, saying that his recommendations were forged from thousands of comments he received from town halls and from the internet.

In the weeks leading up to his suspension from caucus, he wrote about the Conservative government's upcoming environmental strategy.

To his readers, he wrote: "We can match your ideas and mine against those of [Environment Minister] Rona Ambrose and her bureaucrats, when the new green plan comes out." After he was suspended from the Conservative caucus, Turner's first appearance was a posting on his blog: "I did not leave my party, or my convictions, at the caucus room door," he wrote. "Now, I'll be the best MP I can. Count on it."

In Turner's words: From the garth.ca blog

On climate change

"As I have stated, climate change is a defining issue, and this is a landmark time for a generational government. Either we will rise to the challenge, or we will not." "A new green plan was not one of the government's vaunted five priorities. It was not even a campaign promise, with the environment relegated to a trashing of Kyoto and a practical tax credit to get people on the train and the bus. But in politics, a week's a long time and eight months is almost a life. Now global warming is household stuff. An administration born of tax cuts and tough-love crime bills must react with conviction."

On MP David Emerson

"I am a democrat who believes everyone in the House of Commons, including the cabinet members who make up the government, should be elected. They should sit in Parliament as they were elected. If they decide to change parties, they should go and get re-elected.

"It would be a great idea for Mr. Emerson to do that, and hopefully he will decide that's the right course of action. Given his new high-profile and powerful position, one would expect voters would be impressed enough to elect him as a Conservative. But maybe not. That's their choice."

On the economy

"The danger we face in Budget 2007, of course, is just what has the Liberals drooling on the committee table. Next year could bring the multiple threats of a noticeable U.S. economic slowdown, a true reversal in the Canadian housing market, sliding oil prices, a very expensive mission in Afghanistan and, ah yes, an election."

More on the environment

"While many coming to this blog disagree, my position on Tuesday — when the Harper administration releases its plan — will be that climate change is the greatest all-round threat this country faces, and that my nation's government should not let us down with half-measures, a curtsy to junk science or a sell-out to the tar sands. "Apparently that's what my constituents want, too. So, there you go."

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