WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government introduced legislation Thursday to allow politicians to jump from one party to another — a move that should end stalling tactics by ousted former Tory Steven Fletcher.
Justice Minister Heather Stefanson introduced a bill that would lift a ban on so called floor-crossing — where politicians elected under one party’s banner join another party without a by-election.
The ban was introduced by the former NDP government and was being fought in court by Fletcher, who was kicked out of the Tory caucus in June after criticizing the government’s plans for a new Crown corporation to promote energy efficiency.
Now an Independent legislature member, Fletcher said the Manitoba ban is the only one of its kind in Canada and violates his freedom of association and expression.
To protest the ban, Fletcher single-handedly brought proceedings in the legislature to a halt on Wednesday — the first legislature sitting since the summer break — by raising nine procedural complaints that had to be debated and voted on individually in the chamber.
On Thursday, Fletcher relented.
“The objectives of yesterday were achieved,” Fletcher said.
The bill has yet to be debated and the government hopes to have it become law by Nov. 9. As a backup, Fletcher has a court date in December when his lawyer will ask a Court of Queen’s Bench judge to strike down the ban as unconstitutional.
Fletcher has previously said he has no intention of joining another party, but would not rule it out Thursday.
If he were to join the Liberals, it would give the struggling party a fourth legislature seat — enough for official party status and the extra funding that the designation brings.
Liberal house leader Jon Gerrard played down that possibility Thursday.
“I have met with Steven Fletcher on a number of occasions, but he has been very clear that this is not about him going to join another party like the Liberals, it is all about the fact that this is a point of principle.”
While Fletcher ended his stalling manoeuvres Thursday, legislature business was disrupted for another reason — a phone threat that prompted the evacuation of the historic building.
The fire alarm rang and politicians, staff and visitors were ordered out just as Question Period was winding down. They spent almost 90 minutes on the front lawn before the all-clear was given.
“I understand it was a phone threat and it was very quickly made and difficult to track,” Premier Brian Pallister said under a shady tree.
“It’s a behaviour that’s counter-productive to creating a sense of security and there’s always a balance in terms of how we react to it. You don’t want to let the prankster win.”