I want to clarify that I have not left the NDP, but rather the NDP caucus in the Parliament. I remain committed to 95% of the NDP party platform. I will be voting with them … with you … MOST of the time.
I would also like to clarify that my concern is not primarily with the long gun registry.
Rather, I am deeply concerned about a type of leadership style which causes me great alarm. It causes me alarm when I see a Conservative party where really only five MPs are given all the power to speak for their party. What is the use of electing, and paying the salaries of all the others if they are simply to be puppets on a string to their leader? Or as Pierre Trudeau called his backbenchers: “trained seals.” But that is their business.
I, however, am a social democrat and a New Democrat and what happens to this party concerns me greatly, because this is the party I hope will one day replace the Conservative Party, which would more generally represent the hopes and aspirations of Canadians, and which would help create a better Canada.
Our NDP now has a new leader, Thomas Mulcair, who is only a few weeks into the job. I held great hopes for the future of this leader. However, if he is ever to be the prime minister of all this country, he needs to confront the issues of Central Canada and Canada’s North.
I am one of the more experienced northern MPs. I have lived in the riding of Thunder Bay for the past 36 years. I ran hard … four times over eight long years as you know all too well! Twice unsuccessfully against the Liberal incumbent, and twice successfully.
We were successful because of you. Your donations, your volunteering, your belief in democracy, and hopefully your belief in me.
You know, I am still pretty much the same guy you believed in and worked to elect. I am sorry that I have caused you pain. That is particularly true in the case of our riding president, who worked long and passionately and effectively to win this seat. I do regret that Maurice is in this very tough spot.
As I built my election experience, I was out and about endlessly in this riding. This riding is so large that it takes weeks to do a complete tour. In addition, I have worked with numerous councils and organizations for the past 36 years building relationships with small business, with labour, with First Nations chiefs. I have come to know my constituents and their issues. I work hard. Ask my staff. Ask my family.
When Jack Layton became the leader, I also knew him well as he had visited this riding both on official visits and also we spent time ‘hanging out’ canoeing and camping, and talking to my constituents. I ran in large part because he asked and persuaded me. He had a very solid understanding of this region’s peoples and concerns and this laid a great foundation upon which to discuss what he wanted me to do in the party.
On the issue of the long-gun registry, he was very clear. He told me that he did not agree with me concerning the long-gun registry, and that his public position would be counter to mine. He also told me that given that he understood that I came from a northern riding full of hunters and fishers, he would never force me to vote with him on this issue. And he allowed me to repeatedly promise our voters … over eight long years and four hard elections … that I would vote to end the registry.
Hunters, let us be clear, are major advocates for the safe and sensible use of firearms — however, they by and large do not understand how the simple act of registering a gun prevents crime, especially when they already are trained, tested, and licensed.
This is a difference of opinion. And this big difference of opinion does separate many northern voters from most southern voters. And it has helped us to lose rural Canadians. Have we counted the seats in Saskatchewan lately … the birthplace of the CCF? We all agree that using a gun against another human being is not acceptable. But do we really think that allowing two out of 103 NDP MPs to be “offside” on a registry on which we have NO approved party policy or platform (which was opposed by eight of the nine NDP MPs when it was passed in 1995!) would have cost us significant votes in Quebec, Vancouver, and Toronto? Jack understood that.
Jack Layton also recognized that he was dealing with a senior experienced regional leader as opposed to a 20-something with little or no experience in politics. So he assigned me jobs that he held dear, like environment and climate change.
Jack cared deeply about our planet — and asked me to champion Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. My/our legislative assistant Andy Blair and I slaved tirelessly and successfully to sell C-311 to Canadians and Liberal MPs.
Out of 441 Private Member’s Bills last Parliament only four made it through the House! I shepherded mine through three readings, long and brutal committee hearings and progress to the Senate for approval — where Harper managed to finally kill it with his new Senate majority.
This was a substantial achievement of which I am proud as it involved getting people from other parties to work together on an issue of importance to Canada and the world.
Jack also made me Small Business Critic. In the last election we made big gains in the GTA, in large part because the Toronto Star for the first time in history endorsed the NDP over the Liberals, and stated it was because of the Small Business Platform which as critic I crafted. For these achievements for the planet and the party am I to be ‘whipped’ instead of supported?
If the NDP is to represent a broad spectrum of Canadians, we must represent rural and northern cultures just as effectively as it represents southerners. We in Northern Ontario — and Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, and northern B.C., the Territories, and the rural Maritimes — have a long history of being ignored by southern politicians.
I need to be able to use my voice in the House to speak about northern and rural development and the lack thereof, the problems of remote reserves — totally ignored in the last federal budget despite the amount of attention that they received over the winter; issues of climate change, and chronic poverty that is endemic in much of Northern Ontario. I am becoming more and more experienced on energy and natural resource Policy. In our party’s current scramble to integrate issues of interest to the dense populations of southern Ontario, Vancouver and Quebec, I cannot allow the issues of my region to be ‘whipped’ into obscurity.
I have not left the NDP. But we need a good internal debate about the issue of whipping of northern and rural MPs. I urge that some sensitivity and flexibility is crucial. My own position is that we can still have a very well functioning party without it, and that if Thomas Mulcair really thinks about it, he will discover that he will be a better leader of a much bigger group of MPs if he leaves his whip behind.
I wish that I could be at the AGM to explain my rationale in person, to face hard questions and criticism, and to take responsibility for my actions. But it is not possible for me to attend. And perhaps it is better that unfettered discussion and democracy occur.
Many people have asked me if I am willing to reconsider my decision. I am willing to do that: to apologize, to accept MOST party discipline and drudgery, and I am willing to ask the riding association and Mr. Mulcair to let me resume my NDP seat.
First, there are things that I think are important. Especially, that Mr. Mulcair and the party realize that I and all NDP MPs need some flexibility to determine when to vote consistent with our professional discretion, or the clear wishes of our constituents. That believes in diversity in many areas, including opinion.
If the riding wanted a candidate and then an MP who would always think, say, and vote as the party dictates … then you did work for and elect the wrong man for your party.
I want to belong to the party that is proudly Democrat … and democratic.
Bruce Hyer MP
Thunder Bay Superior North