Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bill Casey's Reelection a Message to Harper

But did he receive it?

When Bill Casey voted against the 2007 federal budget, he knew he was taking a risk.

“After the vote I hid for a month," Casey recalls. "I did not know what the reaction would be. A month after, it became very clear they were behind me and they’ve been behind me ever since. This vote is certainly confirmation of that.”

In fact, Casey, the recently reelected independent MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, believes his constituents sent a message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper when they reelected him by such an overwhelming margin.

“I feel they sent a message,” Casey reflected. “They want their members of Parliament to be able to stand up on the issues that affect their riding and not be put in the position I was. They want their MPs to represent the people to Ottawa not Ottawa to the people. The question will be, will anyone hear that message and will they listen?”

“This is a win for the people. And a win for every voter,” Casey added. “The people of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley have sent a great, strong message to a lot of people in Ottawa.”

That message is actually quite simple, and that message shouldn't be incomprehensible to a one-time protege of Reform party founder Preston Manning: people expect their elected representatives to represent them. When the interests and needs of their constituents conflict with the demands of their party, people will expect their elected representatives to be standing with them.

Stephen Harper can't always expect to crack the whip of party discipline and get away with it, even when the very survival of the government is at stake.

Harper will need to make room for legitimate dissent within his government. When one looks at the losses that piled up over the Bill Casey affair -- the loss of a government MP, the loss of the Stanfield family loyalty, and the damage to any populist credibility the party ever had -- it would have been better to allow Casey to make a principled stand on the budget than to be too ham fisted with his government.

Supporters of the Harper government should be hoping he got the message.

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