By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – A Manitoba law that forbids provincial politicians from switching parties by crossing the legislature floor is still alive after a judge rejected a request for a fast-track ruling that the law is unconstitutional.
The Progressive Conservative government has already said it plans to repeal the law — believed to be the only one of its kind in Canada — in the near future.
Steven Fletcher, an Independent member who was kicked out of the government caucus in June, wanted the law struck down before the legislature reconvenes this week following the summer break.
“The legislature sits on Wednesday. (Fletcher’s) charter rights are being offended,” Fletcher’s lawyer, Bill Gange, told court Monday.
A lawyer for the provincial government said that while the province plans to lift the floor-crossing ban soon — as early as Nov. 9 depending on how quickly legislation can be passed — the government denies the law is unconstitutional.
“The government intends to repeal it because it is bad policy. (That) is different,” government lawyer Michael Conner said.
Fletcher was kicked out of the governing Progressive Conservative caucus after criticizing the government’s plan to set up a new Crown corporation to promote energy efficiency.
The former federal cabinet minister filed a lawsuit in August that asked Court of Queen’s Bench to strike down a section of the Legislative Assembly Act which says politicians who leave or are removed from one party’s caucus cannot join another. The law, enacted in 2006 by the former NDP government, requires such politicians to either sit as Independents in the legislature, or resign their seat and run in a byelection under a new party banner.
Fletcher’s statement of claim alleges the law violates his rights of expression and association under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Justice David Kroft said the matter warrants a full hearing and court dates will be set aside in the coming months. Both sides agreed the hearing may be moot at that point if the legislation ending the floor-crossing ban is passed and enacted.
Fletcher has been coy about whether he would join another party’s caucus. If he were to join the Liberals, it would give them a fourth legislature seat — enough for official party status and the extra funding and staff that comes with the designation.
He has also floated the idea of forming an entirely new caucus with disgruntled members of existing parties.
“Mr. Fletcher wants to have the liberty to explore all of his options,” Gange said outside court.
“Mr. Fletcher has had discussions with various individuals about options that are open to him, and those individuals would be both people within the legislature and people outside the legislature.”